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St Alphonsus Liguori & Prayer

Catechesis by Pope 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 de' Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists, patron of moral theology scholars and confessors. St Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the XVIII century, for his simple, immediate style and for his doctrine on the sacrament of Penance: in a period of great rigorism, a fruit of the Jansenist influence, he recommended that confessors administer this Sacrament manifesting 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 occasion to dwell on St Alphonsus’ teachings regarding prayer, which are extremely precious 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 “the necessary and safe means of obtaining salvation and all the graces we need to attain it” (Introduction). In this sentence is summarized the Alphonsian way of understanding prayer.

First of all, by saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the end to be reached: God created out of love, so as to be able to give us life in fullness; but this goal, this life in fullness, because of sin has, so to speak, become distant — we all know it — and only God’s grace can render it accessible. So as to explain this basic truth and to make it understood with immediacy how real the risk of “being lost” is for man, St Alphonsus had coined a famous, very elementary maxim, which says: “The one who prays is saved, the one who does not pray is damned!”. To comment on this lapidary phrase, he added, “In conclusion, to save oneself without praying is most difficult, even impossible... but praying to save oneself is a sure and easy thing” (II, Conclusion). And he says further: “if we do not pray, we have no excuse, because the grace to pray is given to everyone... if we do not save ourselves, all the fault will be ours, because we will have not prayed” (ibid). Thus by saying that prayer is a necessary means, St Alphonsus wanted it to be understood that in every situation of life one cannot do without praying, especially in moments of trial and difficulty. We must always knock with trust at the door of the Lord, knowing that in everything He takes care of his children, of us. For this reason, we are invited not to be afraid to turn to Him and to present our requests to Him with trust, in the certainty of obtaining that which we need.

Dear friends, this is the central question: what is really necessary in my life? I respond with St Alphonsus: “Health and all the graces that we need for that” (ibid); naturally, he means not only the health of the body, but above all that of the soul, which Jesus gives us. More than anything else we need his liberating presence which renders our existence truly fully human and hence full of joy. And only through prayer can we welcome Him, his Grace, which, by illuminating us in every situation, makes us discern the true good and, by strengthening us, also renders our will efficacious, that is, renders it capable of carrying out the known good. We often recognize the good but are not capable of doing it. With prayer we come to accomplish/arrive at accomplishing it. The Lord's disciple knows he is always exposed to temptation and never fails to ask in prayer for God’s help, so as to overcome it.

St Alphonsus very interestingly cites the example of St Philip Neri, who “the first moment he woke up in the morning, would say to God: ‘Lord, keep Thy hands on Philip today, because if not, Philip will betray Thee’” (III, 3). What a great realist! He asks God to keep his hand on him. We too, aware of our weakness, must with humility ask for God’s help, trusting in the richness of his mercy. In another passage, St Alphonsus says that: “We are poor in everything, but if we ask in prayer we are no longer poor. If we are poor, God is rich” (II, 4). And, in the wake of St Augustine, he invites every Christian not to be afraid of procuring from God, through prayer, the strength that he does not have, and that is necessary for him to do the good, in the certainty that the Lord will not refuse his help to the one who prays to him with humility (cf III, 3). Dear friends, St Alphonsus reminds us that rapport with God is essential in our life. Without rapport with God, the fundamental relationship is missing and the relationship with God is realised by speaking with God, by daily personal prayer and through participation in the Sacraments, and thus this relationship can grow in us, the divine presence can grow in us that directs our pathway, illuminates it and renders it safe and serene, even in the midst of difficulties and dangers. 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."