THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT – 2018

“… but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6)

The holy season of Advent is set apart by the Church as a time of preparation for our lord’s coming. And the preparation we are to make should consist chiefly of the practice of the three eminent good works; prayer, fasting and alms-deeds. In order, then, that we may conform to the spirit of the Church, and exercise ourselves in these good works, let us meditate a few moments on the subject of prayer.

1. The importance of prayer may be gathered from the maxim of a great saint who said, “He who prays will be saved; he who does not pray will be lost.” The truth of this maxim will appear to every one after a very little consideration. There can be no doubt that no one will be saved who does not keep the Commandments; but we cannot keep the Commandments without God’s grace; and we cannot obtain God’s grace, unless we ask for it, that is unless we pray. For grace, as the very name denotes, is essentially a gratuitous gift, for which we are indebted to God’s bounty, to obtain which, therefore, we must, as the apostle reminds us, “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let our petitions be made known to God.” Not only is it impossible, without God’s grace, to keep the Commandments, but we have also been taught that it is impossible to do any good work whatsoever towards our salvation without the help of God’s grace; and this grace we can only obtain by prayer and the holy sacraments. There are, therefore, two sources through which grace enters the soul prayer and the holy sacraments. But we cannot receive the sacraments themselves worthily, ordinarily speaking, unless we pray. Hence, it is a fundamental principle of the Christian religion that we cannot save our souls, nor indeed, take a single step towards our salvation, without prayer; that, with prayer, we may do everything; without prayer, we can do nothing.

We may also judge of the importance of prayer from another point of view; by the hostility which the devil manifests to prayer, and the extraordinary pains he takes in order to prevent people from praying. In fact, the devil scarcely heeds what we do, so long as we do not pray, or do not pray fervently. The devil, of course, is constantly endeavouring to draw us into sin. If he succeeds, he is pleased surely enough; if he does not succeed in that, but can only manage to make us disgusted with prayer, or fill our minds with distractions when we do pray, he is fact, we had better give up the attempt altogether. This, indeed, is the difficulty which constitutes the chief part of that ceaseless struggle which characterises the spiritual life; the lassitude from which we suffer, and the disinclination we feel to persevere in prayer, proceed from sloth, which is one of the seven capital enemies of our salvation. And if we are in earnest about our salvation, we must beyond all question, take up arms against this enemy, and resist him even unto death. There can be no doubt, then, that this strange aversion to prayer is often to be traced to the direct agency of the evil one. He cares little for our external works of piety and religion and our works of charity; indeed, he is rather inclined to encourage them, if only he foresees that we shall, in consequence, take such pride in them as to fall unsuspectingly into some trap which he is preparing for us. But, when we begin to pray in earnest, then it becomes a serious matter for him. He knows well enough that any one who prays earnestly is sure to escape all his snares, that he has no chance with that soul; and he will, accordingly, bring all his legions of wicked spirits to prevent that soul from praying. He will torment that soul with distractions; he will put every imaginable obstacle in the way; he will suggest to that soul a thousand plausible ideas of other things they might do for the glory of God, for the good of their neighbours, for their own spiritual benefit except prayer that will never do. Such, my brethren, is the fact of which you must all have had experience, and such is the explanation of that equally satisfied, knowing well that, sooner or later, the soul that does not pray, must inevitably fall a victim to his stratagems. This is the explanation, my dear brethren, of a fact which must have often struck you that people find comparatively little difficulty in observing their other spiritual duties, such as hearing Mass, frequenting the Sacraments, engaging in active works of piety and charity; but when they come to the exercise of prayer, they encounter an insurmountable struggle. They feel an intense disgust for it, before commencing it, they avail themselves of any trivial excuse for putting it off; and when they do begin to pray, their minds are instantly filled with all manner of suggestions and trains of ideas, which prevent them from giving their attention to prayer; so that there is a miserable sense of unsatisfactoriness about the whole thing; as if it were all in vain and not worth the trouble — as if, in fact, we had better give up the attempt altogether.

This, indeed, is the difficulty which constitutes the chief part of that ceaseless struggle which characterises the spiritual life; the lassitude from which we suffer, and the disinclination we feel to persevere in prayer, proceed from sloth, which is one of the seven capital enemies of our salvation. And if we are in earnest about our salvation, we must beyond all question, take up arms against this enemy, and resist him even unto death. There can be no doubt, then, that this strange aversion to prayer is often to be traced to the direct agency of the evil one. He cares little for our external works of piety and religion and our works of charity; indeed, he is rather inclined to encourage them, if only he foresees that we shall, in consequence, take such pride in them as to fall unsuspectingly into some trap which he is preparing for us. But, when we begin to pray in earnest, then it becomes a serious matter for him. He know swell enough that any one who prays earnestly is sure to escape all his snares, that he has no chance with that soul; and he will, accordingly, bring all his legions of wicked spirits to prevent that soul from praying. He will torment that soul with distractions; he will put every imaginable obstacle in the way; he will suggest to that soul a thousand plausible ideas of other things they might do for the glory of God, for the good of their neighbours, for their own spiritual benefit except prayer that will never do. Such, my brethren, is the fact of which you must all have had experience, and such is the explanation of that fact. Do we, then after this need any further argument to convince us of the immense importance, the absolute necessity of prayer in the work of our salvation?

2. In the next place, let us consider what is prayer. Prayer is the raising up of the mind and heart to God; not of the mind only, for it is not enough to think of God merely; nor are theological speculations prayer; nor of the heart only, for we must know what we are doing, when we pray; but of the mind and heart to God. Hence, prayer, generally speaking, is to enter into communication, to occupy our thoughts and our affections with God. In a stricter sense, it means to address our petitions to God, asking Him for those things of which we stand in need. In this sense, it is the expression of the utter dependence of the creature upon the Creator which leads us in all our necessities to have recourse to Him who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

There are two kinds of prayer, according to the way in which it is made. There is mental prayer and vocal prayer. Mental prayer is made by the mind alone, without the utterance of the voice. When we give utterance to our prayer by the voice…, it is called vocal prayers. Of course, vocal prayers, without the attention of the mind to what we are saying, is worth nothing at all. It is of this kind of prayer that our Lord speaks when He reproached the Jews: “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)

Mental prayer is, therefore, of the greatest importance; for it is by this kind of prayer that we are enabled to fulfil the precept of the apostle, “pray constantly.” (1 Thess. 5:17) For, it is not necessary that we should go on our knees, nor give utterance to our prayer; but it is sufficient, if we merely lift up our mind and heart to God, in the midst of our daily occupations, and occupy our thoughts with Him. Indeed, we may say that holiness and perfection depend upon the degree in which the soul practices this life of continual prayer; seeing that prayer is the very nutriment of spiritual life; consequently, he will possess this life more abundantly, who shall pray more frequently and fervently. Now, there is no one, whatever may be his condition of life, who cannot use this means, and lead a life of continual prayer. At the same time, vocal prayer, at stated periods, should not be omitted, for this is a necessary part of the virtue of religion, by which we render due homage to Almighty God. And it is rendered in two ways; publicly and privately: privately, by ourselves, and publicly, in common with others. With regard to this latter kind of vocal prayer, our Lord has said that it has a special efficacy of its own. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20) For we all form but one body in Christ; so that when we meet together in the Church, and join our prayers with those of the faithful, these prayers ascend to the throne of grace with a power of impetration far greater than when they are put forth privately. And here let me exhort you to remember this, whenever public prayers are recited in this Church, as for example, the holy Rosary, it is the duty of every one in the Church to join in those prayers in an audible voice; and those who, through indolence, or a foolish timidity, do not recite the prayers aloud, deprive themselves and their fellow-worshippers of much grace and edification.

I have said nothing of the disposition with which we ought to pray, because this is an important subject, which would require a much longer time than remains to me to treat of it. But I trust that what I have said will not fail to move you to greater fervour and perseverance in prayer, understanding that so much depends on it; nothing less, in fact, than our eternal salvation. By prayer alone can we obtain grace to resist temptation: “Keep awake and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Matt. 26:41) By prayer alone can we obtain those effectual graces which are necessary for us to work out our salvation. “Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) God wishes our salvation, and He is always ready to give us His abundant graces, whereby we may secure it; on one condition only, namely, that we should ask for them; that we should pray. Pray, then, and pray without ceasing, “that your joy may be full;” the joy which “no man shall take from you.” The eternal possession of all good in the beatific vision of God.

Pax et Bonum

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