“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.”
A man cannot take the smallest step in the way of divine love unless he is supported by divine grace. We are able of ourselves to enter into the way of perdition and stain ourselves with vice because we are naturally inclined to this and only require to be left a prey to our passions.
But which of us is capable of doing one single act or of conceiving a thought which may assist him to attain eternal life? “Without Me,” said Jesus Christ, “you can do nothing” (John 15:5). “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”
Now, as it is of faith that we cannot make a single step in the way of Divine love without being supported by grace, so, according to His ordinary rules, God does not grant this support except to those who ask for it.
But prayer is not only necessary for the attainment of divine graces, but is a most sure and efficacious means to procure them. Christ has promised this: “Therefore I say unto you, all things whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you” (Mark 11:26).
And in St. John, “Amen I say to you: If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you” (John 16:23). “Prayer,” writes Theodoret, “is but one thing, but it has power to procure all things.”
“It ascends to the throne of God,” says St. Augustine, “and draws down upon us a shower of Divine mercy.” A man of prayer is capable of all things and may say with the Apostle, “I can do all things through the help of Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
However great our misery or however fierce the assaults of our passions, if we remain firm in the exercise of prayer, we shall triumph over every obstacle and shall infallibly advance in the way of divine love.
“The soul,” says St. Teresa, “which perseveres in the exercise of prayer amidst all the attacks, temptations and falls by which the devil opposes her progress may be certain that, sooner or later, the Lord will deliver her from danger and lead her safely to the gate of salvation. But woe to him who is not a man of prayer. He will go on getting colder and colder in his piety, till he falls headlong into the abyss of sin.”
St. Teresa relates of herself that, having neglected prayer for some time, she began to fall into certain light faults, which continued to increase every day and gain power over heart. And she adds that God afterwards revealed to her that if she had continued in that state, she would finally have lost her soul and sunk into eternal perdition.
Prayer is the blessed furnace in which the fire of Divine love is kindled and preserved, and he who does not make use of it frequently becomes tepid and cold. And in this state it is not difficult for the devil to introduce himself into his heart and so lead him to sin.
For this reason he leaves no means untried to detach the soul from prayer. He knows how strong a weapon prayer is to ward off his attacks, and therefore he makes use of all his arts to ravish it out of their hands.
In order for us to advance in divine love, it is most important to exercise ourselves in mental prayer, because by it our whole mind becomes irradiated with heavenly light and the fire of Divine love is kindled in our heart.
“In my meditation,” said David, “a fire shall flame out” (Ps. 38:4). Mental prayer regulates the affections of our souls and guides our actions to God; without it, our hearts are chained down to the earth and our actions, guided by worldly affections, all lead to our ruin.
The four last things – death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell – are most useful subjects for meditation. But for him who loves Jesus Christ and desires to advance in this love it is a most useful practice to mediate on His Passion and death. St. Francis de Sales says, “that Mount Calvary is the mount for lovers, and all the lovers of Jesus Christ find their delight in this mountain, whence they breathe no air but that of divine love.”
In order to preserve within us at all times the spirit of prayer and to keep our souls habitually in the presence of God, a man should make frequent use of devout aspirations and interior recollections of mind, by which means, St. Francis de Sales remarks, that the work of our perfection is commenced, carried forward and completed.
Aspirations are certain dartings of the spirit towards God, and the more ardent they are, the better. Interior recollections are glances of the soul at God, which, where they are most simple, are most valuable. It is hardly possible to understand the wonderful power which these kinds of prayers possess to help us in the performance of our duties, to support us under temptation, to raise us when we have fallen and to unite us closely to God.
And as we can make them at all times, in all places and with the greatest facility, they ought to be as common to us as breathing. St. Catherine of Siena, being prevented from prayer by being employed in all the domestic offices of the family, formed a cell in her own heart into which she constantly retired amid her most fatiguing occupations, to contemplate God and to hold familiar discourse with Him.
She thus maintained a firm and constant union with her Divine Master, and she used to say that our hearts are the true kingdom of God where He fixes His seat. Oh what great advance have those souls made in divine love who have formed for themselves such cells and frequently retired into them to adore God and converse with Him affectionately and lovingly!
“Those,” says St. Teresa, “who can enclose within the little paradise of the soul Him who created Heaven and earth may well believe that they are on a good road and that they shall not fail to arrive at length at the fountain of life, because they will make a great progress in a short time.”
Blessed are they to whom God has communicated His Holy Spirit and bound them with the sweet bands of His love! “Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor hid His mercy from me!”
This article is taken from a chapter in The Soul Sanctified which is available from TAN Books.