Prayer the Key to Salvation~Chapter 1

 

There is an important truth, of which thousands of men are ignorant; or, if they know it, they reflect upon it seldom and with little fruit. Yet, the knowledge of this truth is almost as necessary for those who have attained the age of reason, as it is for them to know that there is only one God in three Persons, and that the Second Person became man to redeem and save us. The importance and necessity of this great truth seem to be a mystery, not to heathens, Jews, and heretics only, but also to the greater part of Christians, nay, even to many of those who have especially consecrated themselves to God. We often hear in sermons and read in pious books of the necessity of avoiding bad company, of hating sin, of forgiving injuries, and of being reconciled with our enemies, but seldom are we taught this great truth; or, if it is sometimes spoken of, rarely is it done in a manner and with that interior conviction calculated to leave upon our minds and hearts a convincing and lasting impression of its great importance and necessity.  Now, this important truth is that, morally speaking, or according to the ordinary course of Divine Providence, man cannot be saved without prayer.

In order to understand this truth in its full extent, we must consider:

First.  That man cannot be saved unless he will have done God’s will.

Secondly.  That man is unable to do God’s will, unless he is assisted by Divine grace.

Thirdly.  That man obtains this grace by prayer only; that, consequently, man must pray in order to be saved.

First, I say, man cannot be saved unless he will have done God’s will on earth.  The Lord declared this will in express terms when He said to Adam:  “And of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat; for in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.”  (Gen ii., 17.)  By this commandment, man was evidently given to understand that the continuation of his happiness for time and eternity, depended upon his obedience to the will of God.  To be undisturbed by any irregular affections or disorderly passions and to perpetuate his happiness to his posterity, was entirely optional with him.  If he made a right use of his liberty, by always following the law and will of God, if he bore unsullied the image and likeness of his Creator, as a true son of his Father, to Whom he owed filial affection as a good servant of his Master, Whom he was to fear and honor, as a brave soldier of his King, to Whom he owed fidelity, as a wise steward and administrator of the goods of his Lord; in fine, if he made proper use of the creatures confided to his care and dispensation, then he would receive the crown of life everlasting, in reward for his fidelity to the law and will of his Creator.  But to swerve from this divine will for one moment only, thus declaring himself independent of it, as it were, would be subjecting himself to the law of God’s justice, which would not fail to execute the threatened punishment.

Did God afterwards, in consideration of the most abundant efficacy of the Redemption, lay down other and easier conditions for man’s happiness and salvation?  He did not change His will one jot.  Man’s happiness was to depend on his obedience and submission to the dive will.  “Now, if thou wilt hear the voice of the Lord Thy God to do and keep all His commandments, the Lord Thy God will make thee higher than all the nations that are on the earth, and all these blessings shall come upon thee, and overtake thee, yet so if thou hear His precepts.”  (Deut. Xxviii. 1,2.)  And Jesus Christ, the restorer of grace, says:  “You are My friends if you do the things that I command you.” (John xv, 14.)  And again:  “Not every one that saith to Me:  Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of My Father, Who is in heaven, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matt. Vii., 21.)  He Himself gave the example, having been obedient even unto the death of the cross, thereby teaching all men that their salvation depends on their persevering obedience to the will of their heavenly Father,  Who sent the Redeemer, not only to ransom their souls, but also to show them the true road to heaven, by revealing to them the will of His Father.  Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, appointed the Apostles, and especially Peter, to succeed Him in His office of teaching God’s will.  Where Peter and the other Apostles are found in their lawful successors, there only is this true and entire will of God taught, and those only who embrace and follow it faithfully, have well-founded hopes of salvation.  They who follow any other rule to obtain salvation, deceive themselves.  Instead of God’s will, they do their own, or follow the suggestions of the devil or those of evil-minded, perverse teachers, who substitute their own will, their own meditations, thoughts, opinions, and judgment for the will of God.  They imitate Adam and eve, who believed the devil’s suggestions, rather than the infallible word of God.

This great truth, that man must do God’s will in order to be saved, should ever be remembered by all those who wish to walk sincerely before God, and to save their souls.  But the mere knowledge and remembrance of it will not contribute to their salvation any more than this same knowledge and remembrance did to the salvation of our first parents.

Besides this truth, another, no less important, must be borne in mind, namely:

Always to be mindful of God’s will; always to honor, appreciate and love it above all things;  always to understand that to embrace and follow it most punctually, cheerfully and promptly, is to embrace inseparably eternal happiness and the very Source of Life;  always to see clearly that whatever is contrary to it can never be good or meritorious, nay, must be death to the soul, to return to it after having left it, –to cling to it when in possession of it, is, in itself, by no means the work of human strength, but is absolutely the effect of divine grace; for, if faith teaches us that God made all things very good, it also teaches us that they cannot remain so of themselves without God’s assistance, as otherwise they would cease to be dependent on Him, which is just as impossible for us to imagine as it is to believe a logical conclusion could be right without right premises, or that a river could flow perpetually without a never-failing source.  It is the Lord Who must preserve them in their good condition, especially rational creatures, men, because, by their own free will, they have it in their power to swerve from God’s will and law.

For this reason Jesus Christ said: “Without Me you can do nothing”—on which words St. Augustine remarks that Jesus Christ did not say:  “Without Me you cannot accomplish anything,” but He said: “You cannot do anything.”  He means to say that without His grace we are not even able to commence any good work.  “If this light of faith,” said our Lord to Saint Catherine of Sienna, “shineth to thee, thou wilt understand that I, thy God, know better how to promote thy welfare, and have a greater desire to do so than thou thyself, and that thou, without My grace, neither wouldst nor couldst promote it.”  This very thing is taught by St. Paul.  In his second Epistle to the Corinthians, he writes thus: “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”  (Chap. Iii. 5)  The Apostle means to say that, of ourselves, we are not even able to think of any good meritorious thing.  Now, if we are not able to think of anything good, how much less able are we to wish for anything good.  “It is God,” he writes in his Epistle to the Phillippians, “Who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish according to His good will.”  (Chap. II. 13.)  The same thing had long before been declared by God through the mouth of the Prophet Ezechiel: “I will cause you to walk in My commandments and keep My judgements and do them.”  (Chap. XXXVI. 27.)  Consequently, according to the teachings of St. Leo I., man works only so much good as God, by His grace, grants him to work.  Hence it is an article of our holy faith, condemning the erroneous doctrine of Pelagius, that no none can do the least good work, with merit for heaven, without God’s particular grace and assistance.  All this being true, shall we believe that the fall of our first parents, and the sins of all their descendants, cannot be imputed to  them, saying that, as god did not keep them good, by making them honor, love, and follow His will and law, they could not help losing His grace and so many natural and supernatural gifts?  To maintain this would, undoubtedly, be the height of blasphemy.  Hence we must necessarily come to the following conclusion: It is certain, first, that man is good in the sight of God, and has well-founded hopes of salvation only in proportion as he lives up to the will of God; secondly, that man cannot, by his own power, keep his will good, so as always to follow God’s will under all circumstances;  God, therefore, must have given him an infallible means, by the use of which he can preserve his innocence, or by the neglect of which he will become guilty before God.

The use of this means must be considered as a third great and essential truth in the way of salvation.  Now, common sense tells every person to call for the assistance of another where his own means are insufficient to preserve or obtain a necessary thing.  Adam and Eve knew this truth very well, but, neglecting to call for God’s assistance, especially when put to trial, they lacked the efficacious grace necessary to render their will firm in keeping the commandments of God and thus preserve all their temporal and spiritual happiness.  Hence their fall was their own fault.  We may, then, fairly conclude that the whole mystery of man’s salvation and sanctification depends entirely on his constant and proper use of this means of prayer.  “As God in the natural order,” says St. Alphonsus, “ordained that man should be born naked and in want of many things necessary for life, and as, at the same time, He has given him hands and understanding to clothe himself and provide for his other necessities, so, in the supernatural order, man is born unable to remain good and obtain salvation by his own strength; but God, in His infinite goodness, granting to every one the grace of prayer, wishes him to make constant use of this grace in order thereby to obtain all other graces which he needs to be enabled to keep the commandments of the Lord and be saved.”  Prayer is, indeed, a universal and infallible means for man to keep up his relation between his Creator and himself.  Now, this is, first, a relation of continual dependence on God’s goodness.  By praying, man professes his belief in this dependence.  As the subjects of a king acknowledge their dependence on their sovereign by paying the taxes he lays upon them, so, by offering up to the Almighty the tribute of his prayer, man acknowledges himself to be a constant mendicant before his Creator, always depending on God’s goodness for food, protection and preservation, both temporal and spiritual.

Secondly.  It is a relation of faith.  Man does not see his Lord and God; yet he must not, on that account, less firmly believe in Him.  By praying he professes his faith in an omnipotent, most wise, most bountiful God, believing that the Lord knows and is able to grant what is asked of Him.

Thirdly.  It is a relation of hope.  Man should hope that God will give him all the necessaries of life here below, and life everlasting in the world to come.  By praying to the Lord, he professes his hope in a most benevolent God, trusting that he will really receive from Him everything necessary in time and in eternity.  What often troubles and disquiets so many souls, is the uncertainty of their salvation; but, according to the Apostle, our hope for salvation ought to be immovable, firm, and secure.  It will be so, undoubtedly, if it rest upon two certain foundations, one on the part of God and the other on the part of man.  The certain foundation, or t certain motives on the part of God, on which our hope of salvation rests, are the power, the mercy and the truth of God, and of these the strongest and most certain motive is God’s infallible faithfulness to His promises which He had made to us through the merits of Jesus Christ, to save us and give us the graces necessary for our salvation.  This promise, I say, is the strongest of all the motives of our hope of salvation, because, though we might believe God to be infinite in power and mercy, nevertheless, as Juvenino well observes, we could not feel confident of God saving us unless He had given us the certain promise of doing so.  But this infallible promise of God will not be fulfilled unless we pray to Him for our salvation.   Hence, the foundation of our hope for salvation will be certain on our part also if we pray to God for His grace and for faithful co-operation with it.  As our hope of salvation rests upon an immovable, firm and secure foundation on the part of God, and God giving every one the grace to pray, no one can reasonably fear to be lost if he really perseveres in prayer for his salvation.  With St Alphonsus he may say in truth:  “I never feel more confident of my salvation than when praying.”  This is easy to understand.  My confidence to obtain from my friend what he has promised to me, will be so much the greater the better I know his power, goodness and fidelity in keeping his promises.  Now, the oftener I speak to my friend, the better will I become acquainted with his virtues.  Prayer being a conversation with God, my confidence in Him will increase so much the more, the oftener I speak to Him in prayer, in which He will deign to make Himself known to me, as He has promised in the gospel of St. John; Chap XIV., 21.  Thus prayer is truly the mother and nurse of hope.

Fourthly.  It is a relation of charity.  By prayer, man keeps up and increases this golden virtue, which is the queen of all virtues.  Prayer brings the soul near to God.  It is like the magnetic fluid which passes over the telegraph wire form one operator to another.  By its means they communicate to each other different affairs in the same instant, on account of the swiftness with which the fluid passes.  They may thus be considered to be close together, although they are really very distant from each other.  Prayer brings man closer to God than the magnetic fluid does two telegraph operators, the swiftness of the former being far greater than that of the latter.  Through this conductor of prayer man sends to God all his messages for temporal and spiritual necessities, and, in a moment, all the gifts and treasures of grace are sent, in return, to the soul of man, the likeness and image of the great and perfect Original.  Who can doubt that, by this close intercourse of the soul with God, the fire of divine love will be enkindled and increased in a most wonderful manner?

Fifthly.  The relation between God and man is that of a father to his son.  Now, God, as Father, feels an unspeakable desire to communicate His benefits to man.  “My delight is to be with the children of men.” (Eccles.)  By the constant use of prayer, man is to furnish God with frequent opportunities to make known to him His ineffable sweetness and communicate to him the gifts of His inexhaustible treasures, requiring for them no more than the price of his prayer, notwithstanding their infinite value.

This infinite desire of God to bestows upon His image and likeness, the riches of His Divinity, will manifest itself to excess in heaven.  The Lord created man to be the head, king, and crown of nature; but He Himself wishes to be man’s crown in heaven.  “And I shall be thy exceedingly great reward,”  He said to Abraham.  On the part of man, this crown should be merit for having done freely and faithfully God’s will on earth; on the part of God it should be grace, and therefore all the honor and glory thereof should redound to Him.  By prayer this two-fold end is obtained also; for by it man obtains and preserves the good will always to live up to God’s holy will.  But prayer being a gratuitous gift of the Lord, all its effects must be so likewise, effects partaking of the nature of their cause.  Hence, according to St. Augustine, the Lord rewarding man in heaven for his free submission to the divine will on earth, by bestowing Himself upon man, the Original upon Its likeness, does nothing else than crown Himself as it were, man’s creation, meritorious life, and happy death, being altogether the gratuitous gift and effect of His unbounded love for His image and likeness.  Thus it is true what St. Paul says : ” What hast thou, that thou hast not received ? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received ?” (I Cor. iv., 7.) ” For of Him, and by Him and in Him are all things : to Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. xi., 36.) Oh, great and admirable wisdom of God, which has established for man’s salvation and sanctification so easy and so infallible a means as that of prayer ! What can be more important and more essential for man than the faithful fulfilment of this duty of praying? And yet, strange and painful to say, what is less understood, less anxiously attended to than this duty ? The neglect, forgetfulness, or ill performance of this duty has ever been the true source of all moral evils, even of infidelity and idolatry themselves. The more man neglects to communicate with God, the true life of his soul, the more he will experience the weakness of his will to resist sin and vice ; his passions, the temptations of the devil and the allurements of the world will draw him headlong from one abyss of religious errors and moral evils into another. When in imminent danger of death or of a considerable loss of fortune, as, for instance, shipwreck or fire, or the like, the greater part of men will, indeed, remember their duty of praying to God, as the only one who can save them from death. In such dangers even infidels will take off the mask of their infidelity and make a profession of faith in an Omnipotent God, crying out : ” Lord save us! We are perishing! Lord, have mercy on us, — spare our lives, — save us from this fatal accident !” This case excepted, the most of men do not care for prayer. Would to God they loved their souls as much as their bodies and the perishable goods of this world ! Would to God they understood the danger in which they are of being damned to the everlasting pains of hell ! Certainly, they would just as naturally feel impelled to pray to the Almighty for the grace of their conversion and final salvation.

But, alas ! they love the darkness of their evil ways more than the necessary practice of the precept of prayer. Hence, as the Lord in the Old Testament found it necessary to give to His people the precepts of the Decalogue, not indeed as new laws, but rather as a renewal and development of the law of nature, the divine light of which was obscured and almost extinguished^ by the crimes and perversity of man, so in like manner, the same Lord of all goodness, Who never delights in the spiritual death of man, but wishes, like a celebrated artist, to see, by means of prayer, the natural freshness of life preserved in His own image and likeness, in the soul of man, the master-piece of creation, the Lord, I say, has never failed to call man’s attention to the importance and necessity of this practical truth. He has declared it in most distinct language on almost every page of Holy Scripture.  ” Seek ye the Lord,” He says by the Royal Prophet, “and be strenghened : seek His face evermore.” (Ps. civ., 4.) ” Let nothing keep thee from praying always.” (Eccles. xviii., 22.) What God inculcated so clearly in the old law, is still more clearly and more forcibly inculcated by Jesus Christ in the new law. ” And He spoke a parable to them that they ought always to pray and not to faint.” (Luke xviii., 1.) And again: “. Watch ye and pray.” (Matt, xxvii., 41.) This precept, always to pray and not faint, was taught and emphatically inculcated in His name by the Apostles also. ” But we will give ourselves continually to prayer,” says St. Peter. (Acts vi., 4.) “By all prayer and supplication,” writes St. Paul to the Ephesians, ” praying at all times in spirit and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephes. vi., 18.) And again : “Be instant in prayer, watching in it in thanksgiving.” And to the Thessalonians he writes :  “Pray without ceasing.” (IThessal. v., 17.) And to His beloved disciple Timothy: “I will, therefore, that men pray in every place, lifting up pure hands without anger and contention.” (I Timothy ii., 8.) Can the necessity of prayer be more clearly and more forcibly expressed than it is in these passages of Holy Scripture ? It is not said in any of them that it is well to pray, or that you may pray, you are at liberty to do so, and the like. No ; in most distinct language it is said : ‘ You must pray,’ ‘pray.’ Neither is it said ‘you must pray now and then.’ No, but ( you must pray always,’ ‘ without ceasing ;’ you must ‘ not faint’ in prayer, you must watch in it ‘at all times’ and ‘in all places.’ All these expressions imply, according to St. Alphonsus and other theologians of the Church, a formal precept of God to pray, so much so, that, in their opinion, a man who would not pray for a month, could not be excused from mortal sin.

Had we then no other evidence for believing in the necessity of prayer than the fact that Jesus Christ and His Apostles have always inculcated and insisted upon it with so much force, this fact alone ought to be sufficient to convince us of its necessity and make us profess our practical belief in it by continual application to this holy exercise. For, as we firmly believe that there are three persons in God, without requiring any other evidence for this belief than the certainty of the fact that Jesus Christ Himself taught this truth, so in like manner ought we to be firmly convinced of the necessity of prayer for the simple reason that Jesus Christ Himself taught it in most express and clear language, because being God and truth itself, He could never have taught anything to be necessary unless it were really so.

But as there is no more persuasive way of instruction than by example, our Lord Jesus Christ adopted this mode of teaching us the necessity of prayer, even before He taught it by His word. Is it not truly strange and surprising to behold the Son of God, Eternal Wisdom Itself, Who came into this world to teach men the way of salvation, to instruct them in the truths of eternal life ; Who, in His childhood, might have preached and wrought miracles for the conversion of sinners just as easily as in His advanced age of thirty years ; is it not very surprising, I say, to see Him spend thirty years in retirement and obscurity, unknown to the world, and losing, according to our manner of judging, His precious time and life which it would seem He would have spent more profitably in teaching men and converting them from their evil ways ? But, if a wise man does nothing without a wise intention, how wise, then, must have been the intention of Jesus Christ, Supreme Wisdom Itself, in spending thirty years of His life in retirement and solitude, and three years only in teaching publicly! Truly, whosoever does not feel struck by this fact in our Saviour’s life must never have seriously reflected upon it, or must feel quite indifferent towards whatever He has done for us during His mortal career. Now, what was His principal occupation during the space of thirty years ? It was prayer — continual prayer. No one, however, will believe and say that Jesus Christ stood in need of it. But it was necessary that we should learn the necessity of prayer for our salvation, and be convinced of it more by His example than by His words. Thirty years of His life were consecrated to this holy exercise, and three years only to the instruction of the people,  and even of this short period of three years He spent the greater part in prayer. How often did He not say to His disciples: ” Withdraw a little from the multitude?” And for what purpose? In order to be more at liberty to pray. Moreover, do we not read in the Gospel that, after having spent the day in instructing the people, He would retire to a lonesome mountain, there to spend the whole night in prayer? “And it came to pass that He went out into a mountain to pray, and He passed the whole night in prayer of God.” (Luke vi. 12.) This was a custom of our Saviour, as we may gather from the fact that Judas, the traitor, did not go with the soldiers to seek Him in the city of Jerusalem, but went straight on to the Mount of Olives, because He knew that Jesus was accustomed to go to that place to pray during the night.

Again, wishing to be glorified by His Heavenly Father, He prayed for it. “And lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said: “Father, the hour is come, glorify Thy Son.” (John xi. 1.) On this prayer Father Crasset, S. J., comments thus : “Jesus prays His Father to glorify His body. Was it not His due ? Had He not merited it ? Could His Father refuse Him ? Why did He ask it ? God did not design to grant any favor to man, not even to His Divine Son, except by means of prayer, which is the channel through which all graces flow. ‘Ask, My Son,’ saith He, ‘ all the nations of the earth, and I will give them to Thee for Thy inheritance.’ Jesus merited the empire of the whole universe, notwithstanding which He obtained it only after asking it.” And how did He close His life on earth ? Was it not by most touching prayer? “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” (Luke xxiii. 46.) Thus His life, from the beginning to the end, was but a continual practice of prayer. His glorious life is not less so. He still continues to pray for us in heaven, according to St. Paul : “Who also intercedes for us with His Heavenly Father.” He has been doing this for more than eighteen hundred years, and He will continue to do so to the end of the world. He likewise intercedes for us in the Sacrifice of the Mass ; for Mass is, according to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, a sacrifice of impetration, in which Jesus Christ asks of His Heavenly Father everything necessary for our temporal and spiritual welfare. Now, if we consider that Mass is said at every hour of the day, it follows that Jesus Christ, for more than eighteen hundred years, has been praying for us under the Sacramental Species, and that He will continue to do so at every hour until the end of the world. Truly, if this example of our Saviour does not open the eyes of our understanding and convince us of the necessity of prayer, it will be in vain to look for other and more striking proofs in support and confirmation of this truth. Hence St. Augustine remarks: (De Orat. Dominica) “If Jesus Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth, happy in and by Himself, and standing in no need of anything whatsoever, prays, shall man, misery itself, not pray? Jesus Christ, our Divine Physician, lies prostrate in prayer, and man, sick in body and soul, should not humble himself to pray? Jesus Christ, innocence itself, prays, and man, laden with sin, should not pray? Jesus Christ, the judge of the living and the dead, prays, and guilty man should not pray?

St. Augustine means to say that Jesus Christ came into this world to instruct us both by His words and example : ” I have given you an example, that as I have done, so do you also.” (John xiii. 15.) And to leave this example of His unnoticed, as it were, is to have lost common sense, to forsake the order of God’s goodness in order to enter into that of His justice ; to leave Him as a friend in order to have Him for an enemy ; to give up the ways of His consolation in order to enter into those of His severity ; to fly from His beneficent will in order to fall under the effects of His powerful will. Not to follow our Lord’s example in prayer is to make all our steps wandering, our paths perilous, our plans illusions, our works useless, our pleasures miseries, our prosperity chastisement, our adversity and afflictions despair, our existence a hell wherein we shall only know bitter tears and sighs. On the contrary, to follow this example, is to place ourselves in perpetual rest and security, to oblige the Wisdom of God to govern us, His Power to defend us, His Goodness to console us, His Grace to sanctify us, His Mercy to encompass us, His Sanctity to purify us, His Happiness to defend us from evil and sustain us in good, and to make all succeed and go well with us, according to our wishes for time and eternity.

 

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Prayer the Key of Salvation by Father Michael Muller

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