Chapter 2: The Power of Prayer, Section 4
to Asking for Little Things:
We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor. If we are poor, God is rich; and God, as the Apostle says, is all liberality to him that calls for His aid: "Rich unto all who call upon Him." [Rom. 10: 12] Since, therefore [as St. Augustine exhorts us], we have to do with a Lord of infinite power and infinite riches, let us not go to Him for little and valueless things but let us ask some great thing of Him: "You seek from the Almighty,-----seek something great." [In. Ps. 62] If a man went to a king to ask some trumpery coin, like a farthing, me-thinks that man would but insult his king. On the other hand, we honor God, we honor His mercy, and His liberality, when, though we see how miserable we are, and how unworthy of any kindness, we yet ask for great graces, trusting in the goodness of God, and in His faithfulness to His promises of granting to the man who prays whatever grace he asks: "Whatsoever you will, ask, and it shall be done unto you." [John 15: 7] St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said, "that God feels Himself so honored and is so delighted when we ask for His grace, that He is, in a certain sense, grateful to us; because when we do this we seem to open to Him a way to do us a kindness, and to satisfy His nature, which is to do good to all." And let us be sure that, when we seek God's grace, He always gives us more than we ask: "It any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, Who giveth to all abundantly, and upbraideth not." [James 1: 5] Thus speaks St. James, to show us that God is not like men, parsimonious of His goods; men though rich and liberal, when they give alms, are always somewhat close-handed, and generally give less than is asked of them, because their wealth, however great it be, is always finite; so that the more they give the less they have. But God, when He is asked, gives His good things "abundantly," and that is, with a generous hand, always giving more than is asked, because His wealth is infinite, and the more He gives the more He has to give: "For Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild; and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon Thee." [Ps. 85: 5] Thou, O my God, said David, art but too liberal and kind to him that invokes Thee; the mercies which Thou pourest upon him are super-abundant, above all he asks.
On this point, then we have to fix all our attention, namely, to pray with confidence, feeling sure that by prayer all the treasures of Heaven are thrown open to us. "Let us attend to this," says St. Chrysostom, "and we shall open Heaven to ourselves." Prayer is a treasure; he who prays most receives most. St. Bonaventure says that every time a man has recourse to God by fervent prayer, he gains good things that are of more value than the whole world: "Any day a man gains more by devout prayer than the whole world is worth." Some devout souls spend a great deal of time in reading and in meditating, but pay but little attention to prayer. There is no doubt that spiritual reading, and meditation on the eternal truths, are very useful things; "but," says St. Augustine, "it is of much more use to pray." By reading and meditating we learn our duty; but by prayer we obtain the grace to do it. "It is better to pray than to read: by reading we know what we ought to do; by prayer we receive what we ask." What is the use of knowing our duty, and then not doing it, but to make us more guilty in God's sight? Read and meditate as we like, we shall never satisfy our obligations, unless we ask of God the grace to fulfill them.
And, therefore, as St. Isidore observes, the devil is never more busy to distract us with the thoughts of worldly cares than when he perceives us praying and asking God for grace: "Then mostly does the devil insinuate thoughts, when he sees a man praying." And why? Because the enemy sees that at no other time do we gain so many treasures of Heavenly goods as when we pray. This is the chief fruit of mental prayer, to ask God for the graces which we need for perseverance and for eternal salvation; and chiefly for this reason it is that mental prayer is morally necessary for the soul, to enable it to preserve itself in the grace of God. For if a person does not remember in the time of meditation to ask for the help necessary for perseverance, he will not do so at any other time; for without meditation he will not think of asking for it, and will not do so at any other time; for without meditation he will not think of asking for it, and will not even think of the necessity for asking it. On the other hand, he who makes his meditation every day will easily see the needs of his soul, its dangers, and the necessity of his prayer; and so he will pray, and will obtain the graces which will enable him to persevere and save his soul. Father Segneri said of himself, that when he began to meditate, he aimed rather at exciting affections than at making prayers. But when he came to know the necessity and the immense utility of prayer, he more and more applied himself, in his long mental prayer, to making petitions.
"As a young swallow, so will I cry," said the devout king Hezekias. [Is. 38: 14] The young of the swallow does nothing but cry to its mother for help and for food; so should we all do, if we would preserve our life of grace. We should be always crying to God for aid to avoid the death of sin, and to advance in His holy love. Father Rodriguez relates, that the ancient Fathers, who were our first instructors in the spiritual life, held a conference to determine which was the exercise most useful and most necessary for eternal salvation; and that they determined it was to repeat over and over again the short prayer of David, "Incline unto my aid, a God!" [Ps. 69: 2] "This," says Cassian, "is what every one ought to do who wishes to be saved: he ought to be always saying, My God, help me! my God, help me!" We ought to do this the first thing when we awake in the morning; and then to continue doing it in all our needs, and when attending to our business, whether spiritual or temporal; and most especially when we find ourselves troubled by any temptation or passion. St. Bonaventure says, that at times we obtain a grace by a short prayer sooner than by many other good works: "Sometimes a man can sooner obtain by a short prayer what he would be a long time obtaining by pious works." St. Ambrose says, that he who prays, while he is praying obtains what he asks, because the very act of prayer is the same as receiving: "He who asks of God, while he asks receives; for to ask is to receive." Hence St. Chrysostom wrote, that "there is nothing more powerful than a man who prays," because such a one is made partaker of the power of God. To arrive at perfection, says St. Bernard, we must meditate and pray: by meditation we see what we want; by prayer we receive what we want. "Let us mount by meditation and prayer: the one teaches what is deficient, and the other obtains that there should be nothing deficient."
CONCLUSION OF THE CHAPTERIn conclusion, to save one's soul without prayer is most difficult, and even [as we have seen] impossible, according to the ordinary course of God's Providence. But by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy. It is not necessary in order to save our souls to go among the heathen, and give up our life. It is not necessary to retire into the desert, and eat nothing but herbs. What does it cost us to say, My God, help me! Lord, assist me! have mercy on me! Is there anything more easy than this? and this little will suffice to save us, if we will be diligent in doing it. St. Laurence Justinian specially exhorts us to oblige ourselves to say a prayer at lest when we begin any action: "We must endeavor to offer a prayer at least in the beginning of every work." Cassian attests that the principal advice of the ancient Fathers was to have recourse to God with short but frequent prayers. Let no one, says St. Bernard, think lightly of prayer, because God values it, and then gives us either what we ask, or what is still more useful to us: "Let no one undervalue his prayer, for God does not undervalue it . . . He will give either what we ask, or what He knows to be better." [De Quad. S. 5] And let us understand, that if we do not pray, we have no excuse, because the grace of prayer is given to every one. It is in our power to pray whenever we will, as David says of himself: 'With me is prayer to the God of my life; I will say to God, Thou art my support." [Ps. 41: 9] On this point I shall speak at length in the second part, where I will make it quite clear that God gives to all the grace of prayer, in order that thereby they may obtain every help, and even more than they need, for keeping the Divine law, and for persevering until death. At present I will only say, that if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours; and we shall have our own failure to answer for, because we did not pray.