Conforti: Divine Strength and Power
"Our strength, our omnipotence." Prayer makes human beings great and bestows upon them apostolic strength.
Prayer makes a person great
My dear people, prayer makes man greater, it transfigures him and makes him
sublime and divine. Only superficial and vulgar souls can mock and despise those
who satisfy this duty and this need of the heart. We must say a thousand times:
no, prayer does not degrade man, nor does it make him faint-hearted or
impoverish him; on the contrary, it forms martyrs and heroes of Christ. Observe
them: what do they do in their struggle against tyrants, in the horrors of
prison, at the foot of the scaffold? They pray! They are decrepit old people,
tender children, innocent young men and delicate young women: why do they not
tremble in the face of death? Because they have drawn a superhuman strength and
courage from prayer.
No, prayer does not degrade man, rather it is without doubt the most noble and most glorious action he can perform in this world, and it confers upon him a truly supernatural greatness.
Not only does prayer place us into an intimate relationship with all that is true, beautiful and holy in heaven and on earth, it also gives us a share in God’s friendship, in His most tender and infinite love.
Prayer is an invocation to God who comes down to us; in the beautiful words of Augustine, it is God poured into our hearts; God our Redeemer, our friend and our brother who looks at us and listens to us, who smiles benevolently at our homage and our affection. It is precisely from this communication, from this contact with the Divinity, that man draws supernatural energy. “Two great things I admire”, says John Chrysostom, “in heaven and on earth: in heaven the power of the Creator, on the earth the power of prayer. Man may be as weak as you say, but if he prays he becomes strong with the strength of God. Nihil potentius homine orante – nothing is stronger than a person who prays.
In the face of increasing crime, people sometimes wonder why the Lord is so patient instead of sending lightning from heaven. My dear people, I shall quote the words of an eloquent modern author and say to you: raise your eyes to the heights of the spiritual mountain and you shall see the heavenly lightning rods. You are observing the good ones who pray, the ministers of God who pray, many noble and most pure souls, who offer themselves as voluntary victims in the solitude of a cloister and who pray. Here is the mystery unveiled to you.
If we could penetrate into the secrets of God, we would be amazed to see what a great place is occupied by the prayer of the just in the plan of Divine Providence, and what a beneficial action it exercises on the life of the peoples and on the destinies of empires. Pray therefore, my dear people, there is no person who is exempt from this law.
Pray, if you are virtuous, to maintain this state; pray, if you are sinners, that you might rise from your sad state; pray for each other, since it is written that much can be done by the assiduous prayer of the just person. Pray with humility, with confidence and with perseverance. Pray at home and in the temple. Pray especially with that holy and sublime prayer that Jesus Christ himself taught to men and with which we ask God, our Father in heaven, to glorify His name, make His Kingdom come, fulfill His will, give us our daily bread, forgive our sins and defend and help us in our every need.
This is how our mother taught us to pray, this is the first prayer we learned at home as innocent children.
My dear people, let us recognize our needs. Let us ask God for greater vitality and industriousness in our faith, a greater detachment from earthly things and greater courage in ignoring the judgments of others and in openly confessing Jesus Christ.
Let us ask him for humility, patience, resignation, love, devotion, fortitude, spirit of sacrifice and perseverance in doing good. Let us ask him for these things above all else and our prayer shall be surely fulfilled.
Our guarantee is the word of Jesus Christ in his Gospel: Seek first the Kingdom of God and his justice, in other words your sanctification, because the kingdom of God is among you [Luke 17:21], and all these other things will be given you as well. Quaerite primum regnum Dei et justitiam ejus et haec omnia adjicentur vobis [Matt. 6:33].
(1913, 6 January, Parma, Homily on the Feast of the Epiphany; FCT 21, 44-46)
In his weakness, man arms himself with the omnipotence of God through prayer
because Christ has promised us: Anything you ask from the Father He will grant
in my name [John 16:23]. Oh, what rivers of grace are opened between heaven and earth by
the prayers poured out before the altar by a devout mother, by a sister, by a
priest! They are like flashes of lightning that clear the mind, they are
ineffable voices that speak to the heart, they are encouragement to the will.
It is the breath of God that passes over man, either to draw him back from evil, confirm him in goodness, or encourage him and help him to do what is best. The sudden improvements in people who were descending into unrestrained vice and the sudden conversions, especially those at death’s door, are often the fruit of the prayer offered to God by pure hearts and devout souls, a prayer that burns like incense in the fire of love. Good example and prayer, therefore, are the two means given to each one for the benefit of the brothers and to lead them back to God. Who shall say: I cannot give good example, I cannot pray? Nor must our apostolate end here: we must give even more of ourselves for the material wellbeing of our brothers. We must love our brother, who is not only a spirit, but a spirit united to a body, and this body also has needs and illnesses and it asks for help. This is why our love must be given to everyone, why it must embrace the soul together with the body.
And are we not called to recognize the sign of God’s presence in the human members of our brothers?
(1911, 5 June, Parma, Homily for Pentecost; FCT 18, 485-486)
The apostolic strength of prayer
How shall we contribute to the coming of this universal sovereignty? First
of all, through prayer, which exercises a gentle violence on the heart of God.
Prayer is holy, powerful and efficacious in itself, but when it rises up to
the Eternal God together with the prayer of the Eucharistic Christ, who is
within us and prays with us, then it becomes omnipotent. What more favorable
moment than this to pray for the spreading of the kingdom of God, by repeating
the words of the Lord’s prayer: adveniat regnum tuum? [Matt. 6:10].
It is at the Eucharistic banquet that we must experience more intensely than usual the sentiment of the universal fraternity which is an unavoidable duty for every Christian, and thinking of so many brothers who do not have the incomparable good fortune to participate with us in the table of the Angels, and to savor the same delights that we do, we should experience a sense of deep sadness and turn to the Lord with the sad but trusting words of the Virgin Mary at the wedding feast of Cana: vinum non habent [John 2:3].
Look, o Lord, upon so many millions of brothers, who hunger and thirst for justice, truth, peace and love. Vinum non habent. They do not have the substantial wine that gives strength, preserves from infirmity and gives gladness and joy to the heart. Lord, may your kingdom come among them, Adveniat Regnum tuum Eucharisticum [May your Kingdom come through the Eucharist]. No faithful should approach the Eucharistic Table, no Priest should ascend the Holy Altar, without raising to God this dutiful prayer.
(1924, 7 September, Palermo, Address “L’Eucaristia e le Missioni Cattoliche”; FCT 4,492)