Wednesday, 31 July 2013

CONFIDENCE IN PRAYER. By Saint Alphonsus Liguori. part 2

There are some unhappy souls who even love the chains by which the devil keeps them in slavery. Their prayers are rash and abominable in the sight of God, and are therefore rejected. And what greater temerity can be conceived, than to ask favours from a prince whom you have not only frequently offended, but whom you are determined still to offend. It is for this reason, that the Holy Ghost says by the mouth of the wise man, that the prayer of him who rejects the proffered knowledge of the divine commands, is odious and detestable before the Lord: ‘He that turns away his ears from learning the law, his prayer shall be an abomination.’ – (Proverbs 28:9.) To such sinners the Almighty declares that their prayers are unprofitable, that He will turn away from them, and will not attend to their supplications: ‘And when you stretch forth your hands, I will turn away my eyes from you: and when you multiply prayer, I will not hear.’ – (Isaiah 1:15.)
It was thus He treated the prayer of Antiochus, who besought the Lord, and promised great things. But his promises were insincere, his heart was hardened in sin, his prayers proceeded from a fear of the chastisement with which he was threatened, and were therefore rejected by the Almighty. And he died a miserable death, eaten by worms that swarmed out of his body. ‘Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord, of whom he was not to obtain mercy.’ – (2 Macc. 9:13.)
There is another class of sinners, who fall through human frailty, or through the violence of some passion; who ardently desire to shake off the yoke of the enemy, and fervently beseech the Almighty to burst the chains of death by which they are bound, and to deliver them from the miserable slavery of hell, under which they groan. If they persevere in prayer, their cry will be infallibly heard by Him who has promised, that ‘every one that asks receives: and he that seeks, finds.’ – (Luke 11:10.) The author of the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum (the Incomplete Commentary on Matthew, of the 5 th century), in his commentary on this passage, says, that all, sinners as well as saints, receive what they ask, and find what they seek. (See section 18)
The Redeemer says, that what cannot be obtained from a friend for friendship’s sake, may be extorted by importunity: ‘Yet if he shall continue provoking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise, and give him as many as he needs. And I say to you, ‘Ask and it shall be given to you,’ and so on. – (See Luke 11:5-10.)
Thus, persevering prayer obtains mercy from God, even for those who are not his friends. Saint Chrysostom says, that ‘friendship is not so powerful before God as prayer: and what friendship has not accomplished, prayer effects.’ – (Saint Chrysostom, Homily 56.) Saint Basil teaches that ‘sinners obtain what they ask, if they ask with perseverance.’ (Saint Basil Constitutions for Monks chapter 1.) Saint Gregory says, ‘Let the sinner cry aloud, and his prayer will reach the most high.’ – (Saint Gregory, on the 6 th Penitential Psalm.)
Saint Jerome observes, that after the example of the prodigal child, who exclaimed, ‘Father I have sinned,’ every sinner may address the Almighty as his father, provided he pray to be received again amongst the children of God. – (Saint Jerome, Epistle to Damasus, about the Prodigal Son.) Saint Augustine says, that ‘if God does not hear sinners, in vain would the publican have said, God be merciful to me a sinner,’ – (Saint Augustine, tract 24, On John’s Gospel.) Now the gospel informs us that the publican, by his prayer obtained pardon: ‘This man went down into his house justified.’ – (Saint Luke 18:14.)
The angelic doctor who has examined this point more minutely than any other writer, does not hesitate to assert, that God hears the prayers even of sinners; that, though their prayers are not meritorious, still, since impetration, (that is, of obtaining what we ask) depends on the goodness of God, and not on His justice, they have sufficient efficacy to obtain favours. ‘Merit,’ says Saint Thomas, ‘depends on justice, but impetration depends on grace.’ – (Saint Thomas, Summa Theologica, 2. 2. Question 83, article 16, answer to objection 2.)
Hence, Daniel implored the divine mercy, saying, ‘Incline, O my God, your ear and hear: open your eyes and see our desolation: for it is not for our justification that we present our prayers before your face, but for the multitude of your tender mercies.’ – (Dan. 9:18.) To obtain then by prayer the graces we ask, it is not necessary to be the friends of God; by prayer, we are restored to His friendship. ‘Prayer,’ says Saint Thomas, ‘makes us friends of God.’
Moreover, Saint Bernard observes that the prayers of a sinner to be cleansed from his sin, proceed from a wish to return to God: now a desire to be converted to God is certainly the gift of heaven. And ‘why,’ says the saint, ‘would God inspire the sinner with such a desire, if He did not intend to hear him.’ Hence, so many examples recorded in the Holy Scriptures, of sinners delivered from their sins by humble prayer. Thus King Ahab, (in 3 Kings 21:27, though it is called 1 Kings in the Hebrew,) thus King Manasseh, (2 Chronicles 33:12) thus King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:31) and thus the good thief, (Luke 23:43) were restored by prayer to God’s favour.
O how wonderful is the efficacy of prayer. Two sinners die with Jesus Christ on Calvary; one begs of the Redeemer to remember him and he is saved; the other does not pray and he is damned.
In fine, Saint Chrysostom says, ‘No sinner has with sorrow asked favours and the benefits of God from Him, without obtaining what he wished.’ – (Saint Chrysostom, Homily ‘de Moysi’.) But why seek further reasons or authorities, when Jesus Christ has said, ‘Come to me all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you.’ – (Matthew 11:28.) Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine, and others say, that by them who ‘are burdened,’ the Redeemer meant sinners who groan under the weight of their iniquities and, that if these invoke the Lord, they will, according to the promise of Christ, be refreshed, restored to His friendship, and saved through the divine mercy.
‘Ah,’ says Saint Chrysostom, ‘you do not desire so ardently the forgiveness of your sins, as God desires to grant it.’ The saint adds, that ‘there is no favour, which the most abandoned sinner may not obtain by fervent and assiduous prayer.’ –(Saint Chrysostom, homily 23, on Matthew.)
Mark the words of Saint James: ‘But if any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men abundantly and upbraids not.’- (Saint James 1:5.) The Lord, then hears all who pray to Him, and enriches them with his graces: ‘Who gives to all men abundantly.’ The words, ‘and upbraids not,’ signify that God does not act like men, who when asked for a favour by one who had offended them, immediately upbraid him with his misconduct. It is not thus that the Almighty treats those who ask His mercy. Though their sins be as numerous as the sands of the sea, or as the stars of the heavens, He will not reproach them with their iniquities, when they ask any favour conducive to their eternal salvation; but, as if they had never insulted His Majesty, He will instantly receive and console them; He will hear their supplications, and will enrich them abundantly with all His gifts.
To animate our confidence the Redeemer says, ‘Amen, Amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father any thing in my name, He will give it to you.’ – (John 16:23.) As if He said, sinners be not disheartened, let not your sins deter you from invoking my Father, and hoping to obtain from Him eternal salvation. You indeed have no claim to the graces which you require; you deserve nothing but everlasting torments. But, notwithstanding your unworthiness, go to my Father, in my name, and, through my merits, ask the graces you stand in need of, and I promise, I even swear, to you, (‘Amen, Amen, I say to you,’ is according to Saint Augustine, a species of oath,) that my Father will grant whatever you demand. O God! Can a sinner have a greater source of consolation, than to know with certainty that he will receive all he asks in the name of Jesus Christ?
I say that he will obtain every thing which appertains to eternal salvation; for with regard to temporal goods, I have, elsewhere, already said that the Almighty does not always hear us when we pray for them, because He knows they would be opposed to our spiritual interests. But His promise to hear our prayers for spiritual favours, is absolute and unconditional; and therefore Saint Augustine exhorts us to ask, with confidence of receiving them, the graces which God has promised absolutely. ‘What God has promised, ask with security.’ – (Sermon 354 and the Glosses from Augustine on 2 Corinth 13.) And, how can God refuse what we ask with confidence, when He is more desirous of dispensing His graces than we are of obtaining them. ‘He,’ says Saint Augustine, ‘is more willing to bestow His benefits on you, than you are to receive them.’
Saint Chrysostom says, that God’s wrath is provoked against us, only when we neglect to ask His gifts. ‘He is not angry except when we do not ask.’ Is it possible that God will not hear a soul imploring favours agreeable to His will? When a Christian says, Lord, I do not ask from you goods of this earth; I do not seek riches, honours, or pleasures; I only beg your holy grace: deliver me from sin; grant me a good death; inflame my heart with your holy love; (which, Saint Francis of Sales says, should be more fervently asked from God, than any of His other gifts;) infuse into my soul a spirit of resignation to your holy will; can the Almighty refuse to hear such a prayer? ‘What prayers, O Lord,’ says Saint Augustine, ‘will you hear, if you reject those that are according to your own heart?’
Our confidence, when we pray for spiritual favours, should be animated by the words of Jesus Christ. ‘If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good spirit to them that ask Him.’ – (Luke 11:13.) If you, says the Redeemer, who are so full of self-love, and therefore so much attached to your own interest, cannot refuse your children what they ask, how can your heavenly Father, whose love for you exceeds that of the tenderest parent; how, I say, can He deny you the spiritual blessings which you seek from Him by humble prayer.