There is nothing more powerful in heaven or on earth than prayer, and so there is nothing more necessary than prayer.
This simple truth can stand for the core conviction of St. Alphonsus’ spiritual wisdom. In an age wracked by the pessimism and despair of both the Protestant and the Jansenist heretics, St. Alphonsus proclaimed the mercy and the love of God in conjunction with the omnipotence of prayer. Against the double predestination which was so ruthlessly formulated by Calvin, St. Alphonsus insisted that the grace of prayer is given to all men and that, by prayer, every other grace (including the grace of salvation itself) is easily secured.
Against the Jansenists and rigorists of his day, St. Alphonsus proclaimed that even the most difficult commandments are easily fulfilled, if only we ask God for the grace through prayer. All who fall into sin, fall simply because they did not pray. Whereas, all who persevere in grace, persevere not because of their own strength, but on account of the power of prayer.
How important St. Alphonsus’ doctrine is in our own day! We too begin to doubt the necessity and the power of prayer. How easy it is for us to forget to pray or to think that prayer is merely something “sentimental”. Without daily prayer, we will surely be damned. But with prayer, our salvation is secured.
On account of the great power and necessity of prayer, St. Alphonsus recommends the following practices, in order to ensure our salvation:
1) Short prayers immediately upon rising
2) ½ hour’s meditation each day (or at least 15 minutes)
3) 15 minutes of spiritual reading each day
4) A daily examination of conscience (particularly considering the quality of our prayer)
5) To make a confession and take Holy Communion at least once per week
6) Avoid the near occasions of sin and bad company
7) Entrust yourself to the Blessed Virgin Mary
8) Pray to Our Savior to obtain his Holy Love
9) Daily ask for the grace of final perseverance (i.e. the gift of salvation)
Now we hearken to the words of this holy Doctor:
(from The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection)
“By prayer we can do all things; for by this means God will give us that strength which we want.”
“We can do all things with God's help, which is granted to everyone who humbly seeks it; so that we have no excuse when we allow ourselves to be overcome by a temptation. We are conquered solely by our own fault, because we would not pray. By prayer all the snares and power of the devil are easily overcome.”
“In 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.”
“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.”
(from The Way of Salvation and Perfection)
“Meditation is nothing more than a converse between the soul and God; the soul pours forth to him its affections, its desires, its fears, its requests, and God speaks to the heart, causing it to know his goodness, and the love which he bears it, and what it must do to please him. I will lead her into solitude, and speak to her heart.”
“Let us pray, then, and let us always be asking for grace, if we wish to be saved. Let prayer be our most delightful occupation; let prayer be the exercise of our whole life. And when we are asking for particular graces, let us always pray for the grace to continue to pray for the future; because if we leave off praying we shall be lost. There is nothing easier than prayer. What does it cost us to say, Lord, stand by me! Lord, help me! give me Thy love! and the like? What can be easier than this? But if we do not do so, we cannot be saved.”
“Final perseverance is not a single grace, but a chain of graces, to which must correspond the chain of our prayers; if we cease to pray, God will cease to give us his help, and we shall perish. He who does not practice meditation will find the greatest difficulty in persevering in grace till death.”
“Let us conclude this first point by gathering from what we have said, that he who prays is certain to be saved; while he who prays not is certain to be damned. All the saints were saved, and came to be saints by praying; all the accursed souls in hell were lost through neglect of prayer; if they had prayed, it is certain that they would not have been lost. And this will be one of the greatest occasions of their anguish in hell, the thought that they might have saved themselves so easily; that they had only to beg God to help them, but that now the time is past when this could avail them.”
“And it is on this account that mental prayer is morally necessary for all; inasmuch as when prayer is laid aside, while we are involved in this world’s cares, we pay but little attention to the soul; but when we practice it we discover the wants of the soul, and then ask for the corresponding graces and obtain them.”
ST. ALPHONSUS, PRAY FOR US!