Of perseverance in our prayers.
The last condition necessary for the good success of our prayers is that of perseverance. We are sure—and our assurance rests on the solemn promise of the Son of God—that our petitions, when made with proper dispositions, cannot be disregarded, but must, sooner or later, attain their effect. We cannot entertain a shadow of douht respecting this; "for heaven and earth shall pass away, but the words of Christ shall last for ever." But though certain of this, yet we have no certainty whether Almighty God will he moved to grant us immediately the object of our prayers; for we know that God sometimes defers to grant our petitions, in order to try our virtue, or to increase our merit, or for some other reason known only to His infinite wisdom. Hence it is necessary that we should continue to pray to God without ceasing, as the Apostle teaches, supported and animated by the thought that our perseverance will be crowned with a happy success. "Blessed is the man," says the Wise Man, "that heareth me, and watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors." [ Proverbs viii. 34.] To animate ourselves to this perseverance, let us often reflect on that beautiful parable of the two friends, related by our Saviour in the holy Gospel, by which He teaches us to pray to Him unceasingly, until we obtain from Him the object of our request. Our Saviour relates that the friend, who had already retired to bed, at first refused to lend his friend the loaves which he asked, because he came at an unseasonable hour; yet afterwards, on account of the importunity of his demand, he rose from his bed and granted what he desired. And then our Saviour immediately adds, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." And as if all this were not sufficient to infuse great confidence into the breast of His disciples, and animate them to perseverance in prayers without despondency, He reminds them of the conduct of a tender and loving father, who feels the greatest delight in giving good things to his well-beloved children, and concludes by saying, that we must expect still more from the goodness and love of our heavenly Father. "Which of you," says He, "if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? or a fish, will he for a fish give him a scorpion? 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 xi.]
Let us not, then, be discouraged nor cast down if God at first seems to be insensible to our prayers; but let us urge ever more and more our petitions, and persevere in them with perfect confidence that at length we shall obtain our request. For God,' as St. Gregory says, 'wishes to be invoked, wishes to be compelled, wishes to be overcome by a certain importunity.' And St. Jerome says, that 'our prayers are pleasing to God according to our earnestness and perseverance.' We have in the Gospel two beautiful examples of the wonderful efficacy of the persevering prayer. One is that of the Cananean woman, who, though seemingly repulsed by our Lord as unworthy of His gifts, yet continued her petitions with greater fervour, and at last heard those consoling words: "O woman, great is thy faith; be it done unto thee according to thy word." The other is that of the blind roan of Jericho, who, though commanded by the disciples of Christ to hold his peace, persevered in crying out, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!" and so merited to receive the favour requested. When, therefore, it happens that we do not succeed in obtaining the object of our petitions so soon as we expected, let us wait patiently for God's hour; let us persist in knocking without ceasing at the door of His mercy, until He is pleased to open to us. "Expect the Lord, do mindfully, and let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord." [Psalm.xxvi. 14.] Let us take courage by reflecting on the words of St. Teresa, that 'the person who perseveres in prayer, whatever be the obstacles which the devil raises against her, may stand assured that God, sooner or later, will draw her out of danger, and lead her to the port of salvation.'
We have a most convincing proof of this truth in the life and actions of those Saints who, from the depths of sin, passed, by the help of Divine grace, to the height of perfection. St. Mary of Egypt, after her conversion, was attacked by the most severe temptations for eighteen years; and it was by means of constant and fervent prayer that she was enabled to resist them, as she declared to the holy Abbot Zosimus. St. Augustine also had to endure, during twelve years, the most violent temptations, on account of his former evil habits; and he likewise overcame them by humble and constant prayer. The same also is related of St. Margaret of Cortona, and of other holy penitents, who, by their constancy and perseverance in prayer, have been enabled to overcome all their spiritual enemies, and to attain to a high degree of perfection.