Chapter 3: The Conditions of Prayer, Section 3, Part 1
The Confidence with Which We Ought to Pray
EXCELLENCE AND NECESSITY OF THIS VIRTUE
The principal instruction that St. James gives us, if we wish by prayer to obtain grace from God, is, that we pray with a confidence that feels sure of being heard, and without hesitating: "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." [James 1: 6] St. Thomas teaches that as prayer receives its power of meriting from charity, so, on the other hand, it receives from faith and confidence its power of being efficacious to obtain: "Prayer has its power of meriting from charity, but its efficacy of obtaining from faith and confidence." [2. 2. q. 83, a. 15] St. Bernard teaches the same, saying that it is our confidence alone which obtains for us the Divine mercies: "Hope alone obtains a place of mercy with Thee, O Lord." God is much pleased with our confidence in his mercy, because we then honor and exalt that infinite goodness which it was his object in creating us to manifest to the world: "Let all those, O my God", says the royal prophet, who hope in Thee be glad, for they shall be eternally happy, and Thou shalt dwell in them." [Ps. 5: 12] God protects and saves all those who confide in Him: "He is the Protector of all that hope in Him." [Ps. 17: 31] "Thou who savest them that trust in Thee." [Ps. 16: 7] Oh, the great promises that are recorded in the Scriptures to all those who hope in God! He who hopes in God will not fall into sin: "None of them that trust in Him shall offend. [Ps. 33: 23] Yes, says David, because God has His eyes turned to all those who confide in His goodness to deliver them by His aid from the death of sin. "Behold, they eyes of the Lord are on them that fear Him, and on them that hope for His mercy to deliver their souls from death," [Ps. 32: 18] And in another place God Himself says: "Because he hoped in Me I will deliver him; I will protect him; I will deliver him and I will glorify him." [Ps. 90: 14] Mark the word "because." "Because" he confided in Me, I will protect, I will deliver him from his enemies, and from the danger of falling; and finally I will give him eternal glory. Isaias says of those who place their hope in God: "They that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall take wings as the eagles; they shall run and not be weary: they shall walk and not faint." [Is. 40: 31] They shall cease to be weak as they are now, and shall gain in God a great strength; they shall not faint; they shall not even feel weary in walking the way of salvation, but they shall run and fly as eagles; "in silence and in hope shall your strength be." [Is. 30: 15] All our strength, the prophet tells us, consists in placing all our confidence in God, and in being silent; that is, in reposing in the arms of His mercy, without trusting to our own efforts, or to human means.
And when did it ever happen that a man had confidence in God and was lost? "No one hath hoped in the Lord and hath been confounded." [Ecclus. 2: 11]
It was this confidence that assured David that he should not perish: "In Thee, O Lord, have I trusted; I shall not be confounded forever." [Ps. 30: 2] Perhaps, then, says St. Augustine, God could be a deceiver, Who offers to support us in dangers if we lean upon Him, and would then withdraw Himself if we had recourse to Him? "God is not a deceiver, that He should offer to support us, and then when we lean upon Him should slip away from us." David calls the man happy who trusts in God: "Blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee." [Ps. 83: 13] And why? Because, says he, he who trusts in God will always find himself surrounded by God's mercy. "Mercy shall encompass him that hopeth in the Lord." [Ps. 31: 10] So that he shall be surrounded and guarded by God on every side in such a way that he shall be prevented from losing his soul.
It is for this cause that the Apostle recommends us so earnestly to preserve our confidence in God; for [he tells us] it will certainly obtain from him a great remuneration: "Do not therefore lose your confidence, which hath a great reward." [Heb. 10: 35] As in our confidence, so shall be the graces we receive from God: if our confidence is great, great too will be the graces: "Great faith merits great things." St. Bernard writes that the Divine mercy is an inexhaustible fountain, and that he who brings to it the largest vessel of confidence shall take from it the largest measure of gifts: "Neither, O Lord, dost Thou put the oil of thy mercy Into any other vessel than that of confidence." The Prophet had long before expressed the same thought: "Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us [i.e., in proportion] as we have hoped in Thee." [Ps. 32: 22] This was well exemplified in the centurion to whom our Savior said, in praise of his confidence, "Go, and as thou hast believe, so be it done unto thee." [Matt. 8: 12] And our Lord revealed to St. Gertrude that he who prays with confidence does Him in a manner such violence that He cannot but hear him in everything he asks: "Prayer," says St. John Climacus, "does a pious violence to God." It does Him a violence, but a violence which He likes, and which pleases Him."Let us go, therefore, " according to the admonition of St. Paul, "with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid." [Heb. 4: 16] The throne of grace is Jesus Christ, Who is now sitting on the right hand of the Father; not on the throne of justice, but of grace, to obtain pardon for us if we fall into sin, and help to enable us to persevere if we are enjoying His friendship. To this throne we must always have recourse with confidence; that is to say, with that trust which springs from faith in the goodness and truth of God, Who has promised to hear him who prays to Him with confidence, but with a confidence that is both sure and stable. On the other hand, says St. James, let not the man who prays with hesitation think that he will receive anything: "For he who wavereth is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore let not that man think to receive anything of the Lord." [James 1: 6] He will receive nothing, because the diffidence which agitates him is unjust towards God, and will hinder His mercy from listening to his prayers: "Thou hast not asked rightly, because thou hast asked doubtingly," says St. Basil; "thou hast not received grace, because thou hast asked it without confidence." David says that our confidence in God ought to be as firm as a mountain, which is not moved by each gust of wind. "They who trust in the Lord are as Mount Sion; He shall not be moved forever." [Ps. 124: 1] And it is this that our Lord recommends to us, if we wish to obtain the graces which we ask: "Whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you." [Mark 11: 24] Whatever grace you require, be sure of having it, and so you shall obtain it.