To say that something is “necessary” is to declare that it is so essential that to be without it causes grave if not deadly harm. The word comes from Latin: ne– (not) + cedere (to withdraw, go away, yield). The root sense is that what is necessary is something from which we cannot stray, something from which there is no withdrawal, something we cannot evade. There is an expression in Latin, sine qua non, which literally means “without which not.” Its fuller meaning expresses something so essential that without it, other required things cannot proceed.
Do you see prayer in this way, as necessary, as essential? Do you view at something without which other things cannot happen? Sadly, it would seem that many do not. Prayer is something easily postponed. It’s something to be done if the mood is just right, or if we have an urgent need. It is seldom scheduled and easily skipped in favor of almost any other activity. We seem to be able find time for everything else, but prayer is easily set aside—I’m busy; I’m tired; I forgot; something came up.
These sorts of issues arise because most people don’t really view prayer as necessary.
But prayer is necessary. St. Augustine said, “God who made us without us, will not save us without us.” Jesus stands at the door and knocks (see Rev 3:21), but we must open the door of our heart for him to enter and feed us. Prayer is our way answering, of opening the door. Little else will happen until we open the door each day to Him.
This brief column is not intended as an exhaustive exposition on prayer. Rather, it is intended to remind us that we should see prayer as a necessity. To that end, here are just a few quick thoughts underscoring the essential nature of prayer.
- Jesus said, This sort of demon can only be driven out by prayer (Mk 9:29). Those who do not pray and are not prayed over may suffer intractable demonic attacks.
- Jesus said, Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Matt 26:41). Deadly temptations will certainly assail us if we do not pray. How can we expect to avoid serious temptations and Hell if we do not pray?
- Jesus said that we must always pray and not lose heart (Lk 18:1). We must pray, we must not give way to discouragement.
- James said, You have not because you ask not (James 4:3). How many gifts are lacking for us and others because we do not pray? Some gifts are only unlocked and sent forth by prayer.
- John Chrysostom said, “As the body without the soul is dead, so the soul is dead without prayer” (Homily lxxvii). We are dead without prayer!
- Augustine said, “God gives, without prayer, the first graces such as the vocation to faith and to repentance; but all other graces, and particularly the gift of perseverance, he gives only to those who ask them” (De Dono Persev, xvi). Notice that it is only to those who ask!
- Thomas Aquinas said, “Now after baptism man needs to pray continually, in order to enter heaven: for though sins are remitted through baptism, there still remain the fomes (tinder) of sin assailing us from within, and the world and the devils assailing us from without. And therefore it is said pointedly (Luke 3:21) that ‘Jesus being baptized and praying, heaven was opened’: because, to wit, the faithful after baptism stand in need of prayer” (Summa Theologica, III, q. 39 art. 5).
- St Teresa of Avila reasoned, “Ask and you shall receive … then he who does not ask will not receive.” Now that is some straightforward wisdom!
- Alphonsus said, “He who prays is certainly saved; he who does not pray is certainly lost” (Considerations on the Eternal Maxims 13.2). Prayer is necessary! It is the sine qua non.
Pray, my brethren; pray. Pray for the gift of prayer. Pray for the desire to pray. Pray! Prayer is necessary; it is essential.
We do not always know everything we should pray for; we do not always remember to pray for everything. God knows our weakness. But failing to pray as a general norm is deadly to our life and our salvation.
Did I mention that we ought to pray?