ON THE ORDER IN WHICH OUR PETITIONS SHOULD BE MADE TO GOD. [Extracted from the writings of the Very Reverend Father Bosmini.]
"One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life."—Psalm xxvi. 4.
Of the most necessary and best of all petitions.
The end of man is but one, to practise justice or righteousness in the most perfect manner possible, and thereby to secure the salvation and perfection of his soul.
Justice or righteousness, wherein the soul finds its salvation and perfection, consists in charity; that is to say, in making God the one only object of all the affections of our heart; and the more pure and exquisite this charity becomes, the greater is the soul's perfection. It is charity which unites man to God, by which man here begins, as it were, to possess his God; and it is no other than the perfection and fulness of this same charity which will form his blessedness hereafter.
Thus both justice and happiness may be said to he the end of man, but justice is that which man must propose to himself as his end, whilst his happiness is that which God proposed to Himself in man's creation. Man, by the very constitution of his nature, essentially desires happiness. Happiness, therefore, is not a duty; or, in other words, it is not the end which the will of man is bound to propose to itself; but it is the end, of which it cannot avoid proposing to itself the attainment. And if we consider how perfectly just is that happiness to which man is destined by God, then does happiness itself become an end which man ought to propose to himself; that is to say, he ought to desire to be happy out of love for justice; he ought to love happiness considered as the fruit—the effect of justice; and therefore as being according to the will of God, since God wills that the just man should be happy; and it is a thing most just that the just man should be happy. And even the principal reason why the Saints in heaven enjoy their happiness is, because they recognise its perfect justice; so that even in the midst of their own blessedness they love justice yet more, and for it and in it they bless the most just and holy will of God. For the same reason the very pains of the reprobate shall tend to increase the blessedness of the Saints, because in those very pains which they see inflicted upon the wicked, they will admire and love the justice which inflicts them. Thus we see plainly that justice is always the ultimate end, and the one only reason why we should love one thing rather than another.
Hence it must be evident that the principal prayer, and that which is essentially the prayer of all Christians, must be to beseech of God without ceasing, the salvation and perfection of our own souls, and that we may daily and hourly become more just and more perfect. And although this truth is indeed sufficiently clear and obvious, yet, notwithstanding, it may not be without good profit to bring forward some of those solid reasons on which it is grounded, of which we propose here to set down seven of the most fundamental.
1st Reason. Let all Christians be thoroughly penetrated with this great truth, that in possessing justice and sanctity, we possess every other good, since we possess God Himself, who is a boundless, infinite good, beyond which it is impossible for us to form a desire, since no desire of created being can ever exhaust that good, which, being goodness in its very essence, must, as we have said, contain in itself every possible good. For, tell me, if thou hast faith, and believest the words of Jesus Christ, what good thing can he want who is possessed of justice? for what else can he care? Truly for nothing; for of all things really worth desiring, no real one can be wanting to him, since Jesus Christ Himself has said it: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all other things shall be added unto you." [Matt. vi. 33.] And St. Paul more fully still: "We know that, to those who love God, all things work together unto good. What shall we, then, say to those things? If God be for us, who is against us? He that spared not even His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things!" ['Rom. viii.]
If we have not thoroughly penetrated this truth, the following objection may perhaps present itself: 'But if I only think about making myself a Saint, am I not an egotist, thinking too much about self? and is not the salvation of my neighbour's soul quite as desirable as my own?' To the latter part I answer, that it is no doubt certain that the salvation of others is, with respect to them, no less desirable and necessary than my own salvation is in respect of me. But as it would profit my neighbour nothing, if I were saved and he were to be lost, so, in like manner, it would advantage me nothing that he should be saved, if, after all, I were to be lost; according to those words of Christ: "What exchange shall a man give for his soul ?" [Matt. xvi. 26] for he cannot redeem his own soul with the souls of his brethren. In regard of the first part of the objection, that such a doctrine savours of selfishness, this only shews that it has not been understood. For we must well remark, that the avidity which men feel after worldly goods, and the desire after justice, are things in their nature different, and even opposite. The first is indeed a certain cause and effect of selfishness, since, when I seek to gain for myself the goods of this earth, I deprive my neighbour of them; whereas the desire after justice is nothing less than a most ardent longing to impart to all what belongs to them, to be just to all, generous to all, and to set no limits to the benefits we are ready to confer on them.
Hence the simple act by which I seek my own justice and perfection implies a spirit of universal charity; and when I pray that God will make me perfectly just in His sight, I am praying also for my neighbour, without excepting any one, because I pray that God will make me perfect in my relations to others, and will lead me to perform all that good which is according to His good pleasure, co-operating with His infinite charity towards the whole world.
2nd Reason. Not to be satisfied with this good—that of attaining our own justice and sanctification — can only arise from a want of faith, or from a want of comprehension of the excellence of this most excellent good; as must appear from what we have said, since our own sanctification comprehends at the same time every good for our own selves, and a universal charity for all mankind. And if, knowing this justice and sanctity to be so excellent and perfect a good, we are not satisfied with its attainment, we plainly shew great weakness and malice, since we allow ourselves to be so drawn after things which are good only in appearance, as to neglect the one real and essential good.
3rd Reason. To occupy ourselves wholly in the great concern of attaining to the highest possible degree of sanctity, dismissing from our minds every other care, and leaving all things else, whether of good or evil fortune, in the sacred hands of God, that He may do with us and by us that, and that only, which is pleasing to His holy will, is clearly an act of the most perfect, disinterested, and generous virtue. "It is better to give than to receive," says our divine Master, Jesus Christ; that is to say, it is a more noble act to merit than to enjoy. And therefore Jesus invites us to be more anxious to attain to justice than to receive its reward,—viz. happiness itself. When praying to His heavenly Father on behalf of His Apostles, He asks for them, not heaven, but innocence of life: "I pray not that Thou wouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou wouldst keep them from evil." [John xvii. 15] In which words He asks only that they should be shielded from evil j but in this one thing all things else are included, since, when a man is guarded from every thing evil, Almighty God, of His infinite and essentially diffusive goodness, causes to abound within him every best and most perfect good.
4th Reason. We know for certain that our sanctification is desired by God, since holy Scripture declares, "This is the will of God, your sanctification." [1 Thess. iv. 3.] And again: "Blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it." [Luke xi. 28.] Now that this is the one only concern which has any real and absolute value, we may gather from those words of our Lord to Mary Magdalen: "There is but one thing necessary." Now, upon this point we know the will of God with certainty; for He gave us His law, that we might observe and keep it; but the Divine will remains uncertain as to all other things which are not necessary, until He is pleased, in His infinite wisdom, to make it manifest. If we consider, moreover, in how many places of holy Scripture the holy law of God and His divine word are held up to veneration, we shall clearly see the excellence and necessity of this prayer for justice.
5th Reason. As in this prayer we ask for the one only thing which is necessary, and upon which alone God has manifested His will; so it is the only petition wherein we are absolutely certain of being heard; since the sincere and heartfelt desire of justice can never fail of meeting its fulfilment,—Jesus Himself having declared this when He said: "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be filled." [Matt. v. 6.] Hence, in making this petition, we may be secure of finding interior peace, and of doing the will of God. Whilst in regard of petitions for things not necessary, we may always feel some fear of hearing ourselves reproved by Christ in those words: "Hitherto ye have not asked any thing in My name;" [John xvi. 24.] or, in those other words of His: "Ye know not what ye ask." [Matt. xx. 22.]
6th Reason. The petition for justice is also the most excellent, because in it, whilst asking of God the end, man leaves all that regards the means in the hands of his Lord; making thereby an act of entire abandonment of self into His divine will, and of perfect faith and confidence in His wisdom, power, and goodness; and, at the same time, an act of the most profound humility. For in so doing, a man renounces his own will and judgment, saying, as it were, to God: 'O my Lord, give me justice; all else I leave to Thee. I know not how to attain it, but Thou best knowest how to give me this justice; and I know well that whatever means Thou shalt select, will be the very best fitted for this purpose; in all these things, Thy holy will be blessed. Do Thou alone make choice for me. What Thou shalt choose will be the very best for me. Thou only, dear Lord, art the end which I am seeking, and my heart will rest content in Thee.'
7th Reason. This kind of universal prayer is very frequently made use of by the Church. She prays thus whenever she recites the Kyrie eleison, or 'Lord have mercy on us,' without adding any other petition; whenever, in reciting the Hail Mary, or in the Litanies, she says, in general, 'Pray for us;' and so in all other similar prayers. In all such petitions Holy Church specifies no one thing in particular; but leaves to the choice and will of God, and in the hands of most holy Mary, all that regards the means of our salvation. Nearly all the prayers of the Holy Mass are similar in their construction,—and especially that one which the priest recites, together with two other prayers, immediately before the Communion of the body of Christ, which is thus expressed: 'O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the co-operation of the Holy Ghost, hast by Thy death given life to the world, deliver me, by Thy most sacred Body and Blood, from all my iniquities and from all evil; grant that I may always adhere to Thy commandments, and that I may never be separated from Thee, who, together with the same God, the Father, and the Holy Ghost, livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.' The same manner of praying is preserved in almost all the prayers of the Church; as, for instance, in that for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost: 'Let the operation of Thy pity direct our hearts, O Lord; because, without Thee, we are not able to please Thee.'
What is it, then, which hinders us from seeing the exceeding excellence of this method of prayer, so peculiarly the property of all the faithful followers of Christ? It is nothing else but a false zeal and secret presumption. It is owing to this that a man becomes forgetful of himself, and considers not that it is absolutely necessary for him to advance continually in the spiritual life, whilst concerning himself only about the salvation of his neighbour. Thus occupied wholly with what belongs to others, he neglects the tedious and unpleasing task of discovering his own defects, and labouring to overcome them; deceiving himself with the notion that he need concern himself about nothing but doing good to others, and that this zeal will make up for the absence of all other virtues. This grievous delusion he defends under pretence of the advancement of God's glory; and it is a specious defence, by which, unfortunately, but too many ecclesiastics suffer themselves to be deluded. But what would it advantage such a one, that God should be glorified, if he, meanwhile, were to be lost? What advantage does the glory of God in heaven bring to the lost souls in hell? Moreover, can we suppose that God has any need of that glory which man offers to Him against His own will? I say, against His own will; because we know for certain, that our own sanctification is the will of God; but we know not, in general, in what degree, and how He wills to make use of our co-operation in the sanctification of our neighbour; for in order that we may undertake the care of our neighbour's soul, a manifestation of God's will and a special mission is required, such as was given to the Apostles; such as Bishops themselves possess, and from whom the parish-priests and their coadjutors receive it. If, then, a person has received any such certain sign of the Divine will, if, in fact, he has a mission from God, the care of souls becomes itself a duty for him, and the performance of it forms part of his own sanctification. Therefore justice, or the fulfilment of the Divine will, is the one only thing which, even in this case, he ought to desire and seek after; and hence the glory of God, which we may and ought to labour to promote, consists only in doing, by His grace, His most adorable will in all things; and thus fulfilling His most holy law, neither doing more nor less. Greater glory than this we neither can nor ought to desire to procure for God our Creator.
Justice is, moreover, a condition so strictly belonging to that external glory which we render to God, that even were we certain that, by committing a single venial sin of the lightest description, we should be able to convert the whole world, and save all who should come into being till the end of time,—even though we could convert all the devils in hell, and raise them to the highest pitch of sanctity,—even in such case we should be forbidden to commit that sin; nor would the pretext of promoting God's glory in any way plead our excuse, because that glory, which, by means of a slight fault, we could give to God, it does not belong to us to give Him; on the contrary, we are even strictly bound not to offer that which a God of all holiness is not willing to receive from us. I say even more; that one who truly loves God, would not, on any consideration whatever, consent to diminish in one degree only that love which he bears to this God; even though he could know that, in compensation for the loss of this degree of love on his part, God would receive infinite acts of seraphic affections from all other creatures; because one who truly loves God is absolutely unable to renounce even the smallest degree of love, but looks upon every spark of Divine love as an infinite and priceless treasure, and the one in which all his good consists. Hence he would never be willing to exchange its possession for any other good whatsoever, since he desires to love God for himself as much as is possible, without regard to the love which all other creatures may bear to Him; for he knows that all his good consists in His love, as also all his perfection and justice, and all which God desires from him.
From this we see why pious frauds, or slight falsehoods, the dictates of mistaken zeal, and every other deviation from the pure and simple truth, are so hateful to all right-minded men ; and why any other offence against God, done under pretence of the good of souls, is so highly distasteful in the eyes of all true servants of God, and in the sight of God, their Master and Lord, since the Apostle tells us, "we are not to do evil that good may come." [Rom. iii. 8.]
It is plain, then, that the chief or essential petition of all is that in which we pray that the justice of God may be communicated to us, abandoning ourselves meanwhile into the hands of God Himself, in all that regards the means which He may please to make use of in order to communicate to us His sanctity and His justice.
Finally, it is plain that this first comprehensive petition includes within itself another most holy prayer, for the prayer for justice leads us to ask for that to which justice itself tends — every thing, namely, which is just.
Hence our blessed Lord in His prayer teaches us to ask of our heavenly Father that "His name may be hallowed," because this is most just; that "His kingdom may come," because it is just that it should come; that "His will should be done," because it is just and right that His will should be done. Thus far we have all that is just in regard of God. In the next place, we pray for ourselves, that God would give us that supersubstantial bread which is truly the Word of God in His sacred humanity (especially as He exists in the sacramental species),—the remission of sins, deliverance from evil and from temptation: all which things refer to our own justice and sanctification.
In like manner we may easily find many other holy and excellent forms of prayer, such as are all those in which we ask for that which is certainly just in general, or for our own justice and sanctification. As, for instance, when we pray that the Divine predestination may be accomplished; as our blessed Lord Himself prayed, when He said, "I pray for them; I pray not for the world; but for those whom Thou hast given Me, because they are Thine." [John xvii. 9.] He could have made no more perfect prayer, because that for which He prayed was most excellent and just. Whenever we pray for the Church also, that it may produce the greatest possible fruit, and tend to the greatest glory of God, we always make a most excellent and holy prayer; for in doing so we ask for every good in that order which the wisdom of God sees best, for all means of salvation which God is pleased to bestow, as well as all other things which are just and able to the will of God; always asking for that which is truly the hest, and thus, in our prayer, following the method of which we have here been speaking.
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.