Prayer: The Chief Duty of the Christian


Prayer: The Chief Duty of the Christian


But, someone will say, since God can give and wishes to give me the grace of perseverance, why does He not give it to me at once, in the instant I ask Him for it?

The holy Fathers assign many reasons for this, and among them the following:

1.God does not grant it at once, but delays it, in order that, first of all, He may better prove our confidence in Him.

2. And, further, says St. Augustine, that we may long for this grace of perseverance all the more vehemently. Great gifts, he says, should be greatly desired; for good things soon obtained are not appreciated as much as those things which have been long sought: "God wills not to give quickly, that you may learn to have a great desire for great things; things long desired are received with greater pleasure, but things soon given are cheapened." (Serm. 61 E.B.)

3. Again, the Lord God does so that we may not forget Him. If we were already secure of persevering and of being saved, and if we had not continual need of God's help to preserve us in His grace and to attain salvation, we should soon entirely forget Him. The great poverty and want of the poor cause them to keep resorting to the houses of the rich. It is thus that God, to draw us to Himself, as St. John Chrysostom says, and to see us often at His feet, in order to be able to do us greater good, delays giving us the complete grace of salvation till the hour of our death: "It is not because He rejects our pray­ers that He delays, but by this contrivance He wishes to make us careful, and to draw us to Himself." (In Gen. Hom. 30)

4. Again, He does so in order that we, by persevering in prayer, may unite ourselves closer to Him with the sweet bonds of love: "Prayer," says the same St. Chrysostom, "which is accustomed to converse with God, is no slight bond of love to Him." (In Ps. 4) This continual recurrence to God in prayer, and this confident expectation of the graces which we desire from Him -- oh, what a great incentive it is to spur us on, inflaming our souls with the chains of love, and binding us more closely to God!

But, until what time do we have to pray?

Always, says the same saint, till we receive the favorable sentence of eternal life, that is to say, until our death: "Do not leave off till you receive." (In Matt. hom. 24) And he goes on to say that the man who resolves -- "I will never leave off praying until I am saved" -- will most certainly be saved: "If you say, I will not give in until I have received, you will assuredly receive." The Apostle writes that many run for the prize, but that he alone receives it who runs until he wins: "Know you not that they who run in the race, all indeed run, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain." (1 Cor. 9:24) It is not enough for salvation, then, simply to pray; but we must pray always, that we may come to receive the crown which God promises, but promises only to those who are constant in prayer until the end.

Thus, if we wish to be saved, we must do as holy David did, who always kept his eyes turned to God, to implore His aid against being overcome by his enemies: "My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the snare." (Ps. 24:15) The Devil is continually spreading snares to swallow us up, as St. Peter writes: "Your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8); so we ought ever to stand with our spiritual arms in our hands to defend ourselves from such a foe, and to say with the royal prophet, "I will pursue after my enemies; and I will not turn again till they are consumed." (Ps. 17:38) I will never cease fighting until I see my enemies conquered. But how can we obtain this victory, so crucial for us, yet so difficult? "By most persevering prayers," says St. Augustine, -- only by prayers, and those most persevering; and until when? As long as the fight shall last. "As the battle is never over," says St. Bonaventure, " so let us never give up asking for mercy." (De uno Conf. S.5) As we must be always in the combat, so should we be always asking God for aid not to be overcome by our enemies. Woe, says the Wise Man, to him who in this battle leaves off praying: "Woe to them that have lost patience." (Ecclus. 2:16) We may be saved, the Apostle tells us, but on this condition, "if we retain a firm confidence and the glory of hope until the end" (Heb. 3:6); if we are constant in praying with confidence until death.

Let us, then, take courage from the mercy of God and His promises, and say with the same Apostle: "Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or danger, or persecution, or the sword?" (Rom. 8:35, 37) Who shall succeed in estranging us from the love of Jesus Christ? Tribulation, perhaps, or the danger of losing the goods of this world? The persecutions of devils or men? The torments inflicted by tyrants? "In all these we overcome" (it is St. Paul who encourages us), "because of Him that hath loved us." (ibid) No, he says, no tribulation, no misery, danger, persecution, or torture, shall ever be able to separate us from the love of Jesus Christ; because with God's help we shall overcome all, if we fight for love of Him Who gave His life for love of us.

Hippolitus Durazzo, the day when he resolved to relinquish all of his dignities at Rome, and to give himself entirely to God by entering the Society of Jesus (which he afterwards did), was so afraid of being faithless on account of his weakness that he said to God, "Forsake me not, O Lord, now that I have given myself wholly to Thee; for pity's sake, do not forsake me!" But he heard the whisper of God in his heart, "Rather, do not thou forsake Me;" said God, "Thus do I say to thee, forsake Me not!" And so the servant of God, trusting in His goodness and help, concluded, "Then, O my God, Thou wilt not leave me, and I will not leave Thee."

Finally, if we wish not to be forsaken by God,
we ought never to cease praying to Him to remain with us. If we do thus, He will most certainly always assist us, and will never allow us to perish, and to be separated from His holy love. To this end, let us not only always take care to ask for final perseverance, and the graces necessary to obtain it, but let us, at the same time, ask God by anticipation for the grace to go on praying; for this is precisely that great gift which He has promised to His elect by the mouth of the prophet, "And I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and prayers." (Zach. 12:10) Oh, what a great grace is the spirit of prayer; that is, the grace which God confers on a soul to enable it to pray always! Let us, then, ne­ver neglect to beg God to give us this grace and this spirit of continual prayer; because if we pray always, we shall certainly obtain from God perseverance and every other gift which we desire, since His promise of hearing whoever prays to Him cannot fail. "For we are saved by hope." (Rom. 8:24) With this hope of always praying, we may believe ourselves to be on the path of eternal salvation. "Confidence will give us a broad entrance into this city." (In Solemn. Omn. SS., hom. 2) This hope, said the Venerable Bede, will give us a safe passage into the city of Paradise.

St. Thomas' conditions for prayers to be heard by God:

(1) to pray for ourselves; (2) for the graces necessary for salvation;

(3) piously, that is, with humility and confidence; and (4) with perseverance.

Salva Regina