Prayer makes our salvation secure, it helps us discern the truth, it is the origin of witnessing to the faith, and it assists those near to us to enter into the presence of God, bringing the peace and love that we all need.
These points were just some of the crucial teachings on prayer Pope Benedict XVI expressed in two general audience catecheses during the month of August.
Delivered at a time when many are on vacation, and Rome, in particular, empties for the month, the Pope stressed during both audiences that this period of rest should not mean a vacation from contact with God through prayer.
And in both public addresses at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father drew on the works and example of two saints and their teachings on prayer: Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, the 18th-century founder of the Redemptorist order, and Dominic de Guzman, the 13th-century founder of the Dominicans.
Addressing the faithful on Aug. 1, the Pope recalled St. Alphonsus’ view of prayer as “a means necessary to salvation and the graces we need to achieve it” — a sentence, the Pope added, that “synthesizes Alphonsian understanding of prayer.”
The saint “wanted us to understand that in every situation of life we need to pray, especially in times of trial and difficulty,” the Pope said, recalling the saint’s famous maxim directed towards the baptized: “He who prays is certainly saved; he who does not pray is certainly damned.”
“To save one’s soul without prayer is most difficult, and even [as we have seen] impossible,” St. Alphonsus wrote. “But, by praying, our salvation is made secure, and very easy.”
Reflecting on the saint’s words, the Pope said: “Only through prayer can we accept him, his grace, which, by illuminating us in every situation, helps us discern the truth, and, by fortifying us, renders our will capable of implementing what we know to be good.”
He continued: “We often know what is good, but are incapable of doing it. Through prayer, we can. The disciple of the Lord knows he is always exposed to temptation and in prayer never fails to ask God for help to conquer it.”
Referring to St. Alphonsus’ writing on prayer, which the saint considered his most useful work (Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection), the Pope said the Italian doctor of the Church reminds us that a relationship with God is “essential in life” and that only with daily personal prayer and participation in the sacraments can the Divine presence grow.
Said the Pope, “We must always knock at the door of the Lord with confidence, knowing that he cares for all his children. For this, we are asked not to be afraid to turn to him with confidence and to submit our petitions, in the certainty of receiving what we need.”
Similarly, in his Aug. 8 general audience catechesis, he recalled that St. Dominic, through his famous “Nine Ways of Prayer,” reminds us that contact with God through prayer is “at the origin of witnessing to the faith, which every Christian should give in the family, at work, in society, and even in moments of relaxation.” Only this real relationship with God, the Pope added, “gives us the strength to live every event, especially the most suffered moments, intensely.”
The Pope recalled that St. Dominic’s “only aspiration was the salvation of souls” and that, “in every moment, prayer was the force that renewed and rendered fruitful his apostolic works.”
The Holy Father chose to focus most on the last two of the nine ways: St. Dominic’s love of meditation and his contemplation of the beauty of creation. Meditation, the Pope explained, gives prayer a “more intimate, fervent and soothing dimension.” St. Dominic used to do this, the Pope recalled, prolonging his conversation with God after Mass or reciting the Liturgy of the Hours “without any time limits.”
“He would sit in an attitude of quiet recollection and listening, reading a book or staring at the crucifix,” the Pope said. “He lived these moments of his relationship with God so intensely that his reactions of joy or tears were outwardly perceptible.”
Referring to St. Dominic’s final way of prayer, Benedict said the founder of the Order of Preachers would pray while traveling, crossing the valleys and hills, and contemplating the beauty of creation. “At such times, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for so many gifts would gush from his heart, especially for the greatest wonder of all: the redemption accomplished by Christ,” the Pope said.
Again, the Holy Father drew attention to the need to find moments to pray quietly every day. “We particularly have to take this time for ourselves during our vacation, to have time for this attempt to talk with God,” the Pope said. “This is also a way to help those who are near to us to enter into the luminous rays of the presence of God, who brings the peace and love that we all need.”
On the other Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic, written by an anonymous Dominican friar soon after St. Dominic’s death, the Pope recalled that they largely involved posture. The Spanish friar used to pray while standing, while bowing “to express humility,” or lying prostrate on the ground “to ask forgiveness for his sins,” and on his knees in penance “to participate in the sufferings of the Lord” — always praying while gazing toward the crucified Lord.
In his book Spirit of the Liturgy, published in 2000, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger underlined the importance of kneeling in worship.
“It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture — insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the One before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary, gesture,” he wrote. But he added that he “who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core.”
“Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered,” he argued, “so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ himself.”
Edward Pentin writes from Rome. He is also a Register blogger.