THIS justly celebrated sentence of St. Alphonsus Liguori, who may well be called the "Doctor of Prayer," finds a fitting place at the beginning of this book of devotions for Religious. It was neither lightly nor by chance that St. Alphonsus wrote these solemn words. Their truth had been impressed upon his mind during his long experience as a missionary priest, and in confirmation of it many proofs from Holy Writ and from tradition are adduced by the holy Doctor in his treatise on prayer.
St. Alphonsus writes:
"Prayer is a sure and indispensable means of obtaining salvation and all the graces leading thereto. Convinced as I am of the necessity of prayer, I say that all books treating of spiritual subjects, all preachers in their sermons, all confessors in every confession which they hear, should attach the greatest importance to inculcating the necessity of constant prayer on the minds of their readers and hearers, and they should never tire of impressing it on them and of repeating over and over again: Pray, pray always; if you pray, you will certainly save your souls; if you do not pray, you will certainly lose them._________
"It is true that many excellent ways of persevering in the grace of God may be recommended to souls; for instance, avoiding occasions of sin, frequenting the sacraments, resisting temptation, listening to sermons, meditating on the eternal truths, etc., all of which are most salutary practices, as every one must admit; but, I ask, of what good are sermons, meditations, and the other means suggested by the masters of the spiritual life, without prayer?
"Since Our Lord has declared that He will only grant His grace to those who pray for it: 'Ask and ye shall receive' (John xvi. 24). According to the ordinary course of Providence, all our meditations, resolutions, promises are useless without prayer; if we do not pray, we shall always be faithless to the lights we have received from God and to the resolutions we have taken.
"Because, in order to do right, to overcome temptation, to practise virtue, to observe God's law, it is not sufficient to have received divine lights, to have meditated, and to have taken firm resolutions. God's actual help is also necessary. Now,this actual help is only granted by Our Lord to those who pray perseveringly for it.
"The lights we receive, and the earnest consideration and firm resolutions which we make, have the effect of inciting us to have recourse to prayer in the time of temptation and when in danger of offending God: by prayer we obtain the divine help necessary for keeping us from sin, and if, under these circumstances, we were to neglect praying, we should undoubtedly be lost.
"The texts of Scripture which prove the necessity we are under of praying, if we wish to be saved, are extremely clear: 'We ought always to pray' (Luke xviii. 1). 'Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation' (Matt. xxvi. 41). 'Ask, and it shall be given you' (Matt. vii. 7).
"Theologians are of opinion that this way of speaking imposes the precept and denotes the necessity of prayer. Hence the learned Lessius asserts that it can not be denied, without sinning against faith, that for adults prayer is necessary to salvation.
"The reason of this is that, without the help of grace, we can do nothing good. 'Without Me,' says Jesus Christ, 'you can do nothing' (John xv. 5). St. Augustine remarks on this subject that Our Saviour did not say, You can complete nothing without Me; but, You can do nothing. This truth was proclaimed at the second Council of Orange, when it was defined that man does no good thing except what God enables him to do by the operations of His grace.
"Man is therefore quite unable to work out his own salvation unassisted, since it is God's will that all he has or can have should come to him by the help of grace. Now, this grace God only grants, in the ordinary course of His providence, to those who pray for it.
"According to the maxim laid down by Gennadius, 'No man can attain salvation without the help of God; no man can obtain this help except by prayer.' This does not mean, says St. Thomas, that it is necessary for us to pray in order that God may know of what we stand in need; but that we must pray in order that we ourselves may understand our need of having recourse to God to obtain the aid necessary for our salvation, and may thus acknowledge Him as the only author of all our good."
Adapted from "Prayer-Book for Religious"
by Rev. F.X. Lasance
Copyright 1904, 1914