|St Augustine’s letter to Proba|
|We do not know how to pray as we ought|
Perhaps you may still ask why St Paul said when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, since it is impossible that he or those to whom he wrote should not have known the Lord’s Prayer.
Yet Paul himself was not exempt from such ignorance. When, to prevent him from becoming swollen-headed over the greatness of the revelations that had been given to him, he was given in addition a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, he asked the Lord three times to take it away from him. Surely that was not knowing to pray as he ought? For in the end he heard the Lord’s reply, telling him why even such a great saint’s prayer had to be refused: My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness.
So when we are suffering afflictions that might be doing us either good or harm, we do not to know how to pray as we ought. But because they are hard to endure and painful, because they are contrary to our nature (which is weak) we, like all mankind, pray to have our afflictions taken from us. At least, though, we owe this much respect to the Lord our God, that if he does not take our afflictions away we should not consider ourselves ignored and neglected, but should hope to gain some greater good through the patient acceptance of suffering. For my power is at its best in weakness.
Scripture says this so that we should not be proud of ourselves if our prayer is heard, when we ask for something it would be better for us not to get; and so that we should not become utterly dejected if we are not given what we ask for, despairing of God’s mercy towards us: it might be that what we have been asking for could have brought us some still greater affliction, or it could have brought us the kind of good fortune that brings corruption and ruin. In such cases, it is clear that we cannot know how to pray as we ought.
Hence if anything happens contrary to our prayer, we ought to bear the disappointment patiently, give thanks to God, and be sure that it was better for God’s will to be done than our own. The Mediator himself has given us an example of this. When he had prayed, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by, he transformed the human will that was in him because he had assumed human nature and added Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it. Thus, truly, By the obedience of one man many have been made righteous.
Ask and you will receive; for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him, who call upon him from their hearts; for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Let us pray.
Almighty, ever-living God,
make us ever obey you willingly and promptly.
Teach us how to serve you
with sincere and upright hearts
in every sphere of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.