Wednesday, 31 July 2013

CONFIDENCE IN PRAYER. By Saint Alphonsus Liguori. part 1

From ''The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection.'' On the Confidence with Which We Ought to Pray.

The condition which Saint James insists on, as most indispensable for the efficacy of prayer is, that we pray with a secure and unhesitating confidence of being heard. ‘But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.’ – (Saint James 1:6.) Saint Thomas teaches, (Summa Theologica 2. 2. Question 83, article 2) that ‘prayer derives from charity its virtue to merit a reward, and from faith and confidence, its efficacy to obtain the objects of our petitions.’ The same doctrine is inculcated by Saint Bernard, who says, that ‘confidence alone obtains mercy from the Lord.’ (Saint Bernard’s Sermon 3, ‘de Annunciation’.) Confidence in God’s mercy is exceedingly pleasing to His divine Majesty, because it is a tribute of homage and praise to His infinite goodness, - the attribute which He wished particularly to manifest to the world, by the creation of man. ‘Let all them,’ said the Royal Prophet, ‘be glad that hope in you: they shall rejoice for ever, and you shall dwell in them.’ – (Psalm 5:11-12.) God protects and saves all who confide in Him: ‘He is the protector of all that trust in Him.’ – (Psalm 17:31. It is Psalm 18:30 in the Hebrew.) ‘You who save them that trust in You.’ – (Psalm 16:7. It is Psalm 17:7 in the Hebrew.) Oh! What splendid promises are made in the Holy Scriptures, to all who hope in the Lord! Whosoever trusts in Him will not transgress the divine law. ‘And none of them that trust in Him shall offend.’ – (Psalm 33:23. In the Hebrew, it is Psalm 34:22.) The Almighty keeps His eyes constantly fixed on those who confide in His goodness, to preserve them from the death of sin. ‘Behold,’ says David, ‘the eyes of the Lord are on them that fear Him, and on them that hope in His mercy, to deliver their souls from death.’ – (Psalm 32:18. It is Psalm 33:18 in the Hebrew.) And again He says, ‘Because he hoped in me I will deliver him: I will protect him: I will deliver him, and I will glorify him.’ –(Psalm 90:14-15. In the Hebrew, it is Psalm 91:14-15.)) Mark the reason why God promises these favours: because, says the Lord, he confided in me, I will protect him; I will deliver him from his enemies, and from the danger of offending, and I will give him eternal glory. Isaiah, speaking of those who put their trust in God, says, ‘But they that hope in the Lord, shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as the eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’ – (Isaiah 40:31.) They shall lay aside their weakness, and put on the strength of God; they shall not faint, nor even be fatigued in treading the rugged ways of salvation, but shall run and fly like the eagle. ‘In silence and in hope shall your strength be.’ – (Isaiah 30:15.) The holy prophet tells us, that all our strength consists in placing our entire hope in God, and in silence, or in reposing peacefully in the arms of His mercy, casting away all confidence in our own efforts, or in human means. And has it ever happened that he who trusted in God was lost? ‘No one has hoped in the Lord, and has been confounded.’ – (Ecclesiasticus 2:11.) David’s confidence gave him a security of eternal life: ‘In You, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded.’ –(Psalm 30:1-2. It is Psalm 31:1 in the Hebrew.) Is it possible that God should become a deceiver, and that after having promised support in their dangers to all who trust in Him, He should forsake them when they invoke His assistance? ‘God,’ says Saint Augustine, ‘is not a deceiver, who offers His protection and afterwards withdraws Himself from us, when we place our trust in Him.’ ‘Blessed is the man,’ says David, ‘that trusts in You.’ And why? Because, says the Psalmist, ‘mercy shall encompass him that hopes in the Lord.’ – (Psalm 31:10. It is Psalm 32:10 in the Hebrew.) He is surrounded and protected on every side by the Almighty, and is secured against his enemies, and the danger of eternal damnation. Hence, the apostle exhorts us so earnestly, not to suffer our confidence in God to be impaired: ‘Do not therefore lose your confidence, which has a great reward.’ – (Hebrews 10:35.) The graces which we shall receive from God, will be proportioned to our confidence: if it be strong and free from wavering, they shall be abundant: ‘Great faith deserves a great reward.’ Saint Bernard compares the divine mercy to an immense fountain, which gives out its salutary waters in proportion to the magnitude of the vessel of confidence in which they are to be carried: ‘You, O Lord,’ he says, ‘do not pour the oil of mercy, unless into vessels of confidence,’ – (Saint Bernard Sermon 3, ‘de Annunciation’.) ‘Let your mercy, O Lord,’ says the prophet, ‘be upon us, as we have hoped in You.’ –(Psalm 32:22. It is Psalm 33:22 in the Hebrew.) This was verified in the centurion, whose confidence was praised by the Redeemer: ‘Go,’ said our Lord to him, ‘and as you have believed, so be it done to you.’ –(Saint Matthew 8:13.) Our Lord once revealed to Saint Gertrude that they who pray with confidence, do violence to Him in such a manner, that they must be heard, and obtain whatever they ask. ‘Prayer,’ says Saint John Climacus, ‘piously does violence to God.’ Yes, prayer does violence to the Almighty; but it is a violence which is pleasing and acceptable to Him. ‘Let us go, therefore,’ says Saint Paul, ‘with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid.’ – (Hebrews 4:16.) The throne of grace is Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of His Father, not on a throne of justice, but of grace, to obtain pardon for sinners, and perseverance for the just. To this throne, we must always approach with confidence, but with that confidence which springs from a lively faith in the goodness, and in the veracity of God, who has promised to hear those who pray with a secure and stable confidence. He that prays with diffidence, need not expect to be heard; ‘for,’ says Saint James, ‘he that wavers is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore, let not that man think that he shall receive any thing from the Lord.’ – (Saint James 1:6-7.) His prayer will not be regarded: the unjust diffidence by which he is agitated, renders the divine mercy deaf to his petitions. ‘You have not asked rightly,’ says Saint Basil, ‘because you have asked with diffidence.’ David said, that our confidence in God should be like a mountain, which receives unmoved the blast of the tempest. ‘They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion: he shall not be moved for ever that dwells in Jerusalem.’ – (Psalm 124:1. It is Psalm 125:1 in the Hebrew.) The Redeemer strenuously exhorts us to pray with a firm confidence of obtaining what we ask: ‘Whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive; and they shall come unto you.’ – (Saint Mark 11:24.) Whatever favour you ask, have confidence that you shall receive it, and your prayer will be heard. But you will say, on what can I, a miserable sinner, ground a secure confidence of obtaining whatever I ask? I answer, on the promise of Jesus Christ. ‘Ask,’ He says, ‘and you shall receive.’ – (Saint John 16:24.) ‘Who,’ says Saint Augustine, ‘can fear deception, when truth promises?’ Can we entertain any doubt of being heard, when the God of truth promises to grant whatever we ask. ‘He would not,’ says Saint Augustine, ‘exhort us to ask, if He did not intend to give.’ Now He constantly entreats and command us in Holy Scriptures, to pray, to ask, to seek, to knock, and adds that ‘whatever we will, it shall be done unto us.’ – (Saint John 15:7.) To induce us to pray with suitable confidence, the Redeemer in the ‘Pater Noster’, the ‘Our Father’, the prayer which He Himself composed, has taught us to call God our Father, rather than Lord or Master, when we petition for the graces necessary for salvation; thus exhorting us to ask God’s grace, with the same confidence, as a destitute sickly child, asks for food and medicine from a tender parent. If a father be informed of the miserable condition of a beloved Son who is dying from hunger, will he not instantly provide food for his starving offspring: if he be told that the child was bitten by a serpent, will he not make every effort in his power to apply the proper remedy. Trusting then in the divine promises, let us pray with a confidence not wavering, but strong and firm. ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope, without wavering, for He is faithful that has promised.’ – (Hebrews 10:23.) Since it is of faith that God fulfills His promises, we should pray with a secure confidence of being heard, and should never be deterred from persevering in prayer by the absence of sensible confidence arising from spiritual dryness, or from the agitation produced by the commission of some fault. On the contrary, in the time of dryness and agitation we should even force ourselves to pray: for then, our prayers being accompanied with diffidence in ourselves, and proceeding form a confidence in the goodness and fidelity of God, who has promised to hear all who invoke Him, they will be very acceptable to Him and will be very readily heard. O how pleasing it is to the Lord, to see us in the time of tribulations, of fear and temptations, hope against hope, or against that feeling of distrust which naturally springs from a state of desolation. For this reason, the apostle praised the confidence of the patriarch Abraham, ‘who against hope believed in hope.’ – (Romans 4:18.) Saint John says that he who places a firm confidence in God, will certainly become a saint: ‘And every one that has this hope in him sanctifies himself, as he also is holy.’ – (1 John 3:3.) For God pours His graces abundantly on those who trust in Him. This confidence enabled so many martyrs, so many tender virgins, and so many helpless children to withstand the savage cruelty of tyrants, and overcome the torments which had been prepared for them. We sometimes pray, but God appears not to heed us. Let us, on such occasions never abandon prayer, but let us rather redouble our confidence, saying with holy Job, ‘Although He should kill me I will trust in Him.’ –(Job 13:15.) O my God, though you should turn your face from me I will not cease to pray, and to hope in your mercy. Let us act in the manner, and we shall obtain from God whatsoever we desire. It was by perseverance in prayer, after her petition had been repeatedly rejected, that the Chananean woman obtained from Jesus Christ the object of her desires. Her daughter being possessed by a devil, she besought the Redeemer to deliver her, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, you son of David: my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil.’ – (Saint Matthew 15:22.) Our Lord answered that He was not sent to the Gentiles, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The woman was not dispirited by this reply, but came and adored Him, saying with confidence, ‘Lord, help me.’ He again answered, that ‘it is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord: for the whelps eat of the crumbs that fall from the tables of their masters.’ The Saviour seeing her great confidence, said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith: be it done to you, as you will.’ – (Saint Matthew 15:27-28.) ‘And no one,’ says Ecclesiasticus, ‘has ever invoked the Lord without obtaining relief. Or who has called upon Him, and He despised him? – (Ecclesiasticus 2:12.) Saint Augustine called prayer the key which opens heaven to us; so that the favours we ask descend upon us the very instant our prayers ascend to God. ‘The prayer of the just man,’ he says, ‘is the key of heaven; his petition ascends, and God’s mercy descends.’ –(Saint Augustine Sermon 216, ‘de temp’). According to the royal prophet, our supplications and the divine mercy are inseparably connected. ‘Blessed,’ he says, ‘be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His mercy from me.’ – (Psalm 65:20. It is Psalm 66:20 in the Hebrew.) It is for this reason, that Saint Augustine tells us, whenever we pray, to have a secure confidence of being heard. ‘When,’ he says, ‘you see that you persevere in prayer, rest assured that the mercy of God is not far from you.’ – (Saint Augustine ‘on Psalm 95 {96}). For my part, I never feel more consoled in spirit, or more confident of salvation, than when I am employed in prayer, and in recommending myself to the divine mercy. I am sure the same may be said of all Christians. For it is a truth as certain and infallible as that God cannot violate His promises, that he who prays with confidence will be heard; but all other marks of our salvation are uncertain and fallible. When we perceive our own weakness, and our inability to overcome some passion, or to surmount some difficulty, we should be careful not to imitate those pusillanimous souls who say, I cannot resist this temptation, I cannot discharge this duty, I cannot trust myself; but we should be animated by the example of the apostle, and say with him: ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthened me.’ – (Philip 4:13.) Of ourselves, we certainly can do nothing, but, with the divine assistance, we can do all things. If the Almighty said to any of us, ‘Take this mountain on your shoulders and carry it; I will assist you;’ would it not be folly and impiety to answer, I cannot move such an enormous weight; I will not attempt a task which I have not strength to perform. When, then, we see that we are poor and miserable and wretched, and that we are encompassed with temptation, let us not be disheartened, but let us raise our eyes to heaven, and say with holy David, ‘The Lord is my helper: and I will look over my enemies.’ – (Psalm 117:7. In the Hebrew, it is Psalm 118:7.) With the assistance of my Saviour, I will overcome and despise all attacks of my adversaries. When we are in danger of offending God, or about to engage in any affair of importance, and know not what course to adopt or how to act, let us recommend ourselves to the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear.’ – (Psalm 26:1. In the Hebrew, it is Psalm 27:1.) And the Almighty will in fallibly dissipate our darkness, and preserve us from every evil. You will perhaps say, I am a sinner, and I have read in the scriptures that ‘God does not hear sinners.’ – (Saint John 9:31.) Saint Thomas answers, with Saint Augustine, that these words were spoken by the blind man, before he had been enlightened. ‘That,’ says Saint Thomas, ‘is the word of the blind man not as yet perfectly illumined, and therefore is not ratified.’ – (Saint Thomas Summa Theologica, 2. 2. Question 83, article 16, answer to objection 1.) The angelic doctor adds, that God indeed does not hear the supplications of sinners when their prayers proceed from a desire of persevering in sin; as, for example, when they seek from God assistance to take revenge of their enemies, or to execute any other criminal design. The same may be said of sinners who, while they pray for the means of salvation, have no desire to quit their sinful habits.