On Prayer According to St. Alphonsus Liguori
"He Who Prays is Saved. He Who Prays Not is Damned"
H.H. Benedict XVI
August 1, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters!
Today marks the liturgical memorial of St. Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer -- the Redemptorists -- patron saint of scholars and moral theology and of confessors. St. Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the 18th century because of his simple, straightforward style and his teaching on the sacrament of Penance: In a period of great rigorism -- the result of the influence of Jansenism -- he recommended to confessors to administer this sacrament by revealing the joyous embrace of God the Father, who in His infinite mercy never tires of welcoming back the repentant son.
Today's memorial offers us the occasion to consider St. Alphonsus' teachings on prayer, which are extremely valuable and filled with spiritual inspiration. He considered his treatise, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, which dates back to 1759, to be the most useful of all his writings. In fact, he there describes prayer as "the necessary and sure means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces we need to attain it" (Introduction).
This sentence sums up the Alphonsian understanding of prayer. First, in saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the end to be attained: God created out of love in order to be able to give us the fullness of life; but because of sin, this goal, this abundance of life has, so to say, drifted away -- we all know this -- and only God's grace can make it available. To explain this basic truth, and to enable us to understand in a straightforward way how real the risk is of man's "being lost," St. Alphonsus coined a famous, very elementary maxim, which states: "He who prays is saved. He who prays not is damned!" Commenting on this lapidary statement, he added: "To save one's soul without prayer is most difficult, and even impossible … but by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy" (Chapter II, Conclusion). And he goes on to say: "If we do not pray, we have no excuse, for the grace of prayer is given to everyone … if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours, because we did not pray" (ibid.).
In saying that prayer is a necessary means, St. Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in every situation in life, we cannot manage without praying, especially in times of trial and difficulty. We must always knock at the Lord's door with trust, knowing that in all things He takes care of His children, of us. We are invited, therefore, not to be afraid of turning to Him and of presenting our requests to Him with trust, in the certainty of obtaining what we need.
Dear friends, this is the central question: What is truly necessary in my life? With St. Alphonsus I respond: "Health and all the graces we need for this" (ibid.); naturally, he means not only bodily health, but above all also that of the soul, which Jesus gives to us. More than anything else, we need His liberating presence, which truly makes our lives fully human and therefore full of joy. And it is only through prayer that we are able to welcome Him and His grace, which by enlightening us in each situation, enables us to discern the true good, and by strengthening us, makes our will effective; that is, it enables it to do the good that is known. Often we recognize the good, but we are unable to do it. Through prayer, we arrive at the point of being able to carry it out.
The Lord's disciple knows that he is always exposed to temptation, and he never fails to ask God for help in prayer in order to conquer it. St. Alphonsus recalls the example of St. Phillip Neri -- very interesting -- who "used to say to God from the first moment he awoke in the morning, 'Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee'" (III, 3). A great realist! He asks God to keep His hand upon him. We, too, in the awareness of our own weakness, should humbly ask God's help, relying on the richness of His mercy.
In another passage, St. Alphonsus says: "We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor" (II, 4). And in the wake of St. Augustine, he invites every Christian to not be afraid of obtaining from God, through prayer, the strength he does not possess and that he needs to do the good, in the certainty that the Lord does not withhold His help from whoever prays with humility (cf. III, 3).
Dear friends, St. Alphonsus reminds us that our relationship with God is essential for our lives. Without a relationship with God, our fundamental relationship is missing. And a relationship with God develops by talking with God in daily personal prayer, and by participating in the Sacraments; and so it is that this relationship can grow in us, and that the divine presence that directs our path, enlightens it and makes it secure and serene can also grow in us, even amid difficulty and danger. Thank you.
[Translation by Diane Montagna]
[In English, he said:]
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England and the United States. Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Alphonsus de' Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists, a great moral theologian and a master of prayer. Saint Alphonsus teaches us the beauty of daily prayer, in which we open our minds and hearts to the Lord's presence and receive the grace to live wisely and well. By his example and intercession, may you and your families come to know God's saving love and experience his abundant blessings!
© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, he said:]
Lastly, I greet the young, the sick and newlyweds. I exhort everyone to render everywhere a joyous witness to the Gospel.
[Translation by Diane Montagna]