20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2014
Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.
Our Savior, willing to be conquered by the prayers of the Canaanite woman, did not disdain to free her daughter from demonic oppression. This mother's prayers won the mercy of Jesus and inspire all parents as they entreat our Lord for every good thing for their children.
How is it that our prayers for others can be of value? What can a parent do to pray more effectively for his children? Why does God seem at times to ignore our petitions for the conversion of children, relatives, and friends?
The example of this woman will profit is greatly as we answer these questions.
Can I merit salvation for another?
(Summa Theologica I-II, q.114, a.6)
The Baltimore Catechism offers a simple definition: "Merit means the quality of deserving well or ill for our actions." Merit can be understood in two respects: condign merit and congruous merit.
Condign merit (de condigno) refers to an action which of itself has a value so as to require as a matter of strict justice some response on the part of another. While congruous merit (de congruo) intends those acts which do not strictly demand a particular response by their own interior value, but may gain such response on account of the bonds of friendship with the other.
Thus, we state that Christ alone can claim to have merited condignly the salvation of others. He alone offered that which is of infinite value so as to make perfect satisfaction for every sin.
On the other hand, a man may merit his own salvation in one respect de condigno and in another de congruo. For, if a meritorious act (that is, a good work accomplished by grace in the state of grace) is considered as a work of that man, it is meritorious de congruo, since his act can in no way be considered equal to the gift of salvation but can claim a certain right to it on account of the friendship his soul enjoys with God. Yet, if the work be considered on the be considered on the part of the Holy Spirit who inspires the good action, it is clearly said to merit eternal life de condigno since the action of God is of infinite value.
The Angelic Thomas speaks well when he states that Christ alone can merit salvation for others in terms of strict, condign merit. However, although a man may (in one respect) merit salvation for himself in a condign manner (the work being considered as proceeding from the Holy Spirit), yet he can in no way merit condignly for another since the grace of God is given each one for his own salvation and the grace of one is not sufficient unto the salvation of another.
Still, on account of the great friendship which a soul enjoys with the Good God by the union of charity and the gift of grace, a man may well expect to merit congruously both the conversion and the salvation of others. Indeed, if we who are wicked do not fail to love those whom our friends love, how much more will our Father give many graces to those whom we love when we invoke the Lord who has made himself our dearest Friend?
Thus, for one in the state of grace and a friend of God, it is entirely possible to merit the salvation of others by congruous merit. We do this especially through prayer and sacrifice offered for the conversion of sinners, the perseverance of the just, and the salvation of all.
How can I offer better and more effective prayer for my children?
The woman of Canaan is presented as a model of prayer. In particular, we see in her an example for parents who pray for their children. We turn to the great scholar, Fr. Cornelius a Lapide.
"Contemplate the ideal of perfect prayer, and imitate it. This woman of Canaan teaches us to pray.
"1. With great humility, in that she acknowledges herself to be a dog.
2. With faith, because she calls Christ the son of David, i.e., the Messiah, the God and Saviour promised to the Jews.
3. With modesty because she sets before Christ the right of dogs and her own misery; yet does she not draw from thence the conclusion that Christ should heal her daughter, but leaves that to Him.
4. With prudence, in that she takes hold of Christ by His own words, and gently turns His reasoning against Himself, into an argument for obtaining her desire.
5. With reverence, with religion and devotion, because she made her supplication on her knees.
6. With resignation in that she did not say, “Heal my daughter,” but “help me,” in the manner which shall seem to Thee best.
7. With confidence, because although a Gentile, she had a firm hope that she would be heard by Christ.
8. With ardour.
9. With charity, in that she made intercession for her daughter, as if she were anxious for herself, saying, help me.
10. With constance and perseverance, in that she persisted when she was twice repulsed and became yet more earnest in prayer."
We add that a parent has all the more reason to expect that his prayers for his children will be answered, for it was to him that God entrusted the children not only for their natural life but also for the right beginnings of their formation in the spiritual life. Since Jesus gave the parent his children, the parent's prayers have all the more power over the Sacred Heart of our Savior.
Indeed, whosoever is entrusted by God with the care of souls -- and here we think especially of priests in pastoral assignments, truly called "father" by those under his care -- must have a particular claim to gaining grace for his children by congruous merit.
Parents may pray like this: "Lord, you gave me these children and put them under my care. I have, for my part, given them back to you through the waters of baptism and the practice of the faith. Receive my children again this day, oh Lord, as I beg you, have mercy! You know what my children need far better than I, in my great blindness, can hope to know. You love them with a love infinitely great than the love of which my poor and too cold heart is capable. And, what gives me the greatest hope, you are far more powerful than I. Receive them, Good Jesus, and in your mercy give them, together with every good thing, continual conversion of heart, perseverance in grace, and eternal life."
Three final points
If we see that a parent can gain conversion and perseverance for his children by congruous merit especially through prayer, there are three points to be observed.
First, the parent’s works and prayers are meritorious for his children only insofar as he is a friend of God. As this friendship is wounded by venial sin and destroyed by mortal sin, it is clear that a parent's prayers will be meritorious only if he be in the state of grace. Thus, sin must be avoided.
Again, as attachment to sin wounds and impedes divine friendship, a parent's prayers and works will be more meritorious as he is less attached to sin. While it is true that we cannot in this life be entirely free of venial sins, we may at least be free of attachment to all sins.
Finally, the parent will gain the victory if he persevere in his prayer. In this respect, we warn against the passion of sorrow which can quickly lead to discouragement and spiritual sloth, eventually making the parent to give up on prayer. But, if we persevere in prayer and are free from sin and attachment to sin, we can be sure that God will not only give us the grace to be resigned to his will, but will also either fulfill our desire or give something even greater.