Prayers Appease God, and Avert from us the Chastisement we Deserve, provided we purpose to Amend.
"Petite et accipietis, quaerite et invenietis."
"Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find."--John, xvi. 24
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
He who has a good heart cannot but feel compassion for the afflicted, and wish to see all men happy. But who has a heart as good as the Lord's? He by His nature is infinite goodness, whence it is that God by His nature has an extreme desire to deliver us from every evil, and render us happy in all things, nay, even partakers of His own happiness. He wishes, therefore, that for our greater good we beg of Him the graces which we stand in need of, that we may be spared the chastisement which we deserve, and arrive at life everlasting. Hence He has promised to hear the prayers of him who prays to Him with hope in His goodness. Ask and you shall receive. But to come at once to the subject of our discourse:Act of Contrition
GOD IS APPEASED BY PRAYERS, AND LED TO WITHDRAW THE CHASTISEMENT WHICH WE DESERVE, PROVIDED WE PURPOSE TO AMEND.
Hence in order to be delivered from the present scourge, and still more from the eternal scourge, WE MUST PRAY AND HOPE. This is to be the first point. But it is not sufficient to pray and to hope: WE MUST PRAY AND HOPE AS WE OUGHT. This is to be the second point.
1. WE MUST PRAY AND HOPE
God wishes that we should all be saved, as the Apostle assures us: God, Who will have all men to be saved (1 Tim. ii. 4). And although He sees so many sinners who deserve hell, He does not wish that any of them should be lost, but that they should be restored to His grace by penance, and be saved. Not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance (2 Peter iii. 9). But before delivering us from the punishment we have deserved, and dispensing His graces, He wishes to be sought in prayer. By prayer," says St. Laurence Justinian, "the wrath of God is suspended, His vengeance is delayed, and pardon finally procured. Oh how great are the promises which God makes to him who prays! Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee (Ps. xlix. 15). Cry to Me , and I will hear thee (Jer. xxxiii. 3). You shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you (John, xv. 7). Theodoret says that prayer is one only instrument, but that it can effect all things. And let us bear in mind, my brethren, that when we pray and ask things conducive to salvation, not even our sins can prevent our receiving the graces which we beg. For every one that asketh receiveth (Matth. vii. 8). Jesus Christ here says that whoever asks, be he just or in sin, shall receive. Wherefore did David say, For Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild, and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon Thee (Ps. lxxxv. 5). Hence the Apostle St. James, in order to excite us to prayer, tells us: "But if any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not (James. i. 5)"
When God is solicited, He gives more than is asked of Him, He giveth to all men abundantly. When one man asks a favor of another whom he may have formerly injured, the latter usually reproaches him with the injury that had been done him; but not so God--he never upbraideth. When we beg of Him some grace for the good of our souls, He never reproaches us with the offences which we have committed against Him; but He hears us, and consoles us as though we had always served Him faithfully. Hitherto you have not asked anything in My name, said the Lord one day to his disciples, and to-day He says the same thing to us: Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full (John, xvi. 24). As if He were to say, Why do you complain of me? You have only yourselves to blame you have not asked graces of me, and therefore you have not received them. Ask of me, henceforward, what you please, and it shall be granted you; and if you have not merit sufficient to obtain it, ask it of my Father in my name, that is, through my merits, and whatever it be, I promise you that you shall obtain it. Amen, amen, I say to you; if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you (John, xvi. 23). The princes of the earth, says St. John Chrysostom, give audience only to a few, and that seldom; but access can always be had to God by every one, at all times, and with certainty of a favorable hearing.
Rely, then, upon these great promises, so often repeated by the Lord in the Scriptures; and let us ever be attentive to beg of Him those graces which are necessary for salvation, namely, the pardon of our sins, perseverance in His grace, His holy love, resignation to His divine will, a happy death, and Paradise. By prayer we shall attain all; without prayer we shall have nothing. What the holy Fathers and theologians commonly say, namely, that prayer is necessary to adults, as a means of salvation, comes to this, that it is impossible for any one to be saved without prayer. Lessius wisely says, that it ought to be of faith; that without prayer salvation is impossible to adults. And this is clearly to be drawn from the Scriptures, which say: Ask, and you shaill receive (John, xvi. 24): for as he who seeks obtains, says St. Theresa, he who does not seek does not obtain. Pray that ye enter not into temptation. We ought always to pray (Luke, xviii. I). The words "seek," and "pray," and "we ought," according to the opinions of most theologians, along with St. Thomas, imply a precept binding under pain of mortal sin.
Let us pray, then, and pray with great confidence. Confidence in what? In that divine promise by which, says St. Augustine, God has made Himself our debtor. He has promised; He cannot be wanting to His promise; let us seek and hope, and we must be saved. No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded (Ecclus. ii. 11). There never has been and never will be found any one to hope in the Lord and be lost, as the prophet assures us: He is the protector of all that trust in Him (Ps. xvii. 31).
But how comes it, then, that some persons ask graces and do not obtain them? St. James answers that it is because they ask ill. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss (James, iv. 3). You must not only ask and hope, but ask and hope as you ought. This brings us to the second point.
2. WE MUST HOPE AND PRAY AS WE OUGHT.
God has all the desire to deliver us from every evil, and to share His blessings with us, as I said in the beginning, but He wishes to be sought in prayer, and prayed to as He should, in order that we should be heard. How can God think of hearing that sinner who prays to Him that he may be freed from his afflictions, whilst he is unwilling to abandon sin, which is the cause of his afflictions? When the impious Jeroboam stretched out his hand against the prophet, who reproached him with his wretchedness, the Lord caused his hand to wither up, so that he could not draw it back. And his hand which he stretched forth against him withered, and he was not able to draw it back again to him (3 Kings, xiii. 4). Then the king turned to the man of God, and besought him to beg of the Lord to restore his hand to him. Theodoret says, with regard to this circumstance: "Fool that he was to have asked the prophet's prayers for the restoration of his hand, and not for pardon of his sins." Thus do many act; they beg of God to deliver them from their afflictions; they beg of the servants of God to avert by their prayers the threatened chastisements, but they do not seek to obtain the grace of abandoning their sins and changing their lives. And how can such persons hope to be freed from the chastisement when they will not remove its cause? What arms the hand of the Lord with thunders to chastise and afflict us? Oh, it is accursed sin! "Punishment is the fine that is to be paid for sin," says Tertullian. The afflictions we suffer are a fine which must be paid by him whom sin has subjected to the penalty. St. Basil in like manner says that sin is a note of hand which we give against ourselves. Since we sin, we voluntarily go in debt to God's justice. It is not God, then, who makes us miserable; it is sin (Prov. xiv. 34). Sin it is which obliges God to create chastisements: Famine, and affliction, and scourges, all things are created for the wicked (Ecclus. xl. 9).
Jeremias, addressing the divine vengeance, says, O thou sword of the Lord, how long wilt thou not be quiet? Go into thy scabbard, rest and be still (Jer. xlvii. 6). But then, he goes on to say, How shall it be quiet when the Lord hath given it a charge against Ascalon? How can the sword of the Lord ever be quiet if sinners do not choose to abandon their sin, notwithstanding that the Lord has given a charge to His sword to execute vengeance as long as sinners shall continue to deserve it? But some will say, we make novenas, we fast, we give alms, we pray to God: why are we not heard? To them the Lord replies, When they fast, I will not hear their prayers, and when they offer holocausts and victims, I will not receive them; for I will consume them by the sword, and by famine, and by pestilence (Jer. xiv. 12). How, exclaims the Lord! how can I hear the prayers of those who beg to be freed from their afflictions, and not from their sins, because they do not wish to reform. What care I for their fasts, and their sacrifices, and their alms, when they will not change their lives. I will consume them by the sword. With all their prayers, and devotions, and penitential exercises, I shall be obliged by my justice to punish them.
Let us not, then, my brethren, trust to prayers or other devotions, unaccompanied by a resolution to amend. You pray, you smite your breast, and call for mercy; but that is not enough. The impious Antiochus prayed, but the Scriptures say that his prayers failed to obtain mercy from God. Then this wicked man prayed to the Lord, of whom he was not to obtain mercy (2 Mach. ix. 13). The unhappy man, finding himself devoured by worms, and near his end, prayed for life, but without having sorrow for his sins.
Nor let us trust in our holy protectors, if we do not purpose to amend. Some say we have our patron or some other saint who will defend us; we have our Mother Mary to procure our deliverance. Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance. Who hath showed you to flee from the wrath to come? . . . and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham for our father (Matt. iii. 8). How can we think to escape punishment if we do not abandon sin? How can the saints think of assisting us if we persist in exasperating the Lord? St. John Chrysostom says, of what use was Jeremias to the Jews? The Jews had Jeremias to pray for them, but, notwithstanding all the prayers of that holy prophet, they received the chastisement, because they did not wish to give up their sins. Beyond doubt, says the holy Doctor, the prayers of the saints contribute much to obtain the divine mercy for us, but when? when we do penance. They are useful, but only when we do ourselves violence to abandon sin, to fly occasions, and return to God's favor.
The emperor Phocas, in order to defend himself from his enemies, raised walls and multiplied fortifications, but he heard a voice saying to him from heaven: "You build walls, but when the enemy is within, the city is easily taken." We must then expel this enemy, which is sin, from our souls, otherwise God cannot exempt us from chastisement, because He is just, and cannot leave sin unpunished. Another time the citizens of Antioch prayed to Mary to avert from them a scourge which overhung them; and whilst they were praying, St. Bertoldus heard the divine Mother replying from heaven, "Abandon your sins, and I shall be propitious to you."
Let us then beg of the Lord to use mercy towards us, but let us pray as David prayed: Lord, incline unto my aid (Ps. lxix. 2). God wishes to aid us, but He wishes that we should aid ourselves, by doing all that depends upon us. "He who desires to be assisted," says Hilaretus, "must do all that he can to assist himself." God wishes to save us, but we must not imagine that God will do all without our doing anything. St. Augustine says: " He who created you without your help, will not save you without your help." What do you expect, sinful brother? That God will bring you to Paradise with all your sins upon you? Do you continue to draw down upon you the divine scourges, and yet hope to be delivered from them? Must God save you while you persist in damning yourself?
If we purpose truly to turn to God, then let us pray to Him and rejoice; even though the sins of the entire world were ours, we should be heard, as I said to you in the beginning. Every one who prays with a purpose of amendment, obtains mercy (Matt. vii. 8). Let our prayers be in the name of Jesus Christ, who has promised that the eternal Father will grant us everything we ask in His name, that is, through His merits. If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you (John, xvi. 23). Let us pray, and never cease from prayer; thus we shall obtain every grace, and save ourselves. It is to this we are exhorted by St. Bernard, who tells us to pray to God through the intercession of Mary: "Let us seek grace, and seek it through Mary; because he who seeks through her, obtains his request, and cannot be disappointed." Mary, when we pray to her, certainly pleads for us with her Son; and when Mary prays for us, she obtains what she demands, and her prayer cannot be refused by a Son who loves her so much.
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.Other Related Links: