The Necessity of Prayer – continued.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
The Necessity of Prayer – continued.
In the preceding Treatise we have seen how important it is for everyone to meditate on the great truths of the Christian faith. We will here show the necessity and efficacy of prayer. “Meditation shows us with its light what we stand in need of; the prayer of petition obtains it. The former prepares the road of perfection; the latter leads us safely along our road. By meditation we become aware of the dangers that threaten us: by prayer we escape them” (St. Bernard Serm. 2, In Festo, S. Andreæ). By which is meant that meditation is necessary to us in so far as, making us aware of our needs, it moves us to ask and obtain of God whatever is necessary.
After Baptism, man stands in need of constant prayer, in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven, for, though by Baptism sins are washed away, there yet remains the incentive to sin which attacks us from within, while the devil and the world assail us from without. Hence it is expressly noted in St. Luke, that while Jesus was praying, after having been baptized, the heavens were immediately opened, that we might understand how necessary to the baptized is that prayer which opens to us also the gates of heaven, and prepares for us an entrance into that blessed country (St. Thomas, Part III, Q. 39, Art. 5, in corp.).
What is said here of Baptism is also true of Penance, whereby we recover the baptismal gift.
The holy Doctor teaches this same truth in another place when he observes that “after a man has been justified by the gift of grace he must, of necessity, ever pray and beg the gift of perseverance to the end, that God may keep him from the evil of sin to the very end of his days” (St Thomas I, 2 qu., 199, Art. 10, in corp.).
This great necessity for prayer arises from the two following truths.
The first truth is that, apart from God’s special assistance, we cannot continue long in His friendship, for so many are the internal impulses of our passions inciting us to evil, so great is the attraction and fascination by which outward objects allure us to what is wrong, so many are the attacks which our hellish foes bring to bear upon us in order to hurl us into sin, that the brittle clay of which we are formed cannot withstand all these shocks; and unless the Almighty hand of God protect us with His grace, we must necessarily fall into some grievous offence. And, furthermore, to remain in God’s friendship, we are obliged to perform various good and holy works which His laws commands us to perform. Now, unless we mean to partake in the heresy of the Pelagians, we are bound to own that this is possible to us only by special assistance of divine grace.
If ever we have observed a boat in the middle of a strong and rapid current, we must have noticed what great strength of arm, and what exertion on the part of the rowers, are needed to carry it against the stream to its destination; but, that it may be borne away and swamped by the current, all that the boatmen have to do is to cease plying their oars. And exactly in the same manner, in order to make for the port of everlasting bliss, against the stream of our passions, the allurements of the world, the temptations of the devil, how much striving on our part, and grace on the side of God, are needed for us! But to drift into sin and perdition, we have only to be forsaken of God, and left to the weakness of our own frail nature. All this is a simple truth of the Catholic faith, defined by the Council of Trent, when it teaches that, in order to gain the grace of God and to persevere in it, we must be helped by His special assistance (Session VI, De Justif, Can. i, 2, 22).
The second truth we have to establish is this: that the above-mentioned grace and aid, so necessary to maintain us in God’s favour, and to help us to the possession of everlasting life, towards which all our desires tend, are usually withheld from him who seeks it not in prayer. Such is the express teaching of St Augustine: “We believe that none can start upon the road to salvation, unless invited by the preventing grace of God; that no one pursues the path and works out his salvation, unless encouraged by the helping grace of God; that no one can merit or receive such graces and such helps, except by means of supplication and constant petition” (St. Augustine Lib. De Ecclesia, Dogm. Cap. 57).
Divines infer from this, that we are all under a grave obligation to pray especially in times of grievous temptation, and in circumstances of danger. Indeed, they further add, we are bound to this, not only by the divine positive precept, but by the natural law itself; because, presupposing that we have the light of faith, reason itself dictates that we are bound to make use of the means necessary to save ourselves from everlasting ruin. But it must be plain to everyone that the chief of these means is to beseech and obtain the help of God.
The Angelic Doctor is, of all divines, the most emphatic in his assertion and proof of the gravity of this obligation of praying for necessary aid. He affirms as certain in several of his works, that “every one is obliged to use the prayer of petition, for the very reason that everyone is bound to gain for himself those spiritual gifts which can be given by no one but God alone, nor obtained from Him except by way of earnest petition” (St. Thomas, In IV, Sent. Dist. 15, Art. I, q. 3). “ Prayer is necessary, and even of strict obligation, in regard to whatever the will is bound to perform in order that we may attain our last end” (St Thomas).
St. Chrysostom illustrates by a striking and most apt comparison, the grave obligation, we all lie under, of unceasingly begging God to help us. “Take a fish out of water, and shortly you will see it expire under your very eyes. In the same manner, cease, yourself, from prayer, you too will soon die to grace and to God; for what water is to the bodily life of a fish, that prayer is to man’s spiritual life” (Lib. II, De Orando Deum).
Now, as a fish, if endowed with faith and reason, would be under a grave obligation not to leave the element which is essential to the preservation of its life; so, a Christian is bound not to forsake prayers, supplications, and petitions, on which depend both the life of grace in this world, and that of a glorious immortality in the world to come.
It is, then, utterly impossible to attain to Christian perfection without prayer; for perfection requires us to keep not only the commandments, but also the counsels; not merely to avoid grievous sin, but even lesser faults. And what is more to the purpose, it supposes us to aim at uprooting every vice or evil habit, to moderate our passions, to acquire the moral virtues, and above all, to gain charity, wherein perfection mainly consists, the which being very difficult, requires a special aid of divine grace, and consequently that we apply ourselves unceasingly to prayer and supplication. “I deem it plain to everyone, that it is absolutely impossible, without the help of prayer, to live virtuously, and thus to persevere in goodness throughout life. For how can anyone lead a virtuous life unless he continually draw nigh to, and suppliantly call upon, Him, Who alone can impart goodness to man? (St. Chrysostom, Lib. I, De Orando Deum).
If anyone would assert that prayer and devout supplication are to the soul what the sinews are to the body, I would go with him. For as our bodily frame is made up of sinews, and by them knit together, and moved, and made suitable for all the operations that constitute our life; so, in the same way, all the vigour and activity of the soul is founded on prayer. In prayer the soul receives strength for acts of virtue, and is enabled to run with speed along the road of piety and perfection. And, as it suffices that but one sinew should be cut, to destroy the framework of the body, so that nothing but a helpless trunk should remain; in like manner, when deprived of prayer, the soul loses its balance, strays from the path of virtue, and becomes incapable of doing good” (St. Chrysostom, Lib. II, De Orando Deum).
Let no one, therefore, hope for salvation, still less for perfection, who is not determined to be constant in the frequent exercise of prayer, of petition, and of repeated supplication, for every need of his soul (Scaramelli).
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
What claims has not our Lord to our service for the blessings He has showered upon us, and which have cost Him so dear! When He proposed to sacrifice Himself because of His love for us, He forgot, it seems, according to our manner of speaking, that He was God. – St. Ignatius of Loyola, Letter 50.
April Devotion: The Holy Ghost (The Passion for Lent)
Virtue to practice: Patience
Vexilla Regis prodeunt
The royal banners forward go;
The Cross shines forth in mystic glow,
Where Life for sinners death endured,
And life by death for man procured.
Where deep for us the spear was dyed,
Life’s torrent rushing from His side,
To wash us in that precious flood
Where mingled, Water flowed, and Blood,
Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
‘Amidst the nations, God,’ saith he,
‘Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.’
O Tree of beauty! Tree of light!
O Tree with royal purple dight!
Elect on whose triumphal breast
Those holy Limbs should find their rest.
On whose dear arms, so widely flung,
The weight of this world’s ransom hung:
The price of human kind to pay
And spoil the spoiler of his prey.
O Cross, our one reliance, hail,
Thou glory of the saved, avail*
To give fresh merit to the Saint,
And pardon to the penitent.
To Thee, Eternal Three in One,
Let homage meet by all be done;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost restore,
Preserve and govern evermore. Amen.
Vexilla Regis pródeunt,
Fulget Crucis mystérium,
Qua vita mortem pértulit,
Et morte vitam prótulit.
Quæ vulneráta lánceæ
Mucróne diro, críminum
Ut nos laváret sórdibus,
Manávit unda et sánguine.
Impléta sunt quæ cóncinit
David fidéli cármine,
Regnávit a ligno Deus.
Arbor decóra et fúlgida,
Ornáta regis púrpura,
Elécta digno stípite
Tam sancta membra tángere.
Beáta, cuius bráchiis
Prétium pepéndit sæculi,
Statéra facta córporis,
Tulítque prædam tártari.
O Crux, ave, spes única,
Gentis redémptæ glória!*
Piis adáuge grátiam,
Reísque dele crímina.
Te, fons salútis, Trínitas,
Colláudet omnis spíritus:
Quibus Cricis victóriam
Largíris, adde præmium. Amen.
(ex. Breviario Romano)
*Instead of: ‘Thou Glory of the saved,’ during Passiontide, say: ‘This Holy Passiontide‘, during the Paschal Season: ‘Thou joy of Eastertide‘, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: ‘On this triumphant day.‘
An indulgence of 5 years.
A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions for the daily recitation of this hymn throughout an entire month (S.C. Ind., Jan. 16, 1886; S.P.Ap., April 29, 1934).
Copyright © 2013 – 2014. Holy Cross Publications. All rights reserved.