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Of the manner wherein the rejoicing and strength of the will must be directed to God through these devotions.
Let these persons, then, know that, the more reliance they place on these things and ceremonies, the less confidence they have in God, and that they will not obtain of God that which they desire. There are certain persons who pray for their own ends rather than for the honour of God. Although they suppose that a thing will be done if it be for the service of God, and not otherwise, yet, because of their attachment to it and the vain rejoicing which they have in it, they multiply a large number of petitions for a thing, when it would be better for them to substitute others of greater importance to them, such as for the true cleansing of their consciences, and for a real application to things concerning their own salvation, leaving to a much later season all those other petitions of theirs which are not of this kind. And in this way they would attain that which is of the greatest importance to them, and at the same time all the other things that are good for them (although they might not have prayed for them), much better and much earlier than if they had expended all their energy on those things. For this the Lord promised, through the Evangelist, saying: ‘Seek ye first and principally the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things shall be added unto you.’682682St. Matthew vi, 33.
2. This is the seeking and the asking that is most pleasing to God, and, in order to obtain the fulfilment of the petitions which we have in our hearts, there is no better way than to direct the energy of our prayer to the thing that most pleases God. For then not only will He give that which we ask of Him, which is salvation, but also that which He sees to be fitting and good for us, although we pray not for it. This David makes clear in a psalm where he says: ‘The Lord is nigh unto those that call upon Him in truth,683683Psalm cxliv, 18 [A.V., cxlv, 18]. that beg Him for the things that are in the highest degree true, such as salvation; for of these he then says: ‘He will fulfill the will of them that fear Him, and will hear their cries, and will save them. For God is the guardian of those that truly love Him.’684684Psalm cxliv, 19-20 [A.V., cxlv, 19-20]. And thus, this nearness to God of which David here speaks is naught else than His being ready to satisfy them and grant them even that which it has not passed through their minds to ask. Even so we read that, because Solomon did well in asking God for a thing that was pleasing to Him — namely, wisdom to lead and rule his people righteously — God answered him, saying: ‘Because more than aught else thou didst desire wisdom, and askedst not victory over thine enemies, with their deaths, nor riches, nor long life, I will not only give thee the wisdom that thou askest to rule My people righteously, but I will likewise give thee that which thou hast not asked — namely, riches and substance and glory — so that neither before thee nor after thee shall there be any king like unto thee.’6856852 Paralipomenon [A.V., 2 Chronicles] i, 11-12. And this He did, giving him peace also from his enemies, so that all around him should pay tribute to him and trouble him not: We read of a similar incident in Genesis, where God promised Abraham to increase the generation of his lawful son, like the stars of Heaven, even as he had asked of Him, and said to him: ‘Likewise I will increase the son of the bondwoman, for he is thy son.’686686Genesis xxi, 13.
3. In this way, then, the strength of the will and its rejoicing must be directed to God in our petitions, and we must not be anxious to cling to ceremonial inventions which are not used or approved by the Catholic Church. We must leave the method and manner of saying Mass to the priest, whom the Church sets there in her place, giving him her orders as to how he is to do it. And let not such persons use new methods, as if they knew more than the Holy Spirit and His Church. If, when they pray in their simplicity, God hears them not, let them not think that He will hear them any the more however many may be their inventions. For God is such that, if they behave towards Him as they should, and conformably to His nature, they will do with Him whatsoever they will; but, if they act from selfish ends, they cannot speak with Him.
4. With regard to further ceremonies connected with prayer and other devotions, let not the will be set upon other ceremonies and forms of prayer than those which Christ taught us.687687St. Luke xi, 1-4. For it is clear that, when His disciples besought Him that He would teach them to pray, He would tell them all that is necessary in order that the Eternal Father may hear us, since He knew the Father’s nature so well. Yet all that He taught them was the Pater Noster, with its seven petitions, wherein are included all our needs, both spiritual and temporal; and He taught them not many other kinds of prayer, either in words or in ceremonies. On the contrary, He told them that when they prayed they ought not to desire to speak much, since our heavenly Father knows well what is meet for us. He charged them only, but with great insistence, that they should persevere in prayer (that is, in the prayer of the Pater Noster), saying elsewhere: ‘It behoves us always to pray and never to fail.’688688St. Luke xviii, 1. But He taught not a variety of petitions, but rather that our petitions should be repeated frequently and with fervour and care. For, as I say, in them is contained all that is the will of God and all that is meet for us. Wherefore, when His Majesty drew near three times to the Eternal Father, He prayed all these three times, using those very words of the Pater Noster, as the Evangelists tell us, saying: ‘Father, if it cannot be but that I must drink this cup, Thy will be done.’689689St. Matthew xxvi, 39. And the ceremonies which He taught us to use in our prayers are only two. Either we are to pray in the secret place of our chamber, where without noise and without paying heed to any we can pray with the most perfect and pure heart, as He said in these words: ‘When thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber and shut the door and pray.’690690St. Matthew vi, 6. Or else He taught us to go to a solitary and desert place, as He Himself did, and at the best and quietest time of night. And thus there is no reason to fix any limit of time, or any appointed days, or to set apart one time more than another for our devotions, neither is there any reason to use other forms, in our words and prayers, nor phrases with double meanings, but only those which the Church uses and in the manner wherein she uses them; for all are reduced to those which we have described — namely, the Pater Noster.
5. I do not for this reason condemn — nay, I rather approve — the fixing of days on which certain persons sometimes arrange to make their devotions, such as novenas, or other such things. I condemn only their conduct as concerns the fixity of their methods and the ceremonies with which they practise them. Even so did Judith rebuke and reprove the people of Bethulia because they had limited God as to the time wherein they awaited His mercy, saying: ‘Do ye set God a time for his mercies?’ To do this, she says, is not to move God to clemency, but to awaken His wrath.691691Judith viii, 11-12.
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