IT is an undoubted truth, supported by the doctrine of the Saints, and confirmed by constant experience, that the good or bad conduct of Christians depends almost entirely upon the manner in which they perform the holy duty of prayer. 'He who knows how to pray well,' says St. Augustine, 'knows also how to live well.' And St. John Climachus relates, that he heard a great servant of God say, that from the manner in which he performed his morning prayer, he knew with perfect clearness how the rest of the day would be passed. The same thing is also asserted by St. Bonaventure, who says, that without prayer 'religion is dry, imperfect, and nearly lost.'
It is, therefore, of the highest importance that every Christian should be well instructed in the duty of prayer, that he may learn how to lead a life worthy of his holy vocation, and secure the salvation of his soul.
NECESSITY OF PRAYER FOR ALL ADULTS IN ORDER TO ATTAIN
TO ETERNAL LIFE.
Necessity of prayer for all Christians in general.
It is of faith that man, without the grace of God, cannot do the least thing towards his eternal salvation. In the natural order, man can by his natural faculties and powers acquire a certain proficiency, and even arrive at some degree of perfection; but not so in the supernatural order; for every thing bearing reference to eternal life is above his natural power, and consequently requires the aid of Divine grace. The Pelagians of old asserted that man did not stand in need of the helping grace of God to practise Christian virtues, and to acquire merit for eternal life; but this error was triumphantly confuted by St. Augustine, and they were consequently condemned as heretics by the Church. But notwithstanding this, the Semi-Pelagians arose soon after, maintaining that man could at least make an act of faith, take the first step towards his eternal salvation by his own natural strength, unaided by Divine grace; but they, like the former, were immediately condemned by the holy Church, and the grace of God was pronounced to be absolutely necessary towards the performance of every, even the least action, in order that it may become worthy of eternal reward. "Without Me," says our blessed Lord, " you can do nothing." 'Let the action be ever so insignificant,' remarks St. Augustine on this passage, 'it is impossible to perform it without the help of Him, without whom nothing can be done.'
Now, if it be certain that the help of Divine grace is absolutely necessary to enable a man to perform any good work towards obtaining eternal life, it is equally certain that the ordinary means by which the grace of God is to be attained is that of prayer; for prayer is the key, as the holy Fathers call it, of the divine treasures, and generally speaking, God confers His supernatural blessings only on those who pray for them. 'We believe,' says St. Augustine, 'that no one ever attains salvation but through the help and assistance of Divine grace; and that no one ever deserves the aid of Divine grace unless he asks and prays for it—Nullum credimus . . . salutem suam nisi Deo auxiliante operari; nullum nisi orantem auxilium promereri.'i The earth gives its fruits only when tilled and cultivated according to the appointment of Providence; and that we may succeed in human arts and sciences, it is requisite to employ such means as are ordained by God for the attainment of that end; and so, that we may obtain from Almighty God that aid and assistance which we stand in need of to secure our eternal salvation, we must have recourse to prayer, that means which He has appointed for us to obtain His supernatural blessings. "Ask," says our blessed Lord, "and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." 'He, therefore,' says St. Teresa, 'who does not ask shall not receive; he who does not seek shall not find; and to him who does not knock, it shall not be opened.' This Saint compares the man who neglects the important duty of prayer to a paralytic who has hands but cannot use them, and feet but cannot move them; so the person who neglects prayer is afflicted with a spiritual palsy; for although he has a will and an understanding, yet he cannot make use of them, nor guide them towards the attainment of eternal life. The great St. Liguori was so deeply impressed with this truth, that he continually exhorted the priests and missionaries of his congregation to explain often to the faithful the necessity and advantages of prayer, and bitterly complained that preachers, confessors, and spiritual writers, are not sufficiently attentive in dwelling upon and enforcing this duty. In order to assist the faithful to , perform well this most important duty, he wrote a most valuable treatise on prayer, and was accustomed to say, that he desired to have as many copies of this little book as there were men upon earth, that so he might give one to each of them.
The necessity of prayer is so great, that nothing else can supply its omission. The want of actual baptism may be supplied by martyrdom, as it was in the case of the holy innocents; the want of the sacrament of penance may be supplied by perfect contrition; those who are unable to fast may make up for this by alms-deeds; and those whose poverty prevents them from relieving the poor, may supply this deficiency by bearing patiently the crosses and afflictions which God sends them; but the omission of prayer can be supplied by nothing else, because the person who neglects prayer thereby cuts away the channel of Divine blessing, for prayer is, in the ordinary course of providence, the means through which they are bestowed. "You have not," says St. James, "because you ask not." Hence the angelic doctor St. Thomas writes thus: 'Every man is bound to pray by the very reason of his being obliged to procure for himself spiritual blessings, which can only be obtained from God by the means of prayer. Ad orationem quilibet homo tenetur ex hoc ipso,quod tenetur ad bona spiritualia sibi procuranda, quae nonnisi divinitus dantur; unde alio modo procurari non posmnt nisi ab ipso petantur.'1
This doctrine of St. Thomas is confirmed by the teaching and practice of all the Saints, who evince in the strongest terms their belief in the necessity of prayer. Some compare the man who neglects prayer to a tree without roots, which quickly withers and dies, and is only fit to be cast into the fire; others compare him to a fortress without walls, which is continually exposed to the attacks of the enemy. Some say that a man without prayer is like a fish out of water, that dies immediately; others say that he is like a body without a soul,—a corpse deprived of life and motion. St. Teresa relates of herself, that when she happened to grow cold and indifferent about prayer, in addition to losing the spiritual consolation and delight which she had previously experienced, she also began to fall into several faults, and declares that God shewed to her, that she would certainly have been cast into hell, if she had not quickly arisen from that state.
Since, then, prayer is so absolutely necessary for the attainment of eternal life, apply yourself with all diligence, O Christian soul, to this holy exercise, and take all possible care to perform it with fervour and devotion. Whatever your condition may be — whether you are in honour or abjection, in abundance or poverty — "Let nothing hinder you from praying always; and be not afraid to be justified even to death."2 "Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God concerning you."3 "Take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, by all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the spirit."i Often call to your remembrance that saying of St. Teresa, That no one ever attained to any high degree in perfection, unless he was advanced and well exercised in the practice of prayer.
i Lib. de Eccles. Dogm. cap. 57.
1 In 4. Sent. Dist. 15. art. i. qusest. 3.
2 Ecclus. xviii. 22.
3 1 Thess. v. 17,18. all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the spirit."i Often call to your remembrance that saying of St. Teresa, That no one ever attained to any high degree in perfection, unless he was advanced and well exercised in the practice of prayer.
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.