Chapter 3: The Conditions of Prayer, Section 4, Part 1
The Perseverance Required in Prayer
be humble and confident; but this is not enough to obtain final
and thereby eternal life. Individual prayers will obtain the individual
graces which they ask of God; but unless they are persevering, they
not obtain final perseverance: which, as it is the accumulation of many
graces, requires many prayers, that are not to cease till death. The
of salvation is not a single grace, but a chain of graces, all of which
are at last linked with the grace of final perseverance. Now, to this
of graces there ought to correspond another chain [as it were] of our
if we, by neglecting to pray, break the chain of our prayers, the chain
It is true that we cannot merit final perseverance, as the Council of Trent teaches: "It cannot be had from any other source but from Him Who is able to confirm the man who is standing, that he may stand with perseverance." [Sess. 6, c. 13] Nevertheless, says St. Augustine, this great gift of perseverance can in a manner be merited by our prayers; that is, can be obtained by praying: "This gift, therefore, can be suppliantly merited; that is, can be obtained by supplication." And F. Suarez adds, that the man who prays, infallibly obtains it. But to obtain it, and to save ourselves, says St. Thomas, a persevering and continual prayer is necessary:
"After Baptism continual prayer is necessary to a man in order that he may enter Heaven." [P. 3, q. 39, a. 5] And before this, our Savior Himself had said it over and over again: "We ought always to pray, and not to faint." [Luke 18: 1] "Watch ye therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of man." [Luke 21: 36] The same had been previously said in the Old Testament: "Let nothing hinder thee from praying always." [Ecclus. 18: 22] "Bless God at all times, and desire Him to direct thy ways." [Job 4: 20] Hence the Apostle inculcated on his disciples never to neglect prayer: "Pray without intermission." [1 Thess. 5: 17] "Be instant in prayer, watching in it with thanksgiving." [Col. 4: 12] "I will therefore that men pray in every place." [1 Tim. 2, 8] God does indeed wish to give us perseverance, says St. Nilus, but He will only give it to him who prays for it perseveringly: "He willeth to confer benefits on him who perseveres in prayer." Many sinners by the help of God's grace come to be converted, and to receive pardon. But then, because they neglect to ask for perseverance, they fall again, and lose all.
Nor is it enough, says Bellarmine, to ask the grace of perseverance once, or a few times; we ought always to ask it, every day till our death, if we wish to obtain it: "It must be asked day by day, that it may be obtained day by day." He who asks it one day, obtains it for that one day; but if he does not ask it the next day, the next day he will fall.
And this is the lesson which our Lord wished to teach us in the parable of the man who would not give his loaves to his friend who asked him for them until he had become importunate in his demand: "Although he will not rise and give because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth." [Luke 11: 8] Now if this man, solely to deliver himself from the troublesome importunity of his friend, gave him even against his own will the loaves for which he asked, "how much more," says St. Augustine, "will the good God give, who both commands us to ask, and is angry if we ask not!" [Serm. 61, E.B.] How much more will God, Who, as He is infinite goodness, has a commensurate desire to communicate to us His good things,-----how much more will He give His graces when we ask Him for them! And the more, as He Himself tells us to ask for them, and as He is displeased when we do not demand them. God, then, does indeed wish to give us eternal life, and therein all graces; but He wishes also that we should never omit to ask Him for them, even to the extent of being troublesome.
Cornelius a Lapide says on the text just quoted, "God wishes us to be persevering in prayer to the extent of importunity." Men of the world cannot bear the importunate; but God not only bears with them, but wishes us to be importunate in praying to Him for graces, and especially for perseverance. St. Gregory says that God wishes us to do Him violence by our prayers; for such violence does not annoy, but pleases Him: "God wills to be called upon, He wills to be forced, He wills to be conquered by importunity. . . . Happy violence, by which God is not offended, but appeased!"
So that to obtain perseverance we must always recommend ourselves to God morning and night, at meditation, at Mass, at Communion, and always; especially in time of temptation, when we must keep repeating, Lord help me; Lord, assist me; keep Thy hand upon me; leave me not; have pity upon me! Is there anything easier than to say, Lord, help me, assist me! The Psalmist says, "With me is prayer to the God of my life." [Ps. 41: 9]
On which the gloss is as follows: "A man may say, I cannot fast, I cannot give alms; but if he is told to pray, he cannot say this." Because there is nothing easier than to pray. But we must never cease praying; we must [so to speak] continually do violence to God, that He may assist us always-----a violence which is delightful and dear to Him. "This violence is grateful to God," says Teliulllan; and St. Jerome says that the more persevering and importunate our prayers are, so much the more are they acceptable to God: "Prayer, as long as it is importunate, is more acceptable.""Blessed is the man that heareth Me, and that watcheth daily at My gates." [Prov. 8: 34] Happy is that man, says God, who listens to Me, and watches continually with holy prayers at the gates of My mercy. And Isaias says, "Blessed are all they that wait for Him." [Is. 30: 18] Blessed are they who till the end wait [in prayer] for their salvation from God. Therefore in the Gospel Jesus Christ exhorts us to pray; but how? "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you." [Luke 11: 9] Would it not have been enough to have said, "ask?" why add "seek" and "knock?" No, it was not superfluous to add them; for thereby our Savior wished us to understand that we ought to do as the poor who go begging. If they do not receive the alms they ask [I speak of licensed beggars], they do not cease asking: they return to ask again: and if the master of the house does not show himself any more, they set to work to knock at the door, till they become very importunate and troublesome. That is what God wishes us to do: to pray, and to pray again, and never leave off praying, that He would assist us and succor us, that He would enlighten us and strengthen us, and never allow us to forfeit His grace. The learned Lessius says that the man cannot be excused from mortal sin who does not pray when he is in sin, or in danger of death; or, again, if he neglects to pray for any notable time, as [he says] for one or two months. But this does not include the time of temptations; because whoever finds himself assailed by any grievous temptation, without doubt sins mortally if he does not have recourse to God in in prayer, to ask for assistance to resist it; seeing that otherwise he places himself in a proximate, nay, in a certain, occasion of sin.