Sunday, 22 November 2020

Last Sunday after Pentecost - Perseverance and hope.



 This Sunday marks the end of the Church’s liturgical year, with the commencement of Advent next Sunday. The secular world hails the turn of the calendar year at the end of December with much noise and excitement and even resolutions. When the festivities have died down, however, these same resolutions appear often too onerous to maintain, and the year quickly becomes akin to the one before, with the same pitfalls as have happened previously.

Yet with Catholics, this can not be so. The close of one liturgical year and the imminent commencement of another, ought to be a period for deep reflection, particularly in light of the upheaval which has occurred in the recent months.

For the last Sunday before Advent marks the passage of yet another year, a year  which is replaced by another in which we are  called to become more fervent in the path of perfection and more devoted to the practice of the spiritual life. But, one might easily say, how can we? Where is the time for such a thing, when the world is in a state of disorder, when governments encroach on the rights of the Church, when tyranny and fear are spread so swiftly and so easily? How am I supposed to make any progress in sanctity during this year, when surrounded by such chaos?

The objections certainly carry weight, at least on an initial examination. For who can really claim that they have remained wholly unaffected by state of the world, and simply advanced steadily in the spiritual life? However, St. Louis-Marie de Montfort notes that it is in fact these very times, that one can make the best advances in sanctity.

Yes indeed, it is not just essential that one does so in these times of trial, but indeed they are most suited to making such advances in the spiritual life. St. Louis-Marie mentions in his Letter to the Friends of the Cross: “Pleasure seekers unite to enjoy themselves; you must be united to suffer.”

In the words of the great Marian saint, we are called to suffer. The Church, the Bride of Christ is enduring a persecution both from within and without. So also are Her members, whose faith is tried by false teaching and wayward shepherds, but also through the as yet un-bloody persecution which is made upon freedom, dignity, natural rights, family life, and even normal existence. All these circumstances can and must be, the catalyst for an increase in the spiritual life of faithful Catholics. 

Thus, in making this spiritual resolution for the new liturgical year, one must turn to the Gospel text to understand the importance of such an action. 

Holy Mother Church places before Her children a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, which serves as a perfect encouragement to renew our efforts in the spiritual life at the start of the new year. 

“But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom, shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations, and then shall the consummation come. When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand.”

Perseverance, even until the end! This is the command of Christ in the face of the terrible destruction which is described in the rest of the Gospel. 

Perseverance - even when “they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains: And he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take any thing out of his house: And he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. And woe to them that are with child, and that give suck in those days. But pray that your flight be not in the winter, or on the sabbath.”

Perseverance and adherence to the Cross, even when “great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be” shall engulf us.

Perseverance, even in a time when “unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened.”

These lines of Sacred Scripture convey a terrifying, and dreadful image. It is an image of utter ruination, of greatest tumult and upheaval. Indeed, we do not have to look far into our imaginations, to envisage such scenes, as they appear all too readily to be occurring before our eyes. But this Gospel is most deliberately placed on this Sunday, so that we might meditate on the dreadful prospect which Christ speaks of, and so properly form ourselves in readiness for the year ahead. 

Perseverance then must be the battle-cry which is carried always in the forefront of our minds, for only by persevering can we maintain the ‘new year spiritual resolutions’ - only by persevering can we hope to stand firm in the days of great tribulation.

St. Louis-Marie writes of this, saying that “a perfect Friend of the Cross is a true Christ-bearer, or rather another Christ, so that he can truly say, I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me.”

“Do you listen to the voice of Jesus who, burdened with his Cross, calls out to you, ‘Come after me; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; be brave; I have conquered the world,” writes the saint. 

But coupled with this holy perseverance, must be something else, which sustains one through the trials which are visibly before him. Catholics must possess the virtue of hope.

For hope enkindles the fire within, enabling a person to hold fast to the path of virtue, so as still to be termed a friend of the cross.

Hope gives life and meaning to perseverance, so that emboldened by hope, Catholics will truly be able to persevere until the end and so be saved.

Indeed, even in the midst of persecutions, bloody or un-bloody, as long as we have hope, then all is not lost. For hope points back towards God and directs us to the true goal of all. It is the means by which the Cross seems light and sweet, for hope enables us to see past the pain of the cross to the glory beyond. 

When the world might be on the cusp of self-destruction, tyrants rising in every nation, Catholics persecuted for refusing vaccines made at the cost of innocent baby’s lives - hope must enliven our courage. For at these times, the servants of satan will seem to have won the victory and yet even so be confounded by the hope and perseverance displayed by faithful children of the Church.

No matter what the persecution which will be placed upon us in the near and distant future, hope shall carry us along the royal road of the cross, to eventually reach the glorious sight of the Beatific Vision. 

This then is a resolution which is incomparable - a resolution of perseverance and hope, even in the face of the most abject depravities and worldwide laws which are designed specifically to destroy one’s hope. With every new restriction, every unjust, illogical and illegal law, turning nations into  prison camps, so long as we have hope and perseverance, the slaves of satan shall never win. 

To Christ belongs the victory and it is a victory already won! Through His Immaculate Mother Mary we come before Him, placing ourselves in their hands, and allowing the Redeemer and the Co-Redemptrix to lead us along the royal road of the cross, until finally we approach their heavenly thrones. 

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Prayer - the weapon of choice in an apocalyptic world.

                                             


As Archbishop ViganĂ² issues a renewed call to prayer for the sake of the U.S Election, as well as the world, it is perhaps useful to revisit a previous article on this sight concerning the efficacy of prayer. 

The Archbishop states: "American Catholics can and must pray, because faced with such a massive deployment of adverse forces, only the intervention of God can bring the truth to light. Obviously, this does not exclude renewing the coherent witness of Catholics in the social order. But this human action, always inspired by the common good, must not lose sight of the supernatural dimension. Jesus Christ is the Lord of history and the King of nations: He will not abandon his children in the moment of trial, if they faithfully have recourse to Him and to his Most Holy Mother."


Efficacy of prayer.


In order to answer the question of whether prayer is efficacious, we must turn to the words of Sacred Scripture where we find the wonderful promise of Christ: “And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you”. (Luke 11:9) Yet again the Saviour teaches that “Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you”. (John 16:23) The divine promise has been given therefore, that assures us of the efficacy of our prayers. The spiritual authors note however, that the source of the efficacy of prayer is not within us, but rather in God. Fr Garrigou-Lagrange teaches that “the source of its [prayers’] efficacy is in God and in the infinite merits of Christ”. (1) Thus it would be wrong to imagine that our prayers, whilst having received the divine assurance of being heard, are efficacious due to our own power. As members of the mystical body of Christ, our prayers ascend to Him and through Him and it is only from Him that they have efficacy. Hence we can be like the faithful centurion from the Gospels who recognised that the power of prayer came from God Himself: “I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed”. (Matthew 8:8)

 With the divine assurance of the efficacy of prayer it is no surprise that the Church, through her magisterium, doctors, fathers and theologians, has constantly urged her members to turn to prayer. We have been given such a wondrous gift by which we can communicate with God in this manner and it would be more than foolish not to make use of it. St. Therese likens the gift of prayer as to being a queen who has constant access to her king and is able to receive all that she asks. We can be full of the greatest confidence in the true efficacy of prayer, for God can neither deceive nor be deceived and His words contain no falsehoods. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, in a sermon preached upon this very topic, recalls the words of St. John Chrysostom, who said that “the princes of the earth give audience only to a few; but God grants it to every one that wishes for it”.


Unanswered prayer?


 But there remains the tricky issue of the many prayers which have been made to God and are as yet apparently unanswered. Perhaps this is something which is even an issue for us at the present moment in a time of upheaval. How can we combine the promise of God to hear our prayer, with those prayers which seem to be unanswered?

 Firstly, we must examine whether the object of our prayer is truly worthy of prayer itself. This will be discussed below under the conditions of prayer. But in short, we should not belittle God by praying earnestly that our favourite sports team might win the next game! We ought never to forget Who it is we converse with when we pray. But secondly, we must remember that whilst our prayers may not have been answered yet, this is only because God in His infinite wisdom, does not see fit to do so. We must recall the many saints who prayed for years before their prayers were answered. St. Monica beseeched God for seventeen years for the conversion of St. Augustine! We can only see our immediate needs, whilst God knows exactly when it is best for our prayer to be answered. By allowing us to continue in trial and having constant recourse to prayer, He allows us to draw closer to Him. Indeed, “the simple fact that we continue to pray shows that God is helping us for without a new actual grace we would not continue to pray”. (2) God never responds to our prayers, if they be true prayers, with a simple refusal. It may be the case due our limited knowledge, that whatever we are praying for might not in actuality be good for us, and God is answering our prayer by providing us with something that is better for our spiritual life.

 Such a period of trial, or spiritual dryness, is a special gift from God, granted to those souls whom He knows will eventually flourish under such circumstances. It was the state in which many of the great mystics spent a number of years: saints such as Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Just as we receive spiritual consolation and joy in prayer, we should not be surprised if we also receive trial and hardship in our prayer.

 Thus, even if our prayers seem to go unanswered, we must not deduce from this that God has broken his word to us. If they are real prayers, then either God is permitting us to continue in a state of trial or He is answering them in a way which we do not yet see or understand.


The Conditions of prayer.


In what regard then can we say that prayer is efficacious, for we pray for a variety of things, some of which are far less worthy and noble than others? There are certain conditions which must be met for the thing prayed for as well as by the person praying in order to prayer to be true prayer.


Conditions of the object prayed for.


 Prayer must not be seen as some magic card, by which we can attain whatever goal we desire. It is a direct conversation with God and as such should be treated with the dignity it requires. For instance, if one were to meet the Queen, it would be extremely unfitting to ask her to provide the money to buy a favourite car or gadget. It is just so with prayer: prayer is a requisite for attaining Heaven and as such we must pray for supernatural goods which will lead us to heaven, as well as those temporal goods which will assist us in this regard. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange teaches that ultimately, the object of all our prayer must be to have a greater love of God. Whatever is thus not in accord with that end does not meet the condition for being a worthy prayer. Hence we should ask for the spiritual goods we need in order to attain Heaven, but only in so far as they bring us closer to God. No matter what the spiritual good prayed for is, it cannot be bad in itself, but can be bad if prayed for with the wrong intention. For instance, praying for the virtue of humility only so that we might be known as humble, would not be a fitting prayer. Accordingly then, we must submit all our prayers to the will of God, praying that no matter our own desires, His will be done.

 But we should not think that we must avoid praying for anything apart from spiritual goods. Whilst temporal goods are too lowly to be the chief object of our prayers, they are a necessity of our earthly life. Consequently we can and ought to petition God for all those temporal goods which are necessary for us to live well and to attain salvation. With these kinds of prayers especially, the spiritual authors counsel us to be particularly wary of selfish desires dominating our prayer and clouding our judgement as to the object of our prayer. They recommend dedicating these prayers to the will of God particularly, always asking for temporal goods only in so far as is in accord with providence.


Conditions of the person praying.


 With regard to ourselves too there are certain conditions which must be met, in order to pray worthily. These can be summarised in the chief conditions of confidence or faith, humility, attention and perseverance.

 It is here that we turn our attention back to the very start of this discussion and bring faith once more before our minds, for the relation between faith and prayer is, as mentioned, crucial. Faith is essential when praying because to pray without faith in God is pointless. If we lack faith in our prayer then we firstly insult God, who has promised that He hears and answers our prayers. If we pray whilst being full of doubt that He can indeed do so, then we also express 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 we pray, if we do so worthily, we should not be surprised to find our prayers answered. Prayer is not some dealing with an unreliable and unknown being. Rather, worthy prayer is conversing with God, a God who has promised to hear and answer our prayers. We can and ought to approach Him with the utmost confidence and faith. Indeed, it would be less surprising if the sun and moon suddenly ceased to be than if God did not answer a prayer. 

 Humility is another condition which must be met, since it would be wrong to misuse the promise of God in such a way as to almost demand to have our wishes heeded. We do not have the right to approach God in the intimate manner in which we can do in prayer, since through our own sinfulness we have infinitely offended Him. Yet in His goodness He has deigned to grant us the grace of such an intimate union with Him. St. James warns that “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble”. (James 4:6) Pride in prayer twists the relation between God and man, and seeks to conform God’s will to ours instead of aligning our will with His.

 Giving proper attention to those around us is part of normal, polite behaviour, yet it is often something which we fail to give to God in our daily prayers. If one examines ones own prayers throughout the day, it will be surprising to recall just how many were full of distractions, or made only half heartedly whilst our minds were otherwise occupied. Hence the spiritual authors teach that we must at least have a serious desire to mean what we say to God. Involuntary distractions are not a fault in our prayers and can even lead to prayer being more meritorious. Such involuntary thoughts are part of human nature, and as long as we resist them when they arise, they form no obstacle to prayer. It is the voluntary distractions which give rise to an impediment to prayer, for through these distractions we make clear the desire to be engaged in something other than conversing with God.

 Finally, we must be persevering in praying, seeking not to have a speedy answer to prayer, but instead uniting ourselves with the will of God. If we do not have perseverance for the object of our prayer, it would seem that we were not particularly bothered as to its attainment. Even in temporal society we must wait up to several years for certain things such as a degree or promotion. As children we were taught that our desires cannot be satisfied immediately, because in this manner we would swiftly become spoiled. It is just so with prayer, for we must demonstrate our devotion and ardent desire through persevering and unfailing prayer.


 To summarise, prayer is not a senseless petitioning of an untrusted being, which bears no relation to the real world. Nor is prayer a form of magic by which we can have all our wishes answered, as if by some legendary genie. Prayer is the very real and personal conversation with an almighty God, who hears and answers us. Prayer, if done worthily according to the conditions set out, is always efficacious. If we have a true and lively faith, which is necessary in order to have a lively spiritual life, then we truly can turn to God in full confidence in constant prayer, and await His aid.

 

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you”. (John 15:7)






  1. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. The Three Ages of the Interior Life - Volume One, (Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2019), 434.
  2. Ibid, 436.

Last Sunday after Pentecost - Perseverance and hope.

  This Sunday marks the end of the Church’s liturgical y ear, with the commencement of Advent next Sunday. The secular world hails the turn ...