ON THE PRAISES OF PRAYER
As there is nothing more necessary or more profitable to man than prayer, the saints have lavished most profuse eulogies upon this holy exercise. St. John Climachus writes: "Prayer, considered in its nature or quality, is a familiar conversation and union with God; considered in its efficacy, it is the preservation of the world, the reconciliation with God, the mother of tears, the companion on journeys, the propitiation for sins; a bridge over the high waters of temptation; a bulwark against all assaults of afflictions; the suppression and extinction of wars; the office of the angels; the nourishment of all souls; the anticipation of future joy; a perpetual occupation; the source of all virtues; the channel of all graces." (Gradu. 28, initio).
Not satisfied with these praises, he adds still greater and more important ones: "Prayer is the lever of the spiritual life; the medicine of the soul; the light of the understanding; the expeller of despair; the ground pillar of Christian hope; the remedy for melancholy and sadness; the riches of monks; the treasure of hermits; the cessation of anger; a mirror to show the progress in the spiritual life; the thermometer of the soul; a declaration of the dispositions of the heart; a moral certainty of heavenly glory."
To these eulogies on prayer may be added the following: "Holy prayer is the column of all virtues; a ladder to God; the support of widows, the foundation of faith; the crown of religious; the sweetness of the married life." (Auct. Serm. ad. Fratres in eremo apud St. Aug. Serm. 22). St. Augustine adds: "Prayer is the protection of holy souls; a consolation for the guardian angel; an insupportable torment to the devil; a most acceptable homage to God; the best and most perfect praise for penitents and religious; the greatest honor and glory; the preserver of spiritual health." (Aug. ad. Probam).
"Prayer," says St. Ephrem, "is the counter poison of pride; the antidote to the passion of hatred; the best rule in making just laws; the best and most powerful means to govern aright; the standard and trophy in war; a stronghold for peace; the seal of virginity; the guard of nuptial fidelity; the safeguard of travellers; the guardian angel during sleep; the source of fertility for the farmer; a safe harbor in the storms of this life; a city of refuge for criminals; the source of all true joy; the best friend and physician of the dying." (Tract. de Orat.). "Prayer," says Cornelius á Lapide, "is the transfiguration of the soul."
Prayer, I add, is, moreover, the paradise of the soul; the Ark of the Covenant; a wonder-working rod of Moses; a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; a piscina probatica, or pond of healing water, wherein whoever descends is healed of whatsoever spiritual infirmity he may lie under; an impregnable fortress; the milk of little children; the crosier of bishops; the strength, courage, and persuasive power of missionaries; the con- version of the world; the sanctuary of priests; the wisdom of the saints; the true key of Heaven; the best book of sermons; the mother of good counsel; the school of eloquence; the constancy of the martyrs; the compass of superiors; the interpreter of the Holy Scriptures; the justification for God. If we should say, "I had not sufficient grace to be saved," God will answer: "Why did you not ask it of Me?" Prayer is a kind of soul insurance; and the remembrance of its neglect will be an everlasting torment for the damned, who will see how easily they might have been saved by prayer. "Prayer is," says St. John Ciimachus, "a pious, gentle tyranny toward God, forcing Him to give up to us everything, even Himself." Hence St. Augustine has said with truth: "What can be more excellent than prayer; what more profitable to our life; what sweeter to our souls; what more sublime, in the course of our whole life, than the practice of prayer!"
Being well convinced of this truth, Caspar Sanchez, S.J., used to say: "Give me all the goods of the earth, and let them last forever, and I will give them all up for half a quarter of an hour of my usual prayer and communion with God." In like manner said Father Francis Suarez, S.J.: "I am willing to lose all my science rather than one hour of prayer." The saintly priest of Ars, named Vianney, used to say: "All the happiness of man on earth consists in prayer." One of our Fathers, a holy man of great experience, often repeated: "Secular people say, 'in the monastery everything is prayer'; but we must reverse their words, and say, 'Prayer is everything to us in the convent.' " Cornelius á Lapide says: "The gift of prayer is an immense and incomprehensible grace of God."
Scarcely did ever any saint, in fewer words, bestow greater praise on prayer than St. Alphonsus, in the preface to his little book on prayer: "I have published several spiritual works, such as Visits to the Blessed Sacrament; Considerations on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; Glories of Mary; a work against the materialists and deists, with other devout little treatises; also a little work on the infancy of our Saviour, entitled Novena for Christmas; another called Preparation for Death, besides the one on the eternal maxims, very useful meditations, or for sermons; to which are added nine discourses, suitable during seasons of divine chastisements, but I am of opinion that I never wrote a more useful book than the present, in which I speak of prayer as a necessary and certain means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces which we require for that object. Would to God it were in my power to give a copy of it to every Catholic in the world, to show him the absolute necessity of prayer for salvation!"
These sentiments of the saints, and of pious souls, proceed from most intimate conviction, and the abundance of the spiritual gifts and graces with which their hearts are overflowing; and it is undoubtedly true that most of men, could they see and comprehend but one-half of the happiness of such souls, would at once give up all earthly pleasures and advantages to enjoy but for one quarter of an hour the happiness of the life of saintly souls. Who, after all this, will remain still cold, careless, and in- different in the practice of prayer? Most assuredly he only who is not of God, and loves darkness more than light; this world more than his soul; the devil, and all his works and pomps, more than the Lord of Heaven and earth.