| Fifth Sunday After Easter: |
The Strength of Prayer
by Fr. Raphael Frassinetti, 1900
Gospel. John xvi. 23-30. At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it you. Hitherto you have not asked anything in My name: ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you in proverbs. The hour cometh when I will no more speak to you in proverbs, but will show you plainly of the Father; in that day you shall ask in My name: and I say not to you, that I will ask the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world, and I go to the Father. His disciples say to him: Behold now Thou speakest plainly, and speakest no proverb; now we know that thou knowest all things, and Thou needest not that any man should ask Thee. By this we believe that Thou comest forth from God.
"Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto you have not asked anything in My name: Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." This was the secret that Our Lord today revealed to His disciples, by means of which they might get anything they needed. At the same time Our Lord wished to teach the necessity of praying, in order that the treasures of God's graces may descend on us. That Amen, amen, was a real oath that He took, for did He not in another place say that we should not waver, but that our strongest words should be yea, yea, no, no? Our Lord made His language so strong to teach us that God could not do otherwise than fulfil our wishes. He has in reality lost the liberty of refusing. St. Augustine tells us that He really becomes our debtor after a good prayer. My task today will be to make us see the necessity of prayer, and how it should be made, in order that it may be acceptable to almighty God, and thus secure for us all that our necessities require.
Our Lord tells the Apostles that it is necessary to pray always and never to give it up. Pray that temptation may not enter our heart. He wants us to pray at all times, and He frequently gave us the example. How often do we find that He went to a solitary mountain or desert, and spent whole nights in prayer! At one time He gathered His Apostles about Him and delivered to them a formula of prayer, the Our Father. It makes no difference where we pray, for prayer can be heard by almighty God in any place. He knows where we are, and we cannot be hid from Him. We need not use studied words or correct language; Our Lord understands us, and that is all that is required. But while we need no great preparation to appear before God's throne in order to pray, there are, nevertheless, some qualities that our prayers must have in order to be heard. And these qualities are but natural ones; we are making a petition, and a petition humble and simple. The prayer of a soul that humbles itself shall penetrate the clouds.
Beside the command to pray and to pray always, our necessities should also force us to have recourse to God, as we know that by prayer we can remedy what is amiss in our condition. We cannot trust ourselves with good resolutions for one hour in the day. Prayer will remedy that, because prayer gives us the grace of perseverance. On account of the frailty of our human nature, we cannot remain long without falling into sin. It is impossible without the grace of God to continue in doing good; but prayer will give us this steadfastness. Yes, indeed, the fact that we live in so many dangers, surrounded by bitter enemies, should make us careful, and watchful not to be surprised into committing sin. If we want to be victorious, as we ought to be and can be, we must have recourse to prayer. Prayer is the invincible weapon which we can use against all our enemies. You yourselves, my good young people, must have experienced the efficacy of prayer. When you were in some great danger, when you were beset by some great temptation, when some bad companion drew you into sin, when the devil was on the point of robbing you of the grace of God, and depriving you of His friendship, what was it that preserved you? It was prayer. By the exclamation, "Jesus, mercy! Sweet heart of Mary, be my salvation!" you received strength, and understood that you were about to do something wrong. On the contrary, when you did not pray, what happened? You were cowards. The least temptation was fatal to you; you yielded to the slightest demand your passions made upon you.
How is it, then, that young and old may lead a life of sanctity and purity even though surrounded by bad example? Whence shall they receive strength to persevere and be the glory of God's house? From nothing but prayer. He who prays will be saved; he who prays will correct himself of all bad habits, and will not fall into sin. The wickedness of the world comes from a want of prayer; this world is the antechamber of hell, but by prayer could be changed into the antechamber of heaven. We are very much inclined to attribute our repeated falls into sin to our weakness. We say the temptations are too strong, and we cannot resist them. But are you not blind as regards the real state of things? You do not pray any more, all prayers are put aside and you scarce have a pious thought in a week. No wonder! where there is no prayer there is necessarily sin. If at the very onset of temptation you would cry out with the Royal Psalmist, "Lord, open Thy eyes to my need. Lord, hasten to my relief; Lord, allow me not to fall away from grace; just now I would rather die than commit this sin," you would not then fall into sin.
When David the prophet was a youth, he recited long prayers, and it made him a saint. St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, rose from his couch a hundred times every night to pray. St. Agatha, virgin and martyr, preserved her innocence by prayer. A cruel tyrant had apprehended her, and determined to put her to death. But she prayed, "Lord Jesus, Lord of all things, Thou seest my heart, and Thou knowest what is my desire; Thou alone art my Spouse and I am entirely Thine. Protect me against this tyrant." The monster consigned her to a bad woman, worse than the devil. In her house she was locked up for a whole month, but she never ceased to recommend herself to her Spouse Jesus Christ, and she triumphed over all temptations; such is the efficacy of prayer.
Prayer, to have these grand effects, should be well made; a prayer badly made is no prayer at all, and God does not listen to it. How do you pray? Generally in a great hurry; no sooner have you begun than you grow tired and wish it finished. You pray with such carelessness that you do not know what you are saying. Will not Our Lord have reason to complain of you as He did of the Jewish people, "This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." Would you not, instead of pleasing Jesus, deserve the reproof, "Hitherto you have not asked anything"?
The poor man ought to be our model in saying our prayers. The Holy Ghost also refers us to that picture of the poor beggar: the poor man speaks with supplication, he presents to your view his torn garments, he makes you take notice of his pale, sickly looks, he pours forth his tale of woe with such eloquence that you are touched with pity; he begs almighty God to shorten your time in purgatory, that you may have a beautiful bed in heaven; he prays to you in consideration of the five wounds of Our Lord and for the sake of the cross; he puts on a very humble appearance, and for all this he expects a few pennies at most from you. Shall we not also put on an humble exterior as well as an humble interior, to ask of God what we need? Let us tell God why we are begging, and He will grant our request. St. Julian prayed so fervently, and used to groan and sigh so loud, that passers-by wondered what trouble he was in. Then he would say, "Do not deceive yourselves, be sure God will not give us heaven if we pray coldly and indifferently. Heaven is worthy of heavy sighs and fervent aspirations."
You must pray with the positive desire that what you ask will be granted, and that you really feel the necessity and want of it. Many pray and are afraid that what they ask will be granted. St. Augustine acknowledged that before his conversion, while he used to pray to be freed from the demands of his passions, he wished that God would delay a little, because he had an evil inclination which he felt he might still enjoy. Many young people pray in this way. They know a thing is wrong, and they know they ought to give it up, and in fact have half made up their minds to do so, but they are afraid that God will take them at their word. St. Augustine says, "I feared you would heal me too soon of the vice of impurity in which I was indulging, and which I would rather keep than have it taken from me."
In prayer we must show our confidence and trust in almighty God. We are all beggars; the poorer we are the more humble we must be, and the more confidence we should have that God will give us all that will make us acceptable to Him. He has to do it if He wants us near Him, as we cannot do it ourselves. We ought to be so importunate and so determined in our demands that no delay would put us off or apparent coolness discourage us. As God puts the knowledge of our misery into our heart, and at the same time the desire to remedy it, will He not give us the festal garment that is necessary in order to be admitted to the heavenly banquet?
Not only should we pray with confidence, but also with perseverance. Too many Christians fail in this quality of prayer; their necessities seem not sufficiently important, and therefore they drop the subject quickly; we do not persevere in prayer if we act thus. One thought, one request is not all that God wants before He grants our demands; we bid God to hurry to our necessities and if He does not we give Him up, much as the inhabitants of Bethulia did when Holofernes invaded the place; they said, "Now five days more will we wait and pray to God, and see whether relief will come to us; if not we will give ourselves up to the enemy." Our young people especially act in this way; they have no perseverance, they do not believe in waiting. A young man gets into the habit of committing a certain sin, and falls into it frequently; the confessor tells him that he is following a path which will lead him to perdition. He says to him, "My son, do not continue on that road; retrace your steps and recommend yourself often to God and you will succeed." The youth listens to the advice; as long as he prays fervently he is able to resist the temptation of the devil, but after a few days he grows tired or feels too secure, and neglects prayer. No sooner is this carelessness established than the old habit comes back in triumph.
I hope, my dear young people, that you have preserved your baptismal innocence. It is likely that many of you have. If you wish to remain faithful in that happy state, pray without interruption, and then you will receive the grace never to fall into mortal sin; those who, unhappily, have lost their innocence must pray with fervor that they may not remain in that state and be lost for all eternity. Make frequent aspirations to Our Lord, to the Blessed Virgin, and to your patron saint. These prayers will keep you from sin, and if you be in sin they will purify your conscience. Imitate the angelic youth St. Aloysius Gonzaga. It would be well if you made the devotion of the Six Sundays in preparation for his feast. St. Aloysius frequently hid himself in an obscure corner to pray; when he was a little older he prayed for half an hour in the morning and one or two hours in the evening. He rose in the night and prayed. "The prayer of the just is the key of heaven."