How Re-Kan’s Amami Reminds Me of a Prayerful Catholic

Happy Feast of the Guardian Angels!  How blessed we are that God has given us each a guardian angel who never leaves us for one moment–even when our actions displease our angel.  And no, our guardian angels don’t leave us when we grow up, as if we should need less help against the forces of evil the further along our road to holiness.  So, take a moment to thank God for your guardian angel, and thank your angel for all the help and graces God has seen fit to convey you through this angel.

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In today’s materialistic world, such a feast strikes many as superstitious.  Anything touching upon the supernatural, whether souls, ghosts, miracles, the saints, the sacraments, or even God, is usually treated with distrust or contempt.  Sometimes, these responses are quite healthy.  After all, even though the Church herself approves certain events as miracles, she only requires us to believe the miracles of Scripture as articles of faith.  I am reminded of a Father Brown story where our hero is presumed dead and then rises back to life in the midst of his own funeral.  As the people rejoice over a miracle, Father Brown declares that miracles are not so cheap.  Hurrying to a phone, Father Brown rapidly explains to his bishop how a criminal drugged him so that he would appear dead and awaken during his funeral.

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On Drawing Religious Messages from Anime

In any meditation on anime and religion, my major premise is the following: all men, whether they realize it or not, are seeking Jesus Christ.  In St. Gertrude’s revelations, Our Lord remarks to the saint that he looks fondly at people who read books, because He believes that they really wish to find Him among their pages.  This leads us to the question of how to find Christ through fiction.  People have been turning to novels since the 19th century for religion (which you shall indeed find in the best of them: Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and others), but can one also discover God in cartoons from the Land of the Gods?

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The first thing to note is that not every anime cleaves to a pagan worldview.  For example, Wolf’s RainArpeggio of Blue SteelBlassreiterMardock ScrambleTrigunLe Chevalier D’Eon, and Glass Fleet either use Christian elements effectively or derive from a Christian author.  When I write about these shows, Christian themes are there for the taking: this is how I can meditate on Our Lord and Our Lady through Wolf’s Rain.  Nevertheless, such articles usually do not come to me so easily, because the majority of anime adheres to a pagan worldview.  How is one to discern Christ in a story whose author does not  know the Lord?

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The answer lies in allegory and symbolism.  However, ancient peoples understood allegorical reasoning much better than moderns (as is shown by students’ constantly complaining about analogies on tests); but, this form of reasoning is essential to understanding religion.  Words inadequately convey spiritual realities.  For example, we call God Lord.  This same word can be applied to Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, or King George III.  The word lord was originally used to apply to figures like these, but how can they compare to the Lord of the Universe, Who rules all things spiritual and material with complete knowledge of all that happened, occurs presently, and will be in the future?  We also refer to God as the Architect of the Universe.  But, how can someone who draws diagrams of a house be compared to the One who has designed the cosmos?  We can only describe God and other religious concepts by analogy, where words stand as metaphors for something greater than they can express.

Eleonore at the Gate

To see how this becomes applicable to anime, let us take the beginning of episode two of Madan no Ou to Vanadis.  *Many spoilers from episodes two and three ahead!*  Tigre attempts to exit (it cannot really be called escape, can it?) Eleonore’s castle, only to be stopped by Eleonore herself.   What allegories to Christianity might we find in this example?  First, let us note Tigre’s utter destitution and powerlessness compared to Eleonore, the lord of the castle and leader of an army.  Compared to God, people are poor and weak.  We must rely upon God for everything.  In regard to our hero and heroine, Tigre has no hope of defending his fief from enemy attack, but wishes to return home anyway despite certain death.  This contempt for his life enrages Eleonore both because Tigre is participating in an exercise of futility and because he neglects to rely upon her. In the same way, people often rely upon themselves instead of God and rush headlong into certain failure.  If only they had sought God’s aid, they might have succeeded in their endeavor.

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But, for various reasons, people are either neglect or are afraid to approach God.  One way of overcoming the fear of approaching God is to approach Him through intercessors.  (An important thing to remember on All Saint’s Day!)  Yet, nothing delights Our Lord as being approached directly and with full confidence in Him.  On what does this confidence rest?  Knowing that God loves us and wishes for our happiness.  After all, Jesus Christ has been described as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride.  The love of man and wife becomes symbolic of Christ’s love for the Church.  Bride and bridegroom denote newlyweds in particular, and one cannot imagine newlyweds being inclined to refuse each other anything.

This was a great shot, by the way.

This was a great shot, by the way.

Well, dear readers, you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?  Though their sexes do not match their roles, this symbolism works very well for Eleonore and Tigre.  (Also, unless something untoward and horrendous happens, they are certain to get hitched.)  Tigre boldly asks for an army from Eleonore, who bursts out laughing with delight and happily gives him the army with a few conditions.  These conditions bind Tigre more closely to her, as occurs when we receive anything from God.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, the reward for loving is to be able to love more, and the opportunities for loving increase the more closely two people are bound to one another.  And so, Eleonore not only gives Tigre the gift of her army, but even joins it in order to defeat the most powerful opponents herself.  In a similar way, God delights not only to give us what we ask for but more besides.  Though we are expected to continue in the firm desire to do the right, God truly brings about our triumphs–only requiring that we have a firm and complete confidence in Him.

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At any rate, that is how my mind draws connections between anime and religion most of the time.  One cannot be afraid to think a little outside the box and reconcile imperfect analogies!  May this help other people use literature and film to think about their faith.

Day Three of 10 Days to 300: Wings of the Honneamise

Royal Space Force: Wings of the Honneamise is one of those films which reminds me of why I got into anime in the first place.  This film cannot be considered as less than a masterpiece–worth five full stars!  I am grateful to John Samuel of Pirates of the Burley Griffith for recommending that I watch The Right Stuff before watching this feature.  One sees that Wings of the Honneamise owes much to this earlier film which concerns the rush to break the speed of sound and the space race.  (Can I add that it is amazing to see Fred Ward, Ford Harrison, and Ed Harris looking so young?  Pretty soon, I’m going to sound like my parents: “Is that so-and-so?  Ah, he looks so young in that movie!”)  But, whereas The Right Stuff concerned freedom, being who you are, and having the courage to brave any obstacle; The Wings of the Honneamise studied the divisions between people and asked the question of whether these divisions can ever be mended.  I must warn you that there are spoilers ahead, but, like anything worthy of being considered a masterpiece, one’s enjoyment of such a work actually increases by knowing the themes running through this kind of work.

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At any rate, the world of the film is very divisive: man and woman, nation and nation, civilian and military, rich and poor, secular and religious, and city and country are sharply contrasted.  Each side only considers their own advantage and refuses to take the point of view of the other.  A particular triumph of the film is how they were able to focus on the larger problem through the relationship of Shiro and Riquinni.  They meet one evening as Riquinni passes out religious pamphlets.  He decides to see her the next day under the guise of talking about religion.  Nevertheless, she inspires him with the idea that going into space is a holy mission for which he has a special calling.

That's a picture to boost an astronaut's confidence!  There was a similar scene in The Right Stuff.

That’s a picture to boost an astronaut’s confidence! There was a similar scene in The Right Stuff.

The begins a process of reconciliation between the two which frames the story of the Royal Space Force’s struggles in making the first successful launch into space.  You might say: “What do you mean by reconciliation?  Reconciliation happens after one or two parties have been wronged, right?”  But, according to Riquinni’s religion–just like in Christianity–there has been an Original Sin from which all the suffering and division which human beings now experience may be attributed.  Riquinni and Shiro both suffer from its effects:  one is too high and the other is too low.  Shiro is a secular, rich, and military man.  Riquinni is a religious, poor, and civilian woman.  The first part of their reconciliation occurs when Shiro starts to listen to Riquinni’s religion.  The second follows shortly as he pleases Riquinni by telling her that he is a soldier who doesn’t kill.  (As if there is something wrong with a soldier that kills the enemies of his country.)  As a matter of fact, he even begins to study her holy book.

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But, the problem is that Riquinni wishes to remain high–so high that Shiro can’t reach her, as was pointed out in her batting away his hand when he went to hold it.  I am reminded of Samuel Johnson’s quote: “A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner on his table than when his wife speaks Greek.”  Events come to a head the night after Shiro helps Riquinni pass out some pamphlets.  Shiro is thoroughly stressed by negative media coverage, protests, and all the other hurdles those in the Space Force endure.  He goes to her for hugs and kisses and gets the usual hospitality, which depresses him as he lazes about on the floor.  Idleness ever sows harmful ideas in one’s head, and Shiro sexually assaults Riquinni as she changes for bed.  Fortunately, the attempt is foiled by Riquinni bashing him on the head.

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The next day, he sheepishly apologizes to Riquinni, who responds that he must forgive her; otherwise, she could not live with herself.  Shiro is nonplussed, but I think that she more wants his forgiveness for her other-worldliness and coldness than for bashing him on the head.  In his last attempt to visit her, he’s about to return to base without having seen her.  Riquinni steps onto the train’s boarding platform as Shiro steps up into the train.  They see each other and bid each other good bye as the train departs.  One might wrongly view this as a final separation, but it actually marks their reconciliation: Riquinni has come down and Shiro has climbed up.  Riquinni will still be there when Shiro returns from space.

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As war breaks out between Shiro’s land and their greatest enemy, Shiro risks his life to get into space.  While in space, he leaves a message for mankind.  Essentially, he hopes for reconciliation between all peoples, but only God can bring this about.  He calls prayer the humblest and noblest action a man can do, because one reveals one’s utter need of God and trusts in Him.  People are helpless in the face of ignorance, sin, and division, but God can solve all of these problems.

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So yes, your life is not complete until you have seen this film.  Stay tuned for my review of Wolf Children!

The Pride of Despair and Humility of Hope in Claymore

My last article comparing Attack on Titan and Claymore spurred me to re-watch the latter–the lackluster quality of much of recent anime helped me along too.  At this point, I have reached the siege of Pieta, where some of the most desperate fighting in the series occurs.  The anime brings us one poignant moment when Miria, the Claymore ranked #6 in the organization and leader of the desperate band of Claymores, utters a prayer that all the fighters might survive.  Then, she undercuts this prayer by chiding herself for thinking that there is a God.

Miria

Interestingly, this points to a possible rift between the conscious mind and the spirit.  Hopeless conditions and misfortunes may overwhelm the mind such that it can barely or not at all cling to the the belief that God exists, but there exists something in the spirit which refuses to accept a Godless universe.  Or, the thought might even come that God does not listen to us, that we have been rejected by God.  Brother Lawrence, the famed subject of The Practice of the Presence of God, thought for two years of his life that he would be damned.  Can there be a worse feeling than this for a believer?   Yet, he entrusted his cause to God and the feeling dissipated.   In such darkness, we do not even want to pray anymore, but the cries still come, “God have mercy on us!” or “Lord, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name.  Do not forsake us!” (Jeremiah 14:9)  We doubt the rationalism of such acts, but the deepest part of our soul nourishes the hope that these words mean something.

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Hope is the operative word: for, if God is infinitely good, we need not fear whatever happens to us.  He is a loving Father with infinite care for all His children, as George MacDonald loved to repeat.  Speaking of George MacDonald, he penned this interesting phrase in Weighted and Wanting: “The pride of despair and the despair of pride.”  Despair can only come from pride and placing our hopes in our own strength rather than in God.  If we trust in God despite our misfortunes, then we possess the humility of hope.  And, as Jesus Christ emphasized to that great apostle of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina, humility is truth.  So, we keep slogging on despite the darkness.

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Perhaps, the connection between hope and humility is best exemplified in the duel of Clare and the Awakened Being Rigaldo.  Rigaldo had just killed four of the five captains in Pieta, leaving Miria as the sole survivor.  Those familiar with Claymore know that Clare is ranked as the lowest Claymore, despite having some great abilities.  Rather than give up, she keeps striving to use her power with greater precision and refuses to accept defeat, despite being beaten down several times and being obviously outclassed.  A proud soul would have just accepted this disparity and surrendered.  But, humility forces her to keep trying, telling her that not every last resource has been exhausted–that her heart yet beats and that is sufficient reason to persevere.  The truly humble man can never despair.

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Prayer Maxims from a Novice

A sense of inadequacy comes over me each time I attempt to write the next article on prayer.  Either too many important things are left unsaid or I ramble about trifles.  My ineptitude has convinced me not to go forward with that series of articles lest I warp someone’s mind.  At least the article on prayer’s necessity was posted, because praying itself is the most important thing we can do.  Even if one is making every possible error, God can lead a person who prays to right these faults.  But, I do realize that some of my dear readers were waiting for the next three articles.  In lieu of them, please accept this little collection of unoriginal maxims and explanations of them from yours truly.

  • Begin in thanksgiving, proceed in contrition, lift your voice in praise, and end in humility.

One should always consider one’s littleness when approaching God, our utter reliance on Him, and how great He is.  By thanking Him, we acknowledge our reliance on Him.  By sorrowing over our sins, we recognize that all the grace He has given us was completely unearned, realize His unfathomable goodness and mercy in pardoning our sins, and understand that He treats us so much better than we deserve.  By praise, we offer a fitting, though by no means adequate, return for His goodness and meditate on God’s greatness.  By keeping mindful of everything above, we humble ourselves and please God through our efforts to be humble.

  • Worldliness chokes prayer.

We draw toward those things about which our minds contemplate.  Always thinking about one’s daily life or those good things which we desire cause these things to follow us into our prayers, making prayer difficult or impossible.  Striving to consider God as the last end of our work and leisure and avoiding excessive desire for pleasurable goods makes prayer easier.

  • A simple mind speaks many prayers.  A complex mind can pray but one word.

As noted in the prior maxim, always seeking God makes prayer easy.  Such a person may complete devotion after devotion with ease and recollection.  (Though, it is generally inadvisable for most people to engage themselves in many devotions.  Stick to a few for your daily regimen and perhaps celebrate feast days as they come.)  Often, someone who is very busy, bombarded with temptations, or immersing himself in pleasurable goods will find that he can barely pray.  In such a state, it is best to unite oneself with the groanings of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) by repeating the word “God” or “Jesus.”  (The Catholic Catechism does say that the Holy Name of Jesus is the basis for all prayer.)  By constantly repeating this word, all our other concerns or desires fall from the mind until it becomes pure enough to pray at length.

  • Neglect not your mother

In giving St. John the care of His mother, Jesus also made her the Mother of all men, and she, after God Himself, is most solicitous for the salvation of all men.  Also, if God especially hears the prayers of good men, how much more will he hear prayers uttered from the Immaculate Heart of Mary which never knew sin?  How foolish we would be not to beseech her intercession before the throne of Jesus Christ!

  • The names of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael are on the tongues of all.  After them follow those who bear our own names, and lastly those whom our personality and experience select.

Among the saints, everyone should seek the assistance of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael.  Then, one will feel closely attached to those who bear their own name.  Afterwards, one makes acquaintances among the saints through their spiritual reading and experiences, choosing the ones which most appeal to them.  Each person may decide the degree to which they venerate these saints, but short prayers expressing one’s needs are sufficient–especially concerning the virtues one lacks or needs help in perfecting.

  • In spiritual darkness, the friends of God offer lamplight to the soul.

God sometimes withdraws his tangible presence from souls in order to purify them through suffering.  Even though we live, move, and have our being in Him, it sometimes happens that we find it difficult to perceive God, and our prayer time is completely arid.  God will not allow us to suffer beyond what we are capable; however, during this period of darkness, he allows the saints to offer us some consolation.  In the same way, the souls in Purgatory are deprived for a time of the vision of God, but consoled by St. Mary, St. Joseph, their guardian angel, and others.

  • Contemplatives may have a dozen devotions, but a few are sufficient for those leading an active life.

Most of us, leading very busy lives, do not have the same amount of time for prayer and contemplation which is available to religious.  However, many people are drawn by either love of God or the delight they find during prayer to continue adding devotions, the multitude of which will eventually cause them discouragement and loss of discipline in prayer once they hit a point of spiritual dryness.  Saying the rosary, often saying brief prayers to Our Lord throughout the day, praying short prayers to the saints mentioned above, and reading a few chapters of the Bible everyday should be sufficient for most.

Of course, if you’re not married and you find delight in prayer and little delight elsewhere, the religious life’s probably for you.

Guiseppe Moscati. Doctor, University Professor, and Saint.

  • Prefer sorrow to joy in meditation.

As human beings, we often fall into sin.  Jesus had to pay for all of these sins in His Passion, so it behooves us out of gratitude to often meditate on His sufferings.  By considering the pain which our sins cause Him, we are less inclined to repeat them.  Also, Jesus looks with great mercy on all who meditate on His Passion with feeling and pours forth many graces on them.  It is a good thing to meditate on our goal, Heaven, but not as much as the Passion.

  • Fill the morning hours with prayer.

One mistake people make is that they reserve most of their prayers for the end of the day.  It is much more profitable to perform our devotions in the morning so that our minds are focused on serving God from the very beginning.  Of course, some people’s schedules do not admit that, but say at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary before preparing yourself for work.

  • Invoke God constantly throughout the day.

This practice prevents us forgetting that our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God in this life and the next.  Using these brief invocations causes the thought of God to be constantly on our minds, which prevents us from falling into sin or missing opportunities for good works.  One can use any of these ejaculations or lines from certain litanies.  The author tends to use: “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” or “Heart of Jesus, King and Center of all hearts, have mercy on me!” or the one beginning “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.” or “Dearest of Mothers, pray for us!” or “Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

  • Do not neglect spiritual reading.

You are what you eat, and reading offers food for thought.  Only reading worldly books causes the soul to become worldly.  But reading spiritual books keeps us mindful of what is of true value.  The Bible ranks highest on the list of books to read followed by The Imitation of Christ, The Rule of St. Benedict, and various other works.

  • Do not vow to say prayers.

If one vows to do anything for God, He will expect us to fulfill it.  While a priest or religious vows to recite the Divine Office, I don’t think that a layman–since the business of the day may prevent him from praying or meditating to the extent which he would like–ought to vow anything, lest one sin through negligence.

Well, I hope that these maxims provide a little guidance for everyone.  Of course, the Philokalia in particular and several other devotional books, like St. Francis de Sales’ The Introduction to the Devout Life, have more thorough advice and proverbs for you to follow.

 

Advice on Prayer: Necessary for Salvation

As I mentioned in the introduction, thoughts about why people fall away from the faith led me to write this series of articles.  I arrived at the answer that all people are justified and preserved in faith through the action of God’s grace.  So, anyone’s perseverance in faith may be attributed to God’s grace and providence acting on the human intellect and will with such precision as to prevent that person from either losing faith or otherwise dying in a state of mortal sin.  So, all the elect owe their salvation to God’s mercy.

But, the thought still comes to me that there must be something we can do to contribute to God’s efforts: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phillipians 2:12-13).  He did give us free will after all, and it is certain that no one is saved against one’s will.  However, we do require His grace to will anything good.  Each sin is a refusal to act according to the grace given to us.  But if all good thoughts, good words, and good deeds both originate in God and are carried to completion through His grace, it seems that a human being can do nothing to advance his salvation.

But, if that were the case, then God would also be the cause of the damnation of the reprobate rather than this occurring through their own sins, which–with due deference to any Calvinists who may be perusing this–is the blackest heresy.  So, I shall say along with St. Alphonsus de Liguori: “Whoever prays is certainly saved. He who does not is certainly damned. All the blessed (except infants) have been saved by prayer. All the damned have been lost through not praying. If they had prayed they would not have been lost. And this is, and will be their greatest torment in hell: to think how easily they might have been saved, just by asking God for His grace, but that now it is too late – their time of prayer is gone.” (From The Great Means of Salvation)  Even if virtue, faith, or perseverance is not present in us, God always gives us the grace to pray for these things.  And from employing this one grace, which he does not deny to any, the grace to persevere in faith or virtue will be obtained.  Remember that the unassisted human will or intellect will fall without God’s aid.  So, all serious falls may be attributed to people trusting too much in themselves or being too proud to beg.  (The Latin verb for to pray, orare, also means beg.)  Remember Martin Luther’s last words: “We are beggars.  This is true.”  And especially in our reliance on God, nothing is more true.  Nor should we despair of gaining the object of our prayers, especially if we pray “(1) for [ourselves]; (2) things necessary for salvation; (3) piously; and (4) with perseverance.”  (From St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica Second Part of the Second Part, Question 83, Article 15)  Did not Christ say: “And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent?  Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13)

Perhaps this seems too simplistic to some of you.  Perhaps many of your prayers have gone unanswered.  But remember the four conditions above: you must be praying for yourself, things necessary for salvation, piously, and with perseverance.  Sometimes, God does not answer prayers because they do not further our salvation, we demand rather than beg, we want things done in our own way, or we do not ask with perseverance.  The latter three are perhaps the most common reasons why certain former Christians, even though they were praying for faith, were unable to retain their faith.  So, I advise those of you who find themselves of this category to resume praying for faith so that God may grant it to you.

“But,” you may say, “how can I even pray without faith?”  Remember the story of the father whose son Jesus cured of an unclean spirit in Mark chapter 9?  The father said: ‘”But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”’ (Mark 9:22-24)  Jesus was able to heal his son with a word.  I wish to contrast this with the passage in Mark where Jesus is rejected at Nazareth.  The end result: “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6).  So, it does not seem that unbelief, as merely a state of not being sure, can prevent the action of God’s grace.  Rather, only the willful refusal to believe hinders the action of God’s grace.  That’s why Jesus was able to help the father, even though he was in a state of doubt, while he was unable to help his neighbors in Nazareth.

And, when one considers human misery–how utterly ignorant we are of some things and how powerless we are to do certain things which we would like or prevent those misfortunes which we would wish, why should the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, who did not spare himself for the sake of poor sinners, not have compassion on people who would like to believe, even though they find it impossible at the moment?  There was one section of St. Faustina’s Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, where Jesus temporarily removes some graces from her soul, and she wrote that she felt extreme difficulty believing even some of the most basic precepts of the faith until He again restored these graces.  This increased her fervor to pray and to make sacrifices for poor sinners.  But, if such a great soul as St. Faustina’s almost fell into disbelief, how much more do we require them?  Pray like this:

“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for my sins and to receive the gift of faith.”

Even someone with great doubts may pray in this manner, and I doubt that anyone who seriously recited it everyday would fail to attain salvation.  But, if it is impossible for one either to pray this or to pray this seriously, one can always ask a friend or relative to pray for them.  Our Lady of Fatima says that too many souls perish for lacking someone to pray for them, implying that even this may be sufficient to effect a person’s salvation.

Yet, someone might still be scoffing at the idea of prayer’s necessity: “Surely, reason alone ought to be all that’s needful to convince someone of the truth or falsity of religion.  Whichever side has the stronger argument will naturally prevail.”  Of course, such a person believes that religious people are ignorant, stubborn, or arrogant.  The scientific worldview and modern philosophy has done enough to discredit belief in a Supreme Being.  But, is that the real reason behind certain people having religion and others being without it?  But then, one would expect that people with the same background, intelligence, education, and experience would have the same opinion on the matter.  However, the truth stands that: one intelligent man believes, a comparably intelligent man does not; one rich man believes, another does not; one poor man believes, another does not; one person with X personality type believes, another X type does not; one scientist believes, another does not; one fisherman believes, another does not; one man of integrity believes, another virtuous man does not; one person raised in a religious family cleaves to the faith, another falls away; one person raised as an atheist converts, while another does not; one person raised in a lukewarm household becomes fervent, another remains lukewarm; etc.  When one considers that none of these things by itself induces perseverance in faith or perseverance in disbelief, it becomes apparent that a person’s talents, background, good fortune, experience are almost immaterial.  Even if we found two characters extraordinarily similar in most respects, they might still diverge on the matter of faith.  God’s mercy and grace alone allows the Faithful to remain true and non-believers to convert.  The infallible means open to all persons of obtaining grace is prayer.

Now to deal shortly with how prayer prevents us from falling from grace or at least of regaining the grace of justification should we fall.  Let me here note that no influence can force the will to decide one way or another; however strongly a habit of vice or virtue inclines the intellect toward a certain set of actions.  Yet, once a habit of vice has been established, it is only God’s grace which can deliver anyone.  After the danger of dying while in a state of grave sin, the dangers of constantly giving in to such sins are lukewarmness, i.e. losing the desire to amend, or losing faith altogether, especially if one has struggled for a long time to overcome a particular sin.  They reason that, if God existed, God could surely prevent them from falling.  So, continued falling into grave sins and getting worse for them can only be attributed to God’s absence.  And so, their own sinfulness leads to them losing faith.  Truly, it is only by resisting the passions that we are set at peace and confirmed in our election.

One of the least lascivious images of St. Anthony the Great’s temptations.

One must see this conflict between virtue and vice as a battle with our foes, the demons, who constantly try to lure us away from Jesus Christ by love of the world or the flesh.  Often when we give in to base desires, instead of thinking of this as the battle it is, we think about the “benefits” or “advantages” which an evil act will bring us.  By looking at the immediate “gain” which the sin will bring, we put off all thoughts of the Just Judge from our minds.  For, who would sin thinking that they would surely go to hell in the next instant?  Even if this thought comes to our minds, we then say “Surely we’ll have time to repent” or “But I  just can’t resist” or “I don’t like the consequences of not sinning” or “This person has it coming to them.”  And then, we fall.  The good news I have for us is that only those who cease repenting, who cease continuing to fight, are lost.  For, Christ is infinitely merciful.

These vices may only be conquered through mortification, avoiding the occasions of sin, the sacraments, and prayer; full and frequent confession is particularly salutary since absolution makes us desirous to preserve our souls’ purity and Jesus adds special graces to the absolution for us to persevere in virtue.  But, how difficult is it to deny oneself after constantly giving in to oneself?  To avoid occasions of sin when we’ve been seeking them?  To pay not heed to all the phantoms and fears the devil throws at one in order to prevent one from confessing one’s sins?  And if we do not confess, how shall we eat the Bread of Life, the Life of Souls?  All the grace necessary for us to overcome this habit of vice is available in prayer.  Prayer produces true repentance in the soul and leads one to the confessional and then to the Holy Eucharist.  God, now dwelling in  the person’s soul, enables it to hate sin and persevere in good works.

The battle continues after this point, and our foes may strike at any time.  Virtue and Prayer are our chief methods of fending them off, but the former is not fully formed in the newly repentant, and even those who have long persevered in virtue may find themselves hard pressed.  Especially consider times when we seem to be in the throes of a temptation, and our minds are deluged with the “advantages” and “benefits” of sinning.  If we dally only with these evil thoughts, our will shall eventually give way.  To escape, we must turn to God in prayer, begging Him to deliver us from evil, thinking of the heavy punishment awaiting those who commit these crimes, and considering that every sin of ours increased the suffering of Our Lord during His Passion.  Often, people try turning to an earthly remedy when combating these passions, but God alone “is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).  Any remedy outside of or without prayer is certain to fail.  St. Anthony the Great, whenever he had to suffer many temptations, would often pray the Psalter for days without sleep until his enemies broke down in tears and admitted defeat.  But, grace alone gives us this resolves and prayer is often the only means we have available to beseech God to pour sufficient grace into our hearts.

On the scroll, it says that St. Anthony saw the traps of the devil spread out on the ground. When he wondered how anyone could escape all these traps, he heard a voice say “Humility.”

But more will be said on how to pray in later articles.  Pray without ceasing!

Advice on Prayer: Introduction

Well, dear readers, I’d like to give a little introduction to the series of articles which will be posted here.  For a little while, my thoughts dwelt on why so many people either fall away from the Faith or become lukewarm.  In the modern world, things like fear of man (aka human respect), being brought up in a religiously ambivalent environment, and either having a poor religious education or being seduced by secular ideologies tend to be some of the most prominent culprits.  But, greatly influenced by St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s The Great Means of Salvation, the greatest error of those who have fallen away is that they did not persevere in prayer.  Of course, you might be better served by reading that wonderful work; but I must warn you that, besides encouraging the Faithful to pray, this book is a work of Counter Reformation apologetics, including many arguments against the Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s theologies.  If you would be put off by all those arguments to which St. Alphonsus adds the backing of several Fathers of the Church, stick with my series of articles.  Despite being written from a Catholic perspective, they should prove useful to all Christians and even other Monotheists.  My articles wish to show:

1) The Necessity of Prayer

2) How Not to Pray

3) What to Pray

4) Troubleshooting, or How to Overcome Certain Obstacles in Prayer

Feel free to pick and choose from the advice I give.  For example, however much I should wish it, Protestants are not going to pray to saints.  (Though, might I encourage you to speak to your guardian angel sometimes?  God did provide them with the mission of watching over us, and they deserve some acknowledgement!)  Also, I might just plain be in error on some points, so listen to the advice of someone older and wiser if possible.

Devout persons, people who barely practice religion, those in a state of doubt, and those who would like to believe form my target audience.  For those who are happily atheists, agnostics, and apathiests, please do read the first article then consider whether you arrived at your respective conclusions rightly.  If yes, read no further.  If no, read on.  And comments about how I could improve my arguments will be greatly appreciated.  But, the main thrust of them will be that people are saved sola gratia, “by grace alone,” and that “Prayer is the key which opens the Heart of God” (Padre Pio).  I hope that you enjoy these articles!