Prayer in General
and Common Prayer
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
With Nihil Obstat, Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur, 1937

First of all, we must have a correct idea of prayer in general and recall what St. Augustine and St. Thomas teach about the prayer of petition. [1]


We seem at times to believe that prayer is a force, with its first principle in ourselves by which we try to bend the will of God with persuasion. Immediately we are confronted with this difficulty, often formulated by unbelievers and in particular by deists, namely, that no one can move or bend the will of God. God is without doubt goodness which asks only to give itself, mercy ever ready to come to the help of him who suffers and implores; but He is also perfectly immutable being. The will of God is from all eternity as inflexible as it is merciful. No one can boast of having enlightened God, of having made Him change His will. "I am the Lord and I do not change." The order of the world and the course of human events are, by His providential decree, mightily and gently, as well as irrevocably, determined in advance. Must we conclude that our prayer can accomplish nothing, that it comes too late, and that, whether we pray or not, what is going to happen will happen?

We have our Lord's words in the Gospel: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you." Prayer is not a force with its first principle in ourselves; it is not an effort of the human soul trying to do violence to God to make Him change His providential dispositions. At times these human ways of expression are used metaphorically. In reality, the will of God is absolutely immutable; and precisely in this immutability lies the source of the infallible efficacy of prayer.

Basically it is very simple. True prayer, by which we ask for ourselves with humility, confidence, and perseverance, the gifts necessary for our sanctification, is infallibly efficacious, because God, Who cannot contradict Himself, has decreed that it should be so, and because our Lord has promised it. [2]

It is puerile even to conceive of a God Who would not have foreseen and willed from all eternity the prayers we address to Him, or of a God Who would incline before our will and change His designs. Not only all that happens has been foreseen and willed, or at least permitted, in advance by a providential decree, but the way things happen, the causes that produce events, all have been determined from all eternity by Providence. In all orders, physical, intellectual, and moral, in view of certain effects, God has prepared the causes that must produce them. For material harvests, He has prepared the seed; to make parched soil fertile, He willed abundant rainfall. He raises up a great military leader to bring about a victory which will be the salvation of a people. To give the world a man of genius, He prepares a superior intellect served by a better brain, by special heredity, by a privileged intellectual environment. To regenerate the world in its most troubled periods He decided there should be Saints. And to save humanity, Divine Providence prepared from all eternity the coming of Jesus Christ. In all orders, from the lowest to the highest, God disposes causes in view of certain effects which they are to produce. For spiritual as well as material harvests, He has prepared the seed, without which the harvest will not be obtained.
Prayer is precisely a cause ordained to produce this effect, the obtaining of God's gifts necessary or useful for salvation. All creatures live by the gifts of God, but only intellectual creatures take cognizance of this fact. Stones, plants, and animals receive without knowing that they do so. Man lives by the gifts of God, and he knows it. If the carnal man forgets this fact, it is because he does not live as a man. If the proud will not admit it, that is because pride is the greatest foolishness.

Existence, health, strength, the light of understanding, moral energy, the success of our undertakings, all are the gift of God; but especially is this true of grace, which leads us to salutary good, makes us accomplish it, and persevere therein.

Is it surprising that Divine Providence wills that man should ask for alms, since man understands that he lives only on alms? Here as elsewhere, God wills first of all the final effect, then He ordains the means and the causes which are to produce it. After deciding to give, He decides that we shall pray in order to receive; just as a father, who purposes in advance to grant a favor to his children, resolves to make them ask for it. The gift of God is the result; prayer is the cause ordained to obtain it. It has its place in the life of the soul, that it may receive the good things necessary or useful for salvation, as heat and electricity have their place in the physical order.

Jesus, Who willed to convert the Samaritan woman, said to her, for the purpose of leading her to pray: "If thou didst know the gift of God ... thou perhaps wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water ... springing up into life everlasting."

From all eternity God foresaw and permitted the falls of Mary Magdalen, but He had His designs on her and willed to restore life to that dead soul. He decided, however, that this life would be restored to her only on condition that she desired it. He also decided to give her a very strong and gentle actual grace that would make her pray. This is the source of the efficacy of prayer. Because Magdalen prayed, sanctifying grace was given to her; but certainly, without prayer she would have remained in her sin. It is, therefore, as necessary to pray if we are to obtain God's assistance which we need for the observance of the Divine law and for perseverance in it, as it is necessary to sow seed if we are to reap grain.
Consequently we should not say: "Whether we prayed or not, whatever was going to happen, would happen." This would be as silly as to say: "Whether we sow or not, once summer has come, if we are to have wheat, we shall have it." Providence has to do not only with the result, but also with the means to be employed. It safeguards human liberty by a grace as sweet as it is strong. "Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you."

Prayer is not, then, a weak force with its first principle in us. The source of its efficacy is in God and the infinite merits of Jesus Christ. It descends from an eternal decree of God; it springs from redeeming love, and it reascends to the Divine mercy. A jet of water cannot rise unless the water descends from an equal height. Likewise, when we pray it is not a question of persuading God, of inclining Him, of changing His providential dispositions; it is simply a question of raising our will to the level of His will so as to will with Him what He has decided to give us, the good things useful to our sanctification and salvation. Prayer, instead of tending to bring down the Most High to us, is an elevation of our soul to God. Dionysius compares the man who prays to a sailor who, in order to land, pulls a cable fastened to a rock on the shore. This rock, which rises above the water, is motionless; to the man in the boat, however, the rock appears to be advancing; although in reality, only the boat is moving. Likewise, it seems to us that the will of God bends when our prayer is heard and granted; yet it is our will alone that ascends. We begin to will in time what God has willed for us from all eternity.

Prayer is not in opposition to the Divine government; rather it thus co-operates with that government. There are two of us who will, instead of one. When a sinful soul, for which we have long prayed, is converted, it is God Who converts it, but we have been the associates of God in this work. From all eternity, He decided to produce this salutary effect in that soul only with our co-operation.

The Church has defined, as a point of doctrine against the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians, that we cannot form a true prayer without an actual grace. We ask only for what we desire, and it is a question here of desiring what God wishes for us in the way in which He wishes it; in other words, it is a question of making our will conform to His. To do that He must draw us, and we must allow ourselves to be attracted by Him. "No man," says our Lord, "can come to Me, unless the Father Who hath sent Me, draw him," and St. Paul says: "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5). A sinner is deprived of sanctifying grace and in that state is incapable of meriting; but he can pray. An actual grace suffices; it is offered to all, and only those are deprived of it who refuse it. [3] At the moment this grace is granted him, a sinner should fall on his knees. If he does not resist, he will be led from grace to grace, even to conversion and salvation. With humility, confidence, and perseverance, a Christian must throughout his life ask God for the supernatural energy which he needs to obtain Heaven.

From all this we see what prayer can obtain for us. Heaven is the goal of the life of the soul. To this supreme end God subordinates whatever He is pleased to grant us, for He gives us both corporal and spiritual things only for the conquest of a blessed eternity.

Therefore prayer can obtain for us only the things that help in the attainment of our last end, eternal life. Beyond that it can do nothing. It is too lofty to obtain for us temporal success without regard or relation to our salvation. We must not expect such a result from it. [4]

There are two types of goods which advance us on our way to Heaven: spiritual goods, which bring us there directly; and temporal goods, which can be indirectly useful for salvation in the measure in which they are subordinated to the first. Spiritual goods are grace, virtues, and merits. Prayer is all-powerful in obtaining for a sinner the grace of conversion, and for a just man the actual grace necessary for the accomplishment of his duties as a Christian. Prayer is supremely efficacious in obtaining for us a livelier faith, a more confident hope, a more ardent charity, and a greater fidelity to our vocation. The first petition in the Lord's prayer is that the name of God be sanctified, glorified by a radiant faith; that His kingdom may come is the object of our hope, and that His will may be done and accomplished with love and a more fervent charity. Prayer is all-powerful in obtaining our daily bread, not only the food of the body but that of the soul, the supersubstantial bread of the Eucharist and the dispositions necessary for a good Communion. It is efficacious in obtaining for us the pardon of our faults, with the interior disposition to pardon our neighbor. Likewise it is efficacious in making us triumph over temptation; "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation," said our Lord. He has also told us that, to be delivered from evil and from the spirit of evil, we must pray; "This kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting." [5]

Obviously prayer must be sincere. To ask for grace to overcome a passion without avoiding the occasions of sin, to ask for the grace of a happy death without trying to lead a better life, is not to formulate a true prayer, a true desire; it is scarcely indeed a vague wish. Prayer must also be humble, since it is the petition of a beggar, It must be confident, trusting in the mercy of God, never doubting His infinite goodness. It must be persevering to show that it springs from a profound desire of the heart. [6] Occasionally God seems not to hear us immediately, that He may try our confidence and the strength of our good desires, as Jesus tried the confidence of the woman of Canaan by severe words that appeared to be a  refusal: "I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel. ... It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs." Under Divine inspiration, the woman of Canaan answered: "Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters. Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt. And her daughter was cured from that hour." [7]

If we have truly prayed with perseverance and if, in spite of our supplications, God leaves us to grapple with temptation, we should recall the example of St. Paul, who also asked repeatedly to be delivered from the sting of the flesh which tormented him. And he received this reply: "My grace is sufficient for thee." With the Apostle, believing that this struggle is profitable for us, let us not cease to ask for grace, which alone can keep us from weakening. Let us thus learn our indigence, that we are really poor and that it is fitting for a poor man to ask for aid. All his life a Christian must ask for the supernatural energy necessary to work out his salvation. The human soul cannot attain Heaven unless it is propelled by God. [8] Once it is launched on its way, it must fly. Prayer is like the beating of the wings of a little bird which has been thrown out of its nest and needs help.

As regards temporal blessings, prayer can obtain for us everything that in some way or other will assist us on our voyage to eternity: food, health, strength, prosperity. Prayer can obtain all, on condition that we ask first and foremost for grace to love God more: "Seek ye first the kingdom of Heaven, and all these things will be added unto you." [9] Is prayer inefficacious because we have not succeeded in some undertaking? If we have prayed truly, we have not asked for this temporal favor in itself, but only in the measure in which it would be useful to our salvation. If we have not obtained it, that is because we are to be saved without it. Our prayer is not lost; we have not obtained this temporal favor which was useless to us, but we have obtained or will obtain another more precious grace.

Humble, trusting, persevering prayer, by which we ask for the things necessary for salvation, is infallibly efficacious by virtue of our Lord's promise. [10] God indeed commands us to work for our salvation. He adds: "Without Me (without My grace) you can do nothing"; "ask, and you shall receive." He promises that if we ask this grace of Him, He will give it to us. What is more, He causes this prayer to spring up in our hearts, and inclines us to ask Him for what He wills from all eternity to grant us. If such a prayer were not infallibly efficacious, salvation would be impossible. God would be commanding us to do something impossible of realization, and contradiction would exist in Him Who is supreme truth and supreme goodness. A simple soul immediately understands Christ's words: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you." "And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? ... If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from Heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him?" [11] Prayer is the breath of the soul.

Prayer is a more powerful force than all physical energies taken together, more powerful than money, than learning. Prayer can accomplish what all material things and all created spirits cannot do by their own natural powers. According to Pascal: "All bodies, the firmament and its stars, the earth and its kingdom, are not equal to the least of spirits. ... By assembling all material things one could not succeed in producing even a small thought. This is impossible and belongs to another order. ... All material bodies together and all spirits, and all that they produce are not worth the slightest movement of charity, which belongs to an infinitely more elevated order." [12]

Prayer can obtain grace for us which will make us produce this act of charity. Prayer thus plays an infinitely greater role in the world than the most amazing discovery. Who would presume to compare the influence exercised by an eminent scholar like Pasteur with that exercised through prayer by a St. Paul, a St. John, a St. Benedict, a St. Dominic, or a St. Francis?

Each immortal soul is worth more than the entire physical world. It is like a universe, since by its two superior faculties, intellect and will, it dwells on all things, even the Infinite. Prayer assures two things to souls striving to attain to God: supernatural light, which directs them; and Divine energy, which urges them on. Without prayer darkness reigns in souls; they grow cold and die like extinguished stars. It is essential to trust in this force which is of Divine origin; to keep in mind whence it comes and whither it goes. It descends to us from eternity by a decree of infinite goodness, and it is to eternity that it again ascends.
Prayer is an elevation of the soul to God, by which we will in time what God from all eternity wills that we should ask of Him, namely, the different means of salvation, especially progress in charity. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things will be added unto you." But we feel the need of a more intimate prayer in which our soul, in deeper recollection, may come into contact with the Blessed Trinity dwelling in us. This we desire that we may receive more abundantly from the interior Master that light of life which alone can make us penetrate and taste the mysteries of salvation, and reform our character by supernaturalizing it, by making it conformable to Him Who invites us to seek peace of soul in humility and sweetness. This intimate prayer is mental prayer. This is the prayer that prepares for infused contemplation. We will briefly consider how to attain to this acquired prayer and how to persevere in it.
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel: "And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. ... But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret, and thy Father Who seeth in secret, will repay thee." [13] St. Teresa says simply: "Mental prayer is nothing else, in my opinion, but being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him Who, we know, loves us." [14] Truly simple Christian souls are acquainted with spontaneous, intimate prayer. A certain peasant, questioned by the Cur
é of Ars, gave an excellent definition of it. The Cure, noticing that he remained silent, without even moving his lips, during long periods of adoration, asked him what he said to our Lord during those hours of recollection. "Oh, I don't say anything to Him," replied the peasant; "I look at Him, and He looks at me." [15]

This is that interior prayer which was so often the prayer of the Christians of the catacombs and of all the Saints, long before modern treatises on meditation.

What is more simple than prayer? Its spontaneity is sometimes lost by the use of methods that are too complicated. They may be useful to beginners, but they are apt to provoke an excessive reaction in many souls. The latter, wearied by this complexity, sometimes sink into a pious reverie without any real profit. The truth, here as elsewhere, is above these two extreme errors and lies in a happy medium. A method is useful in the beginning, especially as a means of preventing distractions. But if we are to keep it from becoming an obstacle rather than a help, it must be simple; instead of breaking the spontaneity and continuity of prayer, it must simply describe the elevation of the soul toward God. It must merely indicate the essential acts which compose this movement.
What are these acts? Evidently prayer is more than an act of the intellect like a simple study. Speculative souls, curious about the things of God, are not for that reason contemplative souls or prayerful souls. In their reflections they may experience a pleasure far surpassing that of the senses; but this pleasure often comes merely from their knowledge, and not from charity. They are moved by a love of knowledge much more than by the love of God. This pleasure sometimes increases their pride and self-love. Study and speculation do not necessarily suppose the state of grace and charity, and do not always assist in developing this state. Prayer, on the contrary, must proceed from the love of God and must end in Him. The contemplation of God is desired out of love for Him, and the contemplation of His goodness and beauty increases love. Moreover, love of God in this life, as we have seen, is more perfect than the knowledge of God. Charity is more perfect than faith, because knowledge in a way draws God down to us and, as it were, reduces Him to the measure of our ideas; whereas love draws us toward God, elevates us to Him, unites us to Him. And, as long as we are deprived of the beatific vision, it is charity especially which unites us to God and constitutes the bond of perfection.

Consequently this virtue must have the first place in our soul. The soul must lift itself to God on the wings of the intellect and the will aided by grace. Therefore prayer is a movement of supernatural knowledge and love.

What are the essential acts of prayer? That it may be the lifting up of the whole soul to God, prayer must be preceded by an act of humility and must proceed from the three theological virtues, which unite us to God, animate the virtue of religion, and obtain for us the illuminations and inspirations of the Holy Ghost. The soul flies, so to speak, like a bird by the effort of its wings, but the breath of the Holy Ghost sustains this effort and often carries the soul higher than it I could go by its own virtues. We will consider these different facts of prayer. In the perfect they are often simultaneous and continuous; but, in describing them, we will enumerate them one after the other as they appear in beginners.

Prayer should begin with an act of humility, a fundamental virtue, for every prayer should be humble. When we begin to converse with God, we should recall what we are. Of ourselves we can do nothing and less than nothing, since our sins are a disorder inferior to nothingness itself. The basic virtue of humility removes pride, which is the chief obstacle to grace. Humility does not crush us; it leads us to adoration and reminds us that in a very fragile vessel we bear an infinitely precious treasure, sanctifying grace and the Trinity dwelling in us. We do well to think of this truth at the outset so that our prayer may not proceed from vain sentimentality, but from grace itself which is infinitely superior to our emotions.
We should humbly adore the Blessed Trinity Who vivifies us interiorly. Adoration is one of the first acts of the virtue of religion, which is quite naturally joined to that of humility. [16]

This act of humility should be followed by an act of faith, a very simple, wordless, deep, and prolonged act on some fundamental truth, such as: God, His perfections, His goodness; our Lord, the mysteries of His life, passion, and glory; or again our great duties, sin, our vocation, the duties of our state in life, our last end. These subjects should recur frequently. On feast days the liturgy suggests the subject. For this consideration of faith, some words of the Gospel or of the Divine Office suffice. St. John of the Cross taught his disciples to spend very little time on the representation of figures formed in the imagination, but to elevate themselves by discursive acts to the consideration of the mystery itself in the light of faith: for example, to the consideration of what constitutes the price of Christ's sufferings, His redeeming love which is of infinite value. It is not necessary to reason much, because the simple act of theological faith is superior to reasoning. It becomes more and more a simple gaze which ought to be accompanied by admiration and love. This faith, which is higher than all philosophical or theological speculation, makes us adhere infallibly and supernaturally to the mysteries which the elect contemplate in Heaven. In this sense it is, as St. Paul says, "the substance of things to be hoped for." Its obscurity does not hinder it from being infallibly certain. It is the first light of our interior life. I believe what God has revealed, because He has revealed it. This Credo seems at times to become a Video. We see from afar the fountain of living water.

This act of faith in the Divine truth which is being considered gives rise naturally to an act of hope. We desire beatitude, the peace promised by God to those who follow Jesus Christ. We see clearly, however, that by our own natural strength we shall not be able to realize this supernatural ideal. Then, turning to the infinitely helpful goodness of God, we ask His grace. This is supplication, the ordinary language of hope, the formal motive of which is the Divine help, Deus auxilians. [17] After uttering its Credo, the soul is led spontaneously to say; desidero, sitio, spero.

Having seen from afar the fountain of living water, we desire to attain it that we may drink long draughtS from it: "As the hart panteth after fountains of living water, so doth my soul pant after Thee, O God." [18]

The act of hope in its turn disposes us to an act of charity; for confidence in God's help makes us reflect that He is good in Himself and not only because of His favors. [19] Then spontaneously an act of charity arises in us, at first under an affective form. If in this act our feelings offer us their inferior assistance, we should accept it. It may indeed be useful, on condition that it remains subordinated; but it is not necessary, since it disappears in aridity. We are here speaking of a calm but profound affection which is surer and richer than superficial emotions. It expresses itself somewhat in this manner: My God, I no longer wish to lie by telling Thee that I love Thee. Grant that I may love Thee and please Thee in all things. Diligo.
This affective charity should finally become effective charity. It may take this form of expression: I wish to conform my will to Thine, O good God; to break whatever renders me the slave of sin, of pride, of selfishness, of sensuality. I wish, O Lord, to participate more and more fully in the Divine life Thou dost offer me, for Thou didst come that we might have life in abundance. Increase my love; Thou dost ask only to give, and I in turn wish to receive as Thou desirest me to do, in trial as well as in consolation, whether Thou dost come to me to associate me with the joyful or the sorrowful mysteries of Thy earthly life, for all lead to eternal life which will unite us forever. I resolve today to be faithful to Thee in this matter which I have so often neglected. Volo.

In this culminating point of prayer, the knowledge of faith and the love of hope and charity tend under the Divine influence to fuse into a gaze of supernatural love. As we shall see, this gaze is nascent contemplation, an eminent source of action; it is Christian contemplation dwelling on God and our Lord, as an artist's contemplation dwells on nature, and that of a mother on the face of her child.

This loving contemplation supposes an inspiration of the Holy Ghost. His gifts, especially the gift of wisdom, which we received in Baptism and which increases in us with charity, render us particularly docile to these good inspirations. Thus the Holy Ghost answers the prayer which He inspired. From time to time, He makes Himself felt by us as the soul of our soul, the life of our life: He "asketh for us with unspeakable groanings," as St. Paul says. It is He who makes us cry "Abba, Father" to our Father in Heaven and, after letting us taste the beauty and riches of the mysteries of salvation, gives us a quasi-experimental knowledge of His presence and leads us to that fountain of living water which is Himself; there we may drink the light of life without the intermediary of human reasoning, even though it is always in the obscurity of faith. "Taste and see that the Lord is sweet." [20] How the Gospel fulfills our aspirations, surpasses them, and elevates them!

The knowledge of truths about the historic life of Christ which are preserved in our memory is superseded by a living, and as it were experimental, knowledge of God's action in us, of the actual influence of Christ's humanity which transmits all grace to us, and of the presence of the Blessed Trinity in our souls. [21] Prayer thus introduces us into the intimacy of love. Nothing is better able to correct our defects of character, give us a keen desire to resemble our Lord, lead us to imitate Him in everything, and arouse the highest virtues in us. Some characters will succeed in reforming themselves only by the loving contemplation of the Divine Master; for we imitate those whom we love, without being conscious of doing so.

Prayer is "the intercourse of friendship by which the soul often converses alone with God, knowing that it is loved by Him." "My Beloved to me, and I to Him." The acts of humility, faith, hope, and charity, and the influx of the gifts of the Holy Ghost tend, in proportion as the soul grows, to fuse into a gaze of ardent love. Consequently methods useful at the beginning must increasingly give place to docility to the Holy Ghost, Who breathes where He will.

Prayer tends to become a prolonged spiritual Communion: "I look at our Lord, and He looks at me." As the fathers have said, it is truly the repose of the soul in God, or the respiration of the soul which breathes in the truth and beauty of God by faith and breathes out love. What it receives from God under the form of grace, it returns to Him as adoration. This prayer, as we shall see farther on, is a disposition to contemplation. For the moment it will suffice to quote St. Teresa: "Those who are able thus to enclose themselves within the little heaven where dwells the Creator of both Heaven and earth ... may feel sure that they are traveling by an excellent way, and that they will certainly attain to drink of the water from the fountain, for they will journey far in a short time. They resemble a man who goes by sea, [22] and who, if the weather is favorable, [23] gets in a few days to the end of a voyage which would have taken far longer by land. These souls may be said to have already put out to sea." [24]

This method, or rather this very simple manner of making prayer, by recalling the necessity of the acts of the three theological virtues, makes it possible to unite the simplicity of prayer, as described by the ancient writers, with what is useful in the teaching of more recent masters. It is easy to make acts of faith, hope, and charity on all subjects. But if no subject attracts us, and if, on the other hand, we do not feel ourselves sufficiently united to God to avoid loss of time and to flee distractions, we will do well to follow St. Teresa's advice and meditate as slowly as possible on the Our Father. This is the greatest of prayers; composed by our Lord, it contains all possible petitions in a perfect order. We often recite it during the day, but so rapidly as not to taste all it contains. It is the true conversation of the soul. Let us say it with Christ Who taught it to us. The first three petitions correspond exactly, as St. Thomas says, to the three acts of faith, hope, and charity, which we have pointed out.

Our Father Who art in Heaven. Thou art also in us, for our souls are a heaven which is still in darkness.
Hallowed be Thy name. Glorified, that is, recognized and adored (gloria est clara notitia cum laude). May Thy word be accepted by a living and unshakable faith. Credo.

Thy kingdom come. This is the object of our hope, which rests especially on Thy infinitely helpful goodness. May this reign be more and more established in me and round about me. Sitio, spero.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. May our will, like that of the Saints in Heaven, be comformable to Thine. This is the greatest desire of affective and effective charity, which also asks for the daily bread of the Eucharist, and the forgiveness of sins. This charity also forgives the offenses committed by our neighbor, and it makes us ask to be kept from sin in the future. It is the elevation of the soul to God; in the morning before work, at night before sleep, and as often as possible during the day, at least by some short ejaculation.

If at times we are not table to meditate on the Our Father in this simple manner and cannot succeed in freeing ourselves from distractions, finding only aridity, it is well for us to practice affective prayer. This prayer consists simply in willing to be in that condition so as to love our Lord more than ourselves; willing to remain thus abandoned to His Divine will, accepting our powerlessness and uniting ourselves to Christ in the abandonment which He experienced while on earth, in Gethsemane and on the Cross, and which He still experiences in the Blessed Sacrament. This prayer, which sometimes resembles a purgatory, is not inertia; on the contrary, it is distinguished from it by the vigilance of love. It is very fruitful, since merit has its source in charity, and the end of prayer is not so much the forming of lofty considerations as the uniting of our souls to God, in Christ Jesus, in our sufferings as well as in our joys. Many intimate friends of our Lord are for many years associated in this manner with the sufferings of His heart. He makes them share in the sorrowful life which He led on earth before communicating to them His glorious life for eternity. A Christian soul is thus led to the "love of God even to the despising of self," or at least to forgetfulness of self and absorption in the glory of God and the salvation of souls.


We have demonstrated what common prayer, which tends to become more and more simple, should be. How can one attain to this prayer and persevere in it? First of all, we must confess that even common prayer depends chiefly on the grace of God, and consequently the soul prepares for it less by mechanical processes than by humility. God gives His grace to the humble. "Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven." [25] It is the little ones that God is pleased to instruct interiorly; humble souls like the peasant of Ars. In addition to the cultivation of humility, we must prepare ourselves for a life of prayer by mortification and detachment from sensible things and from self. Evidently, if our minds are preoccupied with worldly affairs and our souls disturbed by too human an affection, by jealousy, rash judgment, and the memory of wrongs we have suffered from others, we shall not be able to converse with our Lord. If in the course of the day we have criticized our superiors, in the evening we cannot feel united to God.

It is evident that all inordinate inclinations must be mortified so that charity may take the first place in our souls and rise spontaneously to God. On all occasions, in suffering or in consolation, we must form the habit of raising our hearts to God and of blessing the coming hour. Silence must reign in our souls, and our passions must be suppressed, if we are to hear the interior Master Who speaks in a low voice as friend to friend. If we are habitually concerned with ourselves, how shall we taste the sweetness of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the Eucharist?

All this work may be called a remote preparation for prayer. It is, however, far more important than the immediate preparation and the choice of a subject. The purpose of the immediate preparation is merely to stir up the fire of charity, which ought never to be extinguished in us and which must be nourished by a continual generosity. In this way very simple and fervent souls may reduce the immediate preparation to a minimum and may often during manual labor make fervent mental prayer of habitual conformity to the will of God.

It is not sufficient to attain to a life of prayer; we must persevere in it. By persevering effort the soul is sure to make great gain; without it, everything may be lost. Perseverance is not an easy task, for we must struggle against self, against spiritual laziness, and against the devil who inclines us to discouragement. Even among the far advanced, how many souls have turned back when deprived of the first consolations they received. St. Catherine of Genoa, who devoted herself to prayer from the age of thirteen and made great progress in it, abandoned the interior life after five years of sufferings. For five years she neglected the interior life. But one day she felt keenly the frightful emptiness of her soul, and the desire for prayer revived in her. God received her back instantly. After fourteen years of terrible penance, she was granted the assurance that she had fully satisfied the Divine justice. "If I should turn back," she used to say, "I should wish someone to tear out my eyes, and even that would not seem sufficient punishment."

Other souls, after struggling for a long time, become discouraged, says St. Teresa, when they are within a few steps of the fountain of living water. They fall back and, since without prayer they no longer have the strength to carry the cross, they lapse into a superficial life in which others might perhaps be saved, but in which they run the risk of being lost because their powers will carry them to excesses. The measureless love of God permitted and even asked excess of them; but this same excess, if indulged outside of God, would be their ruin. For certain souls of a naturally lofty turn, mediocrity is impossible; either they give themselves wholly to God, or wholly to themselves in opposition to God. They wish to enjoy their ego and their abilities and, as a result, run the risk of setting up self instead of God as their absolute end. The Angels can know only ardent charity or unpardonable mortal sin. Venial sin, according to St. Thomas, is impossible for them because "from their very nature they can have no inordinateness in respect of the means, unless at the same time they have an inordinateness in respect of the end, and this is a mortal sin." [26] Angels or devils, very holy or very wicked, for them there is no other alternative.

Certain souls have something angelic about them; for them it is very dangerous not to persevere in prayer, or at least to be at prayer only bodily without any act of true love. This amounts to the abandonment of the interior life, perhaps ruin.

The Saints tell us that, if we are to persevere, we must, first of all, hope in our Lord Who calls all devout souls to the living waters of prayer. On this point we will consider particularly the testimony of St. Teresa. [27] In the second place, we must humbly allow ourselves to be led along the road which our Lord has chosen for us.

1) We must hope, with trust in our guide. We fail in this confidence when, after the first aridity, we say that prayer is not for us. We might just as well say with the Jansenists that frequent Communion is not for us, but only for a few great Saints. Our Lord calls all souls to this intercourse of friendship with Him. As He says, He is the good Shepherd Who leads His sheep to the eternal pastures that they may feed on every word of God. In the midst of these pastures is the fountain of living waters which Jesus spoke of to the Samaritan woman, who was, nevertheless, a sinner; "If thou didst know the gift of God, and who He is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink, thou perhaps wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water. ... He that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst forever. But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting." [28] At Jerusalem on a certain festival day, Jesus stood in the Temple and cried out to all: "If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink. He that believeth in Me, as the Scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." [29] Later on our Lord explains that this fountain of living water is the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, whom He will send to us and who will make us penetrate and taste the intimate meaning of the Gospel.

According to St. Paul, the Holy Ghost dwells in us by charity. Therefore He is in every soul in the state of grace. He dwells in the soul not to remain idle, but rather to make Himself its interior master by His seven gifts, which develop in proportion as charity grows in the soul. The growth of charity should continue until death, without any assigned limit. Our failure better to understand the holy inspirations of the interior Master is probably due to the fact that we listen to ourselves, that we are not humble enough and desirous of the reign of God in our souls.

2) The second element necessary for perseverance in prayer is that we allow ourselves to be led by the road that our Lord has chosen for us. The great highway is the road of humility and conformity to the Divine will. All should pray as the publican did. Along this road, however, are stony spots and level stretches, some sections covered with grass, others burned by the sun, and still others shady. The good Shepherd leads His sheep as He judges best: some by the way of parables, others by that of reasoning, before bringing them to simple intuition in the obscurity of faith. He leaves some souls for a long time in difficult spots for the purpose of inuring them to hardships. Our Lord raises Marys to contemplation sooner than He does Marthas. The former find in contemplation interior sufferings unknown to the latter; but these, if they are faithful, will reach the living waters and will quench their thirst according to their desires. ...

1. See IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 2.
2. Summa, IIa IIae, q. 83. a. 15.
3. Man, though in himself he does not suffice to desire and will salutary good, is sufficient in himself to fail, and to fail freely. God often lifts him up again. This, however, is not always the case. Therein lies a mystery.
4. See IIa IIae, q. 83. a. 5, 6.
5. Matt. 17:20.
6. Summa, IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 15 ad 2um.
7. Matt. 15: 22, 24-28.
8. See Ia, q. 23, a. l.
9. See IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 6.
10. See IIa IIae, q. 83. a. 15 ad 2um.
11. Matt. 6:7;  Luke 11:9, 11, 13.
12. Pens
ées (Havet ed.), art. 17, 1.
13. Matt. 6:5 f.
14. Life of St. Teresa by Herself, chap. 8.
15. It is true that the prayer of this peasant was already contemplation.
16. See IIa IIae, q. 84.
  17. Hope thus leads to the prayer of petition, which is an act of the virtue of religion. Cf. IIa IIae, q. 83, a. 3.
18. Ps. 41:1.
19. Cf. Ia IIae. q. 62. a. 4.
20. Ps. 33:9.
21. The Word and the other two Persons of the Blessed Trinity dwell in us: "If anyone love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him." The humanity of Jesus is, as St. Thomas shows (IIIa, q. 48, a. 6), the physical, instrumental cause of all the graces we receive, after meriting them for us here on earth.
22. This expression shows that this prayer is in our power, at least in its beginning, as the context makes evident.
23. This is the symbol of the breath of the Holy Ghost. Prayer then becomes infused, as we shall see farther on.
24. The Way of Perfection, chap. 28. When we speak of so-called acquired contemplation (chap. 5, art. 2), we shall quote at length from this chapter of St.
Teresa in which she treats of the acquired prayer of recollection, which disposes to supernatural recollection and to quiet, which is spoken of in the fourth mansion, chaps. 1, 3.
The passage from acquired prayer to infused contemplation is well described in the little work where Bossuet treats of the prayer which he calls the prayer "of simplicity or of the simple presence of God." The first phase of this prayer is acquired; the second infused, as we shall see more clearly farther on.
25. Matt. 18:3.
26. Summa, Ia IIae. q. 89. a. 4.
27. Cf. chap. 5. a. 2, 3. We shall see that St. Teresa understands by "drinking from the fountain of living water" infused contemplation, which is given to us by the Holy Ghost. He Himself is the fountain.
28. John 4:10, 13 f.
29. John 7:37 f.