The confidence to ask the Lord for the things which are necessary for our salvation and the salvation of others, is something that is often found lacking in the present age.
On every side the world gives us reasons to fear the worst and lose hope. Even the many problems and weaknesses in ecclesiastical institutions, or the many scandals among religious or clergy, do not encourage us to pray. Rather, they dispose us to lament of the woes of the age in which we live, in a bitter, hopeless manner.
But this spirit of hopelessness is quite contrary to that which Our Lord wants of us, and to that which faith in Him as God, demands of us.
Have no fear, little flock! says the Lord, I have overcome the world!
Our Lord adds this reassurance in reference to His expiatory Sacrifice on the Cross, by which He excorcised the Devil of this world from the world, and by which He paid the debt of sin for each and every man, woman, and child, not only believers, but also and even of those who would never believe in Him.
But Our Lord’s triumph is not only against sin, but against all reasons for despair. Because with the Lord, there is mercy and truth, as the Psalm says. With the Lord there is mercy and truth! Let us say it again! Because no matter how dark this world might become, no matter how bleak the future might seem for believers, Christ remains God and remains willing to assist those who hope in Him, with all the power of Heaven, all the force of His grace, all the fire and life giving power of His Holy Spirit, and with all the authority of His Eternal Father.*
This, to those weak in faith, or poorly formed in the spiritual life, might seem as a sort of spiritual avarice or unseemly precociousness on our part: to insist that God send His blessings and gifts.
But the truth is that Our Lord Jesus Christ, in entrusting us in a manner similar, but far inferior, to the manner in which He entrusted to His own Blessed Mother a necessary role in the salvation of sinners, has manifested that while He is far more willing to save souls that we can imagine — and though He certain does save souls regardless of whether we want them to be saved — nevertheless, He will save souls and grant graces and blessings, in a greater abundance and to a greater extent, IF WE ASK HIM TO.
This wonderful truth, He attempts to inculcate into us, by the words of hope, which are the theme of this month’s newsletter: If 2 or 3 of you ask Me for anything in My Name, I shall grant it!
Those are powerful words of hope! Let us consider that Our Lord, the Omnipotent God, has made a promise, and study how we can best profit by it.
First, as supreme Legislator of Divine Providence and as the Lord and Master of all creation, Our Lord makes this promise in a strict legal form. We can see this by the grammatical form which He employs: He begins the promise with the word “If” and ends it with the helping verb “will”. He expresses very specifically the conditions of action (“ask”), the number of petitioners (“2 or 3”), the manner in which the petition must be made (“in My Name”), and what must be asked for (“anything”). That last condition, is really not condition. By saying “anything”, Our Lord is clearly trying to encourage us in the greatest possible manner!
How much preoccupation some men or women have when they hear that this or that state run lottery has a jackpot of some tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. As soon as they hear of the possibility that a winner has not come forward and that another drawing is drawing close, they run out to the nearest corner store and buy one if not many lottery tickets, saying to themselves, “If only I could win so much money, just think what I could do with it!”
The fact that the chance of their winning that jackpot is so very small, so infinitesimal, that whatever they spend on tickets, the chance is more a fable than a reality, does not stop them in the least of putting their hope into practice to obtain it.
But in this promise of Our Lord, which is our theme this month, we have One who is promising much more, and One who is giving us greater odds of winning!
In fact, He is not giving us odds of obtaining His blessings, He is practically guaranteeing it!
And yet, how many interest themselves to obtain, by this promise, what they seek?
It is the rare day that I encounter any believer at all, who says to me, “Brother, would you please join me in praying for x or y, because Our Lord promised that whenever 2 or three ask for anything in His Name, He will grant it.”
Such confidence, might seem exuberant, or the property of an evangelical protestant, but NO, Our Lord want us Catholics, His faithful sheep, to have it, and to unabashedly profess it.
I do not deny, that faith in this promise, is the foundation and motive we Catholics have whenever we ask others for prayers; but what I want to focus on, is that the eagerness and confidence we should have to ask, should be based more explicitly on this wonderful promise of Our Lord, and thus the number and intensity of our initiatives in this regard should reflect such confidence.
Now it is true that on account of our sins, or on account of our bad disposition, in which we in truth do not want what we should want, we often do not receive what we ask for, even if we meet the simply and facile conditions of this Divine Promise.
This failure, however, is all our fault. Because God will not give us what is not conducive to our salvation or that of our neighbor; and moreover, even if it is conducive, He will not grant it until the time is ripe; that is, until the proper conditions for profiting by that gift are met.
Now it is not always clear, what obstacles are preventing us from receiving God’s blessings and mercies, but we can list a few general categories of obstacles, and employ the standard spiritual remedies for them, to eliminate most of the obstacles.
First of all, the number 1 obstacle to receiving God’s gifts and blessings is sin; second vice, and third the lack of virtue.
First of all, sin, which by the etymology of its name means “obstacle” or “obstruction”, prevents us from receiving God’s gifts and mercies, because it puts us in the state of soul were we are not worthy, not only of not receiving them, but of having our petition heard by God.
God grants favors to His friends; and those who offend Him, are clearly not His friends, even if they imagine themselves to be. Being God’s friend is such by His judgment; that is, he is a friend of God, whom God considers His friend.
In such friendship, the criterion is a one way street. God has no need of friends, He is quite self sufficient and self satisfied in His Infinite Perfection.
God also is Infinitely Just and Perfect, in such a wise, that it is not easy to be considered His friend, if we speak of facility according to human standards.
In fact, by our own powers and graces and abilities, we can not nor can we ever make ourselves God’s friends.
We are only such, by God’s grace and by our fidelity to that grace to remain such!
Sanctifying grace, which first came to us in Baptism or in the moment we first believed, if we are an adult convert, is what makes us pleasing to God. As St. Paul teaches, we are justified by Faith, that is made holy and upright; and without faith it is impossible to believe God. But faith alone is not sufficient; for even the devils believe and tremble! We also need to have HOPE in God and LOVE for God!
Love for God is the primary prerequisite. If we do not love God, how can we be His friend? Just think, — to use a crude metaphor which is not properly applied to God — how bad God feels if we do not love Him!
Being that God is infinitely worthy of love, on account of being INFINITE GOODNESS, it is very unreasonable and quite improper and wrong, not to love GOD, and not to love God WITH GREAT INTENSITY!
But certainly, since God is infinitely powerful and infinitely faithful, it is quite unreasonable and improper and wrong, if WE DO NOT HOPE JUST AS INTENSELY in obtaining His promises, and employ our selves diligently in seeking to acquire what He promises.
Now, in this, there is no room for the scrupulous who thinks that we offend God by seeking to obtain what He has promised us. Rather, we offend God, by sin; and if we think we offend Him by hoping to obtain what He promises, we are being very stupid and illogical, and are quite wrong and mixed up in the understanding of our faith.
The second reason for not receiving what God has promised is vice. That is, if we are badly disposed, He will not give us what we ask for, for our bad disposition inclines us to ask for what displeases Him or would endanger our souls or that of others.
Thus the avaricious man prays with the hope of receiving greater wealth, but Our Lord has no intention of hearing such a prayer, since greater wealth would only worsen the condition of the man, by putting him in a greater occasion of avarice. And this is true of every vice, and of every prayer for that which our vices seek.
If Our Lord at times does answer such a prayer, it is rather to punish the petitioner, than to bless him. And in many cases, God does answer such a prayer for those whom He foresees will be damned; not because He wants them to be damned, but because He sees this as the last way of opening the heart of the sinner to see the reality that God is much more desirable than His gifts. But in general, it is a woeful thing to be heard in such a wrong-headed and evil petition.
The third reason for not obtaining what we pray for, is that we are lacking in the virtue which is necessary to receive such a gift. If we are lacking in charity, for example, and we ask for the grace to do greater works for others, Our Lord will not grant this, because we do not yet posses the charity necessary to profit from such a grace.
Now removing these 3 obstacles can be easy or difficult. Obviously, we can remove the obstacle of sin, by going to confession; and according to St. Alphonus dei Liguori, patron of moral theologians and of confessors, we can successfully uproot a vice, if we confess having it, in confession, and work with our confessor to target it and uproot it by spiritual practices.
And we can increase the virtue we have by being faithful to God’s graces, more generous in the fulfillment of our duties, and more generous in the works of charity for our neighbors and for those in need.
But, as I said, it can be difficult to remove these three obstacles of sin, vice and the lack of virtue, if we do not spend some time examining our soul, to consider what sins and vices we have, and which virtues we are lacking.
And being conceived in original sin, though by Baptism we are cleansed of it, there remains in us a strong disposition to avoid such self reflection. Indeed, there is no food as bitter as the bitterness we fallen creatures find in admitting our own faults, sins, vices and spiritual lacks. So bitter is this practice, that most of us have a very strong habit of mind of avoiding any consideration of our possession of these 3 obstacles. We are more ready to spend 1,000 days chatting about the problems of everyone else in the world, than spend 5 minutes considering that perhaps we have at least 1 problem ourselves, I reason to say, “I have committed a sin”, “am beholden to a vice”, or “lack a virtue”.
Here, the virtue of humility, of which we spoke of in regard to Our Lady, is crucial to practice. For if we make an act of humility, and take some time to consider whether we have one or ore of these 3 obstacles, we can begin to cut the greatest knot restraining us from spiritual progress, endangering our salvation and obstructing us from receiving God’s blessings.
* As God, Christ possesses each of these powers and attributes, though when speaking of the Trinity, it is the ancient Catholic custom of attributing specific ones to each Person. Thus, we we speak of God giving life or inspiring vocations, we attribute this to the Holy Ghost; when we speak of God creating and ruling the universe, we attribute this to the Eternal Father; and when we speak of God redeeming, saving, teaching, etc., we attribute this to the Eternal Son, Christ Jesus Our Lord.