Benedict XVI blesses the faithful during this morning’s general audience (AP)
(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI resumed his weekly appointment with pilgrims this Wednesday, who packed into Castel Gandolfo’s tiny “Freedom Square” to hear the Pope’s latest installment in his School of Christian Prayer series. And with one eye on the liturgical calendar, Pope Benedict dedicated his reflections to one of the most popular 18th century Saints, Alphonsus of Liguria, founder of the Redemptorist order who – said the Pope – teaches us to pray to God for the grace to live wisely and well.
Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s General Audience catechesis
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 (Redemptorists), patron of scholars of moral theology and confessors. St. Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the eighteenth century, for his simple, straightforward style, and for his teaching on the Sacrament of Reconciliation: in a time of great rigor, the result of the influence of Jansenism, he recommended confessors to administer this Sacrament expressing the joyful embrace of God the Father, who in His infinite mercy never ceases to welcome every repentant son. Today’s celebration gives us the opportunity to dwell on the teachings of St. Alphonsus concerning prayer, even now precious and full of spiritual inspiration. The treaty, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, which he considered the most useful of his writings, dates back to 1759 . In fact, it describes prayer as “a means necessary to salvation and the graces we need to achieve it” (Introduction). This sentence synthesizes Alphonsian understanding of prayer.
First of all, saying it is a means, reminds of the ends: God created us out of love, to gift us life in abundance; but because of sin this goal, eternal life, has, so to speak, distanced itself as we all know and only the grace of God can render it accessible. To explain this basic truth and make immediately clear the real risk of man’s “becoming lost”, St. Alphonsus coined a famous and very simple maxim: ” He who prays is certainly saved; he who does not pray is certainly damned.” Commenting on this precious phrase, he added: “to save one’s soul without prayer is most difficult, and even [as we have seen] impossible…but by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy” (II, Conclusion). And again: ” if we do not pray, we have no excuse, because the grace of prayer is given to every one… if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours; and we shall have our own failure to answer for, because we did not pray ” (ibid.). Saying then that prayer is a necessary, St. Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in every situation of life we need to pray, especially in times of trial and difficulty. 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 to our petitions, in the certainty of receiving what we need.
Dear friends, this is the central question: what is really necessary in our lives? We answer together with St. Alphonsus: “The health and all the grace we need” (ibid.), meaning not only the health of the body, but primarily that of the soul which Jesus gifts to us. More than anything else we need his liberating presence that makes us truly fully human, and thus our existence full of joy. And 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. 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 conquer it.
St. Alphonsus gives the example of St. Philip Neri, who “from the first moment when he woke in the morning, said to God:” My God, beware of Philip; otherwise he will betray you'”(III, 3). We too aware of our weakness, must seek the help of God with humility, relying only on the wealth of His mercy. St. Alphonsus says in another passage: ” We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor. If we are poor, God is rich “(II, 4). And, in the wake of St. Augustine, he invites all Christians not to be afraid to obtain from God, through prayers, the power we are lacking, that we need to do good, in the certainty that the Lord does not deny His help to those who pray with humility (cf. III, 3). Dear friends, St. Alphonsus reminds us that the relationship with God is essential in life and that only with a daily personal prayer and participation in the sacraments, can the Divine presence that directs, illuminates and makes safe and peaceful our path, even in the midst of difficulties and dangers, grow in us.