Moral Briefs – Chapter XXX – Petitions

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonFor all spiritual needs, therefore, prayer is the one thing necessary. I am in the state of sin. I desire to be forgiven. To obtain pardon is a supernatural act. Alone I can no more do it than fly. I pray then for the grace of a good confession – I prudently think myself in the state of grace. Were I for a moment left to my depraved nature, to the mercy of my passions, I should fall into the lowest depths of iniquity. The holiest, saintliest of men are just as capable of the greatest abominations as the blackest sinner that ever lived. If he does not fall, and the other does, it is because he prays and the other does not.

Some people have certain spiritual maladies, that become second nature to them, called dominant passions. For one, it is cursing and swearing; for another vanity and conceit. One is afflicted with sloth, another with uncleanness of one kind or another. To discover the failing is the first duty, to pray against it is the next. You attack it with prayer as you attack a disease with remedies. And if we only used prayer with half the care, perseverance and confidence that we use medicines, out spiritual distemper would be short-lived.

A person who passes a considerable time without prayer is usually in a bad state of soul. There is probably no one, who, upon reflection, will fail to discover that his best days were those which his prayers sanctified, and his worst, those which had to get along without any. And when a man starts out badly, the first thing he takes care to do is to neglect his prayers. For praying is an antidote and a reminder; it makes him feel uneasy while in sin, and would make him break with his evil ways if he continued to pray. And since he does not wish to stop, he takes no chances, and gives up his prayers. When he wants to stop, he fails back on his prayers.

This brings us to the bodily favors we should ask for. You are sick. You desire to get well, but you do not see the sense of praying for it; for you say, “Either I shall get well or I shall not.” For an ordinary statement that is as plain and convincing as one has a right to expect; it will stand against all argument. But the conclusion is not of a piece with the premises. In that case why do you call in the physician, why do you take nasty pills and swallow whole quarts of vile concoctions that have the double merit of bringing distress to your palate and your purse? You take these precautions because your most elementary common sense tells you that such precautions as medicaments, etc., enter for something of a condition in the decree of God which reads that you shall die or not die. Your return to health or your shuffling off of the mortal coil is subject to conditions of prudence, and according as they are fulfilled or not fulfilled the decree of God will go into effect one way or the other.

And why does not your sane common sense suggest to you that prayer enters as just such a condition in the decrees of God, that your recovery is just as conditional on the using of prayer as to the taking of pills?

There are people who have no faith in drugs, either because they have never used any or because having once used them, failed to get immediate relief. Appreciation of the efficacy of prayer is frequently based on similar experience.

To enumerate all the cures effected by prayer would be as bootless as to rehearse ail the miracles of therapeutics and surgery. The doctor says: “Here, take this, it will do you good. I know its virtue.” The Church says likewise: “Try prayer, I know its virtue.” Your faith in it has all to do with its successful working.

As in bodily sickness, so it is in all the other afflictions that flesh is heir to. Prayer is a panacea; it cures all ills. But it should be taken with two tonics, as it were, before and after. Before: faith and confidence in the power of God to cure us through prayer. After: resignation to the will of God, by which we accept what it may please Him to do in our case; for health is not the greatest boon of life, nor are sickness and death the greatest evils. Sin alone is bad; the grace of God alone is good. All other things God uses as means in view of this supreme good and against this supreme evil. Faith prepares the system and puts it in order for the reception of the remedy. Resignation helps it work out its good effects, and brings out all its virtue.

Thus prayer is necessary to us all, whether we be Christians or pagans, whether just or sinners, whether sick or well. It brings us near to God, and God near to us, and thus is a foretaste and an image of our union with Him hereafter.