Sunday, 9 May 2021

Firth Sunday after Easter - Confidence in prayer


 On this fifth Sunday after Easter, the Church proposes a catechesis on prayer, both in the texts for the Mass and in the homilies given by Her saints. St. John’s Gospel today records the words of Christ, teaching His followers how to approach God the Father. “Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto you have not asked any thing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you in proverbs. The hour cometh, when I will no more speak to you in proverbs, but will shew you plainly of the Father.”

    Prayer is often mocked by antagonists of the faith, seeking to deride faithful souls for the practice of praying to the Divine. Modernity advances in such a way that aids this attack on prayer, portraying prayer and faith as incompatible with a well formed intellect, with science, and even with common sense. On occasions when this attack is not overt, it is still present nonetheless, as individuals and nations plan for the future in a completely irreligious manner, forging ahead with immoral tests, attempts to prolong human life at all costs, and most recently crossing humans with animals in the laboratory. This is born from a lack of faith and resolute rejection of the efficacy of prayer. 

    Whilst the saints and scholars have written many beautiful and profound explanations on the efficacy, wonders and suitable manners of prayer, perhaps it is most timely to draw out one particular aspect from today’s Mass texts, namely the confidence required when praying. (Previously on Mater Dolorosa, different aspects relating to prayer, such as the issue of worthy prayer, as well as ‘unanswered prayer,’ and humility in prayer, have already been dealt with.)

    “If you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you.” With these words, Christ instructs the Church to pray with confidence, having faith that one’s prayer will be granted. Such prayer is that which does not operate on a basis of doubt, nor is it a kind which, when answered, fills one with surprise. Rather, prayer, as explained by Christ here, is one which is full of hope, faith, and confidence in the providence of God. 

    This kind of prayer might appear completely contrary to the spirit of the world and many of its protagonists. Followers of the world are unable to comprehend this concept - namely, that one can pray to an unseen God, with confidence that one’s prayer will be answered. One great difficulty for those in the world, is the concept of suffering, and how one can reconcile this with the concept of confidence in prayer. ‘After all,’ they will say, ‘how can one pray with confidence? Surely, if there were a God to properly answer prayer then He would have removed the trials of life which we all endure?’

    Such an argument is perhaps the most commonly used when attacking any aspect of the Catholic faith. Modernity has programmed society into a complete hatred of any form of discomfort, so that the concept of a loving, good, omniscient, and omnipotent God seems contradictory to the presence of evil, suffering and sorrows. They do not recognise the value of suffering, and this fuels the scorn which they have when faithful souls fill the churches in order to pray.


What then, is the relation between prayer, confidence and faith? 

 

   1. Firstly, one can pray with confidence precisely because faithful souls believe in God who can neither deceive nor be deceived. His commands are not like those of the world; the Word of God Incarnate came down to earth to die for man, and to call men to pray to God with confidence. It is completely impossible that Christ can perform such an act of selfless love, and yet at the same time deliberately seek to mislead men. His life is one of love for God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and for mankind.

    This is the lesson which St. Alphonsus has for his readers in his sermon for today. “Is God like men, who promise, and do not afterwards fulfil their promise, either because in making it they intend to deceive, or because, after having made it, they change their intention? God is not as a man, that he should lie, nor as the son of man, that he should be changed. Hath he told, then, and will he not do? (Num 23:19) Our God cannot tell a lie; because he is truth itself: he is not liable to change; because all his arrangements are just and holy.” Even if nothing else can convince one to have faith in God, the pure act of selfless love by which Christ immolated Himself on the cross, is enough to prove to mankind that the love which He bears for us is not marked by infidelity or untruthfulness. 

    2. Secondly, we are called to pray with confidence. The words of today’s Gospel contain this truth, but the call to pray with confidence is not contained in these lines alone. Christ repeats it throughout the Gospels, and His Church, the Bride of Christ, has echoed this teaching throughout the ages. “All things whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you.” (Mark 11:24) The very act of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, necessitates a response of prayer which is full of confidence, since how could one doubt that the veracity of His words and actions, when He has proven Himself by dying for man’s sins? “No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded.” (Eccl 2:11) 

    Indeed, as St. Alphonsus reminds, so great is the confidence which we are called to have when praying, that Christ teaches His Church to pray to God using words of filial relation, as if lovingly and trustingly beseeching a parent for assistance. “When we pray for spiritual favours, let us have a secure confidence of receiving them, and we shall infallibly obtain them. Hence the Saviour has taught us to call God, in our petitions for his graces, by no other name than that of Father (Our Father), that we may have recourse to him with the confidence with which a child seeks assistance from an affectionate parent.”

    3. Confidence and faith when praying is crucial. When praying, one is not asking a fallible individual for assistance. If he were to do this, then due to the nature of human imperfection, such a person could not be entirely surprised were his request to be unanswered, or done in an imperfect manner. But prayer is a conversation with God. More than this, Christ teaches souls to “ask the Father any thing in my name.” Hence, prayer is a conversation with an omnipotent, perfect God, and is performed through the intercession of the one Mediator, who died for our sins in an act of perfect love. Every prayer, made with a sincere and humble heart, is a response to this directive given by Christ, and will be answered according to the Divine Will.

    God desires only that which is good for the salvation of souls, and cannot lead anyone astray. As such, it is wrong to approach prayer without faith. If we lack faith in our prayer then we firstly insult God, who has promised that He hears and answers our prayers. If one prays whilst being full of doubt that He can indeed do so, then he also expresses a certain lack of belief in God and in His attributes. Such an action merits the words of God to satan, when Christ said “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”. (Matthew 4:7) 

    In fact, faith in our prayer is an essential element in it being effective as mentioned in the Gospel: “all things, whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive; and they shall come unto you”. (Mark 11:24) Thus when one prays, if he does so worthily, he should not be surprised to find prayers answered.

    4. Confidence in prayer is for all, no matter the state of the soul. St. Alphonsus encourages his readers to be confident in their prayer, even if they know themselves to be a great sinner. He notes the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa: “the prayer of impetration relies not on merit but on God’s mercy, which extends even to the wicked, wherefore the prayers even of sinners are sometimes granted by God.” Hence, providing the prayer is humble, sincere, and well meaning, any soul should and must have confidence when praying. 

    “As often as we ask with confidence favours which are conducive to our eternal salvation, God hears our prayer. I have said, ‘favours conducive to our salvation’; for, if what we seek be injurious to the soul, God does not, and cannot hear us. For example: if a person asked help from God to be revenged of an enemy, or to accomplish what would be offensive to God, the Lord will not hear his prayers.”

    5. Confidence in prayer must be accompanied by human action. An important aspect in this matter which the saints note, is that faith in having one’s prayer answered is meaningless if one does not actively wish it to be answered. That is to say, that one must do one’s own part by removing oneself from areas of temptation, or removing obstacles which could render one’s prayer unworthy.

    “For example,” writes St. Alphonsus, “if you ask of God strength to preserve you from relapsing into a certain sin, but will not avoid the occasions of the sin, nor keep at a distance from the house, from the object, or the bad company, which led to your fall, God will not hear your prayer.” The old adage is born from such teaching of the Church - ‘pray like it all depends on God, but act like it all depends on you.’

    Hence, despite the many ways in which those around us might seek to belittle the efficacy, or worth of prayer, the Church repeats Her ageless instruction about the manner in which Her children are called to be confident in their prayer. Not to be put off by the mocking of the world, faithful souls are called to respond to the supreme act of love which Christ performed on Calvary, turning to God with the utmost confidence and faith, beseeching His aid in the name of the Redeemer, and trusting in His goodness and perfection. 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Fourth Sunday after Easter - St. Joseph leads to Mary and the Christ child.


The month of May, which is dedicated to Our Lady, began with the feast of St. Joseph the worker, a fitting way to commence the month devoted to the Mother of God, since none was more devoted to her than her gentle spouse. Traditionally the Church celebrated a feast of St. Joseph during Easter time, dedicating the third Sunday after Easter to be under his patronage. Whilst today is the fourth such Sunday after Easter, the below reflection drawn entirely from Dom Gueranger’s commentary on the traditional commemoration of the foster-father of Our Lord, is still particularly poignant and profound. 


“The Easter mysteries are superseded today by a special subject, which is offered for our consideration. The holy Church invites us to spend this Sunday in honouring the Spouse of Mary, the Foster-Father of the Son of God. And yet, as we offered him the yearly tribute of our devotion on the 19th of March, it is not, properly speaking, his Feast that we are to celebrate today. It is a solemn expression of gratitude offered to Joseph, the Protector of the Faithful, the refuge and support of all that invoke him with confidence. The innumerable favours he has bestowed upon the world entitle him to this additional homage. With a view to her children’s interests, the Church would, on this day, excite their confidence in this powerful and ever ready helper.

    Devotion to St. Joseph was reserved for these latter times. Though based on the Gospel, it was not to be developed in the early ages of the Church. It is not that the Faithful were, in any way, checked from showing honour to him who had been called to take so important a part in the mystery of the Incarnation; but Divine Providence had its hidden reasons for retarding the Liturgical homage to be paid, each year, to the Spouse of Mary. 

    The goodness of God and our Redeemer’s fidelity to his promises have ever kept pace with the necessities of the world; so that, in every age, appropriate and special aid has been given to the world for its maintaining the supernatural life. An uninterrupted succession of seasonable grace has been the result of this merciful dispensation, and each generation has had given to it a special motive for confidence in its Redeemer.

    Now, devotion to Mary could never go on increasing as it has done, without bringing with it a fervent devotion to St. Joseph. We cannot separate Mary and Joseph, were it only for their having such a close connection with the mystery of the Incarnation: Mary, as being the Mother of the Son of God; and Joseph, as being guardian of the Virgin’s spotless honour, and Foster-Father of the Divine Babe. A special veneration for St. Joseph was the result of increased devotion to Mary. Nor is this reverence for Mary’s Spouse to be considered only as a just homage paid to his admirable prerogatives: it is, moreover, a fresh and exhaustless source of help to the world, for Joseph has been made our Protector by the Son of God himself. 

    Hearken to the inspired words of the Church’s Liturgy: ‘Thou, O Joseph! art the delight of the Blessed, the sure hope of our life, and the pillar of the world!’ (Hymn for the Lauds of the Feast of the Patronage of St. Joseph)  Extraordinary as is this power, need we be surprised at its being given to a man like Joseph, whose connections with the Son of God on earth were so far above those of all other men? Jesus deigned to be subject to Joseph here below; now that He is in heaven, He would glorify the creature, to whom He consigned the guardianship of His own childhood and His Mother’s honour. He has given him a power, which is above our calculations. 

    Hence it is, that the Church invites us, on this day, to have recourse, with unreserved confidence, to this all-powerful Protector. The world we live in is filled with miseries which would make stronger hearts than ours quake with fear: but, let us invoke St. Joseph with faith, and we shall be protected. In all our necessities, whether of soul or body — in all the trials and anxieties we may have to go through — let us have recourse to St. Joseph, and we shall not be disappointed. The king of Egypt said to his people, when they were suffering from famine: go to Joseph! (Genesis 41:55) the King of Heaven says the same to us: the faithful guardian of Mary has greater influence with God, than Jacob’s son had with Pharaoh.

    As usual, God revealed this new spiritual aid to a privileged soul, that she might be the instrument of its propagation. It was thus that were instituted several Feasts, such as those of Corpus Christi, and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the 16th century, St. Teresa, (whose writings were to have a world-wide circulation,) was instructed by heaven as to the efficacy of devotion to St. Joseph: she has spoken of it in the Life, (written by herself,) of Teresa of Jesus. When we remember, that it was by the Carmelite Order, (brought into the Western Church, in the 13th century,) that this devotion was established among us, we cannot be surprised that God should have chosen St. Teresa, who was the Reformer of that Order, to propagate the same devotion in this part of the world. 

    The holy solitaries of Mount Carmel — devoted as they had been, for so many centuries, to the love of Mary — were not slow in feeling the connection that exists between the honour paid to the Mother of God and that which is due to her virginal Spouse. The more we understand St. Joseph’s office, the clearer will be our knowledge of the divine mystery of the Incarnation. As when the Son of God assumed our human nature, he would have a Mother; so also, would he give to this Mother a protector. Jesus, Mary and Joseph — these are the three whom the ineffable mystery is continually bringing before our minds.

    The words of St. Teresa are as follows: “I took for my patron and lord the glorious St. Joseph, and recommended myself earnestly to him. I saw clearly ... that he rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favours which God hath given me through this blessed Saint; the dangers from which he hath delivered me, both of body and soul. To other Saints, our Lord seems to have given grace to succour men in some special necessity; but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, to help us in all: and our Lord would have us understand that, as he was himself subject to him upon earth — for St. Joseph having the title of father, and being his guardian, could command him — so now in heaven he performs all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they too know this by experience; and there are many who are now of late devout to him, having had experience of this truth.” (The Life of St Teresa)

    It is now more than a century ago, that the Carmelites sought and obtained the approbation of the Holy See for an Office in honour of the Patronage of St. Joseph. A great number of Dioceses obtained permission to use it. A Sunday was selected for the celebration of this new Feast, in order that the Faithful might be, in a way, compelled to keep it; for the Feast of St. Joseph in March is not a day of obligation for the universal Church, and, as it always falls during Lent, it cannot be kept on a Sunday, since the Sundays of Lent exclude a Feast of that rite. That the new Feast might not be attended with the same risk of being unnoticed, it was put upon a Sunday, — the third Sunday after Easter, that thus the consolations of such a solemnity might be blended with the Paschal joys. 

    The new Feast went on gradually spreading from one diocese to another; till at last, there was unexpectedly issued an Apostolic Decree, dated September the 10th, 1847, which ordered it to be kept throughout Christendom. The Church was on the eve of severe trials; and her glorious Pontiff, Pius IX, by a sacred instinct, was prompted to draw down on the Flock entrusted to him the powerful protection of St. Joseph, who, assuredly, has never had greater miseries and dangers to avert from the world, than those which threaten the present age.

    Let us then, henceforth, have confidence in the Patronage of St. Joseph. He is the Father of the Faithful, and it is God’s will, that he, more than any other Saint, should have power to apply to us the blessings of the mystery of the Incarnation — the great mystery whereof he, after Mary, was the chief earthly minister.”

Firth Sunday after Easter - Confidence in prayer

  On this fifth Sunday after Easter, the Church proposes a catechesis on prayer, both in the texts for the Mass and in the homilies given by...