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Necessity of Prayer in order to save our Souls

8 min • Digitized on July 20, 2021

From The Ascetical Works, Vol 25 - Preaching, page n313
By St. Alphonsus de Liguori

(This chapter was intended by St. Alphonsus de Liguori for preachers, but contains instruction that may be generally useful to intermediately-catechized Catholics.)

Necessity of Prayer in order to save our Souls.

In regard to the necessity of prayer it must be remarked that although God wishes the salvation of all men, as the Apostle declares: Who will have all men to be saved; and that according to the remark of St. Thomas on these words, the Lord, wishing the salvation of all men, does not allow any one to be in want of the grace of which he stands in need: “And, therefore, grace is wanting to no one, but communicates itself to all as far as possible;” nevertheless, theologians teach that no one is saved except with the help of God, and this help he does not obtain unless he prays for it.

Thus Gennadius expresses himself, and St. Augustine adds that except the first graces, as the vocation to the faith, or to penance, God does not grant the rest, and especially the grace of final perseverance, except to him who asks for it. Hence theologians commonly conclude, with St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and the same St. Augustine, that for adults prayer is necessary by necessity of means, so that without prayer it is impossible, according to the present disposition of Providence, to save one’s soul.

This is what is signified by Scripture when it says: We ought always to pray. Ask and you shall receive. Pray without ceasing. For St. Thomas says that the words We ought, Ask, Pray express a precept which imposes a grave obligation, especially in three cases:

  1. When any one is in the state of mortal sin;
  2. When any one is in danger of committing sin;
  3. When any one is in great danger of death.

Outside of these cases, theologians say that he who neglects for a month, or at least for two months, to recommend himself to God, is not excused from mortal sin. The reason of this is that ordinarily during this time the devil, who unceasingly is trying to gain souls, will not fail to cause him some grave temptation, and that in grave temptations he who does not pray, and does not ask God’s help, of which he stands in need in order not to fall, will very easily fall.

In fact, we should be convinced that without the help of God we have not the strength to resist the violent movements of bad passions and the vehement suggestions of the enemy who comes to assail us, even though we should have taken a thousand good resolutions and made to God a thousand promises; if we then do not recommend ourselves to God, we shall certainly be conquered.

We must add that the Council of Trent condemns him who should say that man in the state of grace can persevere in it without the special help of God: “If any one saith that the justified either is able to persevere, without the special help of God, in the justice received; or that, with that help, he is not able; let him be anathema.” Hence, in order to persevere, the ordinary divine help does not suffice; we need extraordinary help, which is not obtained except through prayer.

In this we should be greatly encouraged by the innumerable promises that the Lord has made us, as well in the Old as in the New Testament, that he will hear any one that prays to him.

What should, above all, inspire us with great confidence is the consideration of the two promises made by Jesus Christ, in which he teaches us to pray with the certainty of obtaining the graces that we ask in his name.

In one promise he says: Amen, amen, I say to you: if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you; in the other: If you shall ask Me anything in My name, that I will do.

When we, therefore, pray to God in the name of the Son, or to the Son in his name, we should be sure of obtaining the grace that we ask; for God cannot fail in his promises.

This is to be, however, understood whenever the graces asked for are spiritual goods, the before-mentioned promises not having for their object temporal goods, which the Lord grants to us only so far as they are more profitable to the soul.

As for spiritual goods, the Apostle St. James wishes us to ask for them with great confidence, because God grants them in abundance to all: Ask of God, Who giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not. The last two words signify much: they signify that when any one addresses God prayers useful to his eternal salvation, and when he prays with faith, God will certainly hear him; even when the soul has been unfaithful to him he grants it the grace that it asks, and does not reproach it for the faults that it has committed.

When, therefore, we solicit spiritual goods, we should firmly believe that we shall obtain them, and they will be granted to us, as our divine Master has assured us when he says: All things whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you.

After this, the preacher should not omit to recommend to him who prays always to be careful to interpose the intercession of Mary, according to the advice given by St. Bernard quoted above: “Let us ask for grace, and let us ask it through Mary.”

In concluding this point about the necessity of prayer, I cannot but complain of those preachers, and also of the authors of books of piety, who speak little of prayer; but I especially complain of confessors who take little care to remind their penitents of this necessity of praying in temptations: they carefully tell them to make a firm resolution and to promise to God never more to offend him; but they do not take the trouble to make them understand that when one is tempted, especially against purity, good resolutions and promises are of little use if one does not invoke God’s help.

When the temptation is strong, we should at once recommend ourselves fervently to God; and if the temptation continues, we should continue to implore the help of God in order not to fall until it ceases, or at least until it grows weaker.

Experience proves that the invocation of the holy names of Jesus and Mary, in temptations, is an excellent means not to give consent to them. But I say that if one sees so much backsliding among penitents who are contrite, it is because confessors pay so little attention to persuading them that in the suggestions of the devil they should immediately ask God to assist them.

Some will be astonished at seeing me requiring of preachers that during the missions they should attend to inculcating these two practices on the minds of the hearers, namely, to have recourse to God in temptations, and as is said in the second point, to recommend one’s self often to the Blessed Virgin. I say that they will be astonished, because commonly these are two things that preachers always recommend and leave as remembrances, especially in their last sermon.

Yes, I say that such is the custom; but I answer that in order to induce the hearers to take the firm resolution to execute these two things that are so important to salvation, it is not sufficient to recommend them once and to leave them as remembrances in the last sermon: we should recommend them in all the sermons in order that the people may keep them engraven on the memory, and put them in practice in the future.

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