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St Alphonsus Liguori & Prayer

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI
during his series on Prayer
General Audience, Wednesday 1 August 2012, Piazza della Libertà, Castel Gandolfo - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today is the Liturgical Memorial of St Alphonsus Maria Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer — the Redemptorists — and patron saint of moral theology scholars and confessors. St Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the 18th century because of his simple, immediate style and his teaching on the sacrament of Penance. In a period of great rigorism, a product of the Jansenist influence, he recommended that confessors administer this sacrament expressing the joyful embrace of God the Father, who in his infinite mercy never tires of welcoming the repentant son. Today’s Memorial offers us the opportunity to reflect on St Alphonsus’ teaching on prayer which is particularly valuable and full of spiritual inspiration. His Treatise on The Great Means of Prayer, which he considered the most useful of all his writings, dates back to the year 1759. Indeed, he describes prayer as “a necessary and certain means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces that we require for that object ” (Introduction). This sentence sums up the way St Alphonsus understood prayer.

First of all, by saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the goal to be reached. God created us out of love in order to be able to give us life in its fullness; but this goal, this life in fullness, has as it were become distant because of sin — we all know it — and only God’s grace can make it accessible. To explain this basic truth and to make people understand with immediacy how real the risk of “being lost” is for human beings, St Alphonsus coined a famous, very elementary maxim which says: “Those who pray will be saved and those who do not will be damned!”. Commenting on this lapidary sentence, he added, “In conclusion, 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 he says further: “if we do not pray, we have no excuse, because the grace of prayer is given to everyone... 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.). By saying, then, that prayer is a necessary means, St Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in no situation of life can we do without prayer, especially in times of trial and difficulty. We must always knock at the door of the Lord confidently, knowing that he cares for all his children, for us. For this reason we are asked not to be afraid to turn to him and to present our requests to him with trust, in the certainty of receiving what we need.

Dear friends, this is the main question: what is really necessary in my life? I answer with St Alphonsus: “Health and all the graces that we need” (ibid.). He means of course not only the health of the body, but first of all that of the soul, which Jesus gives us. More than anything else we need his liberating presence which makes us truly fully human and hence fills our existence with joy. And it is only through prayer that we can receive him and his grace, which, by enlightening us in every situation, helps us to discern true good and by strengthening us also makes our will effective, that is, renders it capable of doing what we know is good. We often recognize what is good but are unable to do it. With prayer we succeed in doing it. The disciple of the Lord knows he is always exposed to temptation and does not fail to ask God’s help in prayer in order to resist it.

St Alphonsus very interestingly cites the example of St Philip Neri who “the very moment when he awoke in the morning, said to God: ‘Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee’” (III, 3). What a great realist! He asks God to keep his hands upon him. We too, aware of our weakness, must humbly seek God’s help, relying on his boundless 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, following in St Augustine’s wake, he invites all Christians not to be afraid to obtain from God, through prayer, the power they do not possess that is necessary in order to do good, in the certainty that the Lord will not refuse his help to whoever prays to him with humility (cf. III, 3). Dear friends, St Alphonsus reminds us that the relationship with God is essential in our life. Without the relationship with God, the fundamental relationship is absent. The relationship with God is brought into being in conversation with God, in daily personal prayer and with participation in the sacraments. This relationship is thus able to grow within us, as can the divine presence that directs us on our way, illuminates it and makes it safe and peaceful even amidst difficulties and perils. Thank you."

Saluti:

"Chers pèlerins de langue française, je suis heureux de vous accueillir ce matin! En cette période de congés pour beaucoup d’entre vous, je vous invite à prendre le temps de prier personnellement chaque jour, car la relation avec Dieu est essentielle dans notre vie. N’ayez pas peur de demander au Seigneur la force qui vous manque et qui est nécessaire pour faire le bien, dans la certitude qu’il ne refuse jamais son aide à celui qui le prie avec humilité. Que saint Alphonse de Liguori, dont nous célébrons la fête aujourd’hui, vous aide à marcher avec confiance sur ce chemin! Bon pèlerinage et bon temps de repos à tous!

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!

Ganz herzlich heiße ich alle Pilger und Besucher deutscher Sprache willkommen. Wir feiern heute den Gedenktag des heiligen Alfons von Liguori. Er ist der Gründer der Redemptoristen und der Patron der Beichtväter. In seinen Schriften erinnert uns der Heilige daran, vor allem eine lebendige Beziehung zu Gott zu verwirklichen. Er hat ein kleines, schönes Buch über das Gebet geschrieben, in dem er uns sagt: Der Mensch braucht die Beziehung zu Gott. Und wie soll er sie haben, wenn nicht anders als dadurch, daß er mit ihm spricht. Das tägliche Gebet und die Teilnahme an den Sakramenten lassen dann die Nähe und Gegenwart Gottes in uns wachsen, die uns hilft, den wahren Lebensweg zu finden. Es gibt ein Wort des heiligen Alfons, das sehr elementar ist: »Wer betet, wird sicher gerettet, wer nicht betet, geht sicher verloren«. Der Heilige Geist helfe uns, daß wir Lust am Beten finden, gerade in den Ferien, und so die innere Beziehung zu Gott herstellen und unser Leben weiter, reicher und größer wird.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los grupos provenientes de España, México y otros países latinoamericanos. Invito a todos, en este tiempo veraniego, a no abandonar nunca la oración, como nos enseña san Alfonso María de Ligorio, pues de nuestra relación con el Señor en la plegaría y los sacramentos depende nuestra salvación. Dios os bendiga.

Com sentimentos de gratidão e estima, saúdo todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nomeadamente o grupo de escuteiros de Alcobaça, invocando sobre os vossos passos a graça do encontro com Deus: Jesus Cristo é a Tenda divina no meio de nós; ide até Ele, vivei na sua graça e tereis a vida eterna. Desça sobre vós e vossas famílias a minha Bênção.

Pozdrawiam serdecznie obecnych tu Polaków. Witam Siostry Elżbietanki, uczestniczące w seminarium odnowy duchowej w Rzymie. Życzę wam, abyście w modlitewnym duchu przeżywali ważne wydarzenia obchodzone w Polsce w sierpniu: rocznicę Powstania warszawskiego i Cudu nad Wisłą, uroczystości Matki Bożej i wasze pielgrzymki. Modlitwa jest bowiem źródłem odnowy serc. Uczmy się jej wszyscy od świętego Alfonsa Marii Liguoriego, którego dzisiaj wspominamy. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus.

Zosrdcavítamslovenskýchpútnikov, osobitne z Bratislavy, Nitry a Košíc. Bratia a sestry, prajem vám, aby váš pobyt v Ríme bol vhodnou príležitosťou na rast viery a povzbudením napredovať veľkodušne v kresťanskom svedectve. Rád udeľujem vám i vašim drahým Apoštolské požehnanie. Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!

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Saluto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare le Figlie di Maria Immacolata, le Serve di Maria Santissima Addolorata e le Suore Catechiste del Sacro Cuore, che prendono parte alle assemblee capitolari dei rispettivi Istituti religiosi. Saluto poi i ragazzi dell’Oratorio di Gandino e di Bonate Sotto, come pure quelli provenienti dalle zone dell’Emilia Romagna e della Lombardia colpite dal recente terremoto. Saluto infine i giovani i malati e egli sposi novelli. Tutti esorto a rendere ovunque una gioiosa testimonianza evangelica."