As prayer is a necessary means of obtaining every need, so it is also sufficient for everything.
The power of prayer comes from the promise that Jesus made concerning prayer, as He so beautifully shows: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.” His promise is a solemn one by which He pledges His divine word. It is a comprehensive and unconditional promise, limited only by our welfare and the glory of God. Miracles are not excluded. Prayer has worked many. Even Heaven is included; indeed, Heaven especially, and before all else. “If you ask the Father anything in my name, He will give it to you. . . . Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.”
Prayer, then, is infallible — that is, it will always be heard, not because of any power on our part, but because of Christ’s promise that He will not fail to answer our prayers. Even the prayers of those in mortal sin are infallibly heard, if they sincerely want to repent, as did the thief on the cross.
The power of prayer depends on God’s infinite goodness and mercy
The reason your petitions are granted is not your worthiness and merit, but the infinite mercy of God. If your merit were the reason, you would not petition, but demand; but as it is, you ask. And so you must have faith and trust in God’s goodness and mercy.
The power of God’s answer extends as far as your need and His divine mercy. You may pray for whatever you desire, whatever is reasonable and pleasing to God — especially spiritual gifts. The more necessary and the more excellent the gift, the more confidently you may trust that it will be granted to you. If you pray for temporal gifts and it seems as though God has not heard you, remember that the only reason He does not grant them is that He knows they would prove harmful to you. If temporal gifts are denied, you can be sure that God has some greater gift to bestow.
Holy Scripture has splendid pictures of the power of prayer: Israel in the desert, Moses and Joshua, the mighty deeds of the judges and the Maccabees, the miracles of our Lord and the Apostles, and the whole history of God’s chosen people and of the early Catholic Church. Prayer figures in a constant and marvelous exchange between human need and divine help.
Jesus told the people several parables in which He stressed the goodness and mercy of God in answering prayer. He spoke of a judge who, although unjust, was willing to help a poor widow because she appealed to him with all the fervor of her heart. How much more will the just God hear us, His own children!
Jesus spoke of a man who went to his neighbor at night to beg for some bread for a friend who had just arrived from a long journey. Because he continued to knock, his neighbor was compelled to get up and grant his request even in the middle of the night. Such is the effect of perseverance in prayer.
Our Lord also mentioned the willingness of a father to come to the aid of his child when that child begs for help. The father will not offer the child a snake or a stone when he asks for food. If we, imperfect as we are, do these things for our children, then certainly the heavenly Father, who is goodness itself, will give us good things when we ask Him.
And if mothers are so sensitive to the needs of their children, how much more the Father and Creator of all mankind must be alert to the needs of His children when they speak to Him in prayer! A mother’s love is a spark compared with the burning furnace of God’s infinite love for us, His creatures. If mothers are so ready to help when they hear their children in need, how can God our Father fail to hear your voice when you cry to Him in prayer?
And all the tender affection He pours out upon countless other souls does not lessen His love for you. His care of the entire universe is insignificant compared with the care He has for your immortal soul.
The state of grace gives power to your soul
Consider the power of the prayer of a soul in the state of grace. By the fact that you are in the state of grace, your prayer has a power over the heart of God that, in a certain sense, is absolute.
Your prayer is the cry of a child to God his Father. For God, in seeing you as redeemed by the Precious Blood of His beloved Son, beholds no longer a mere human creature. He sees instead the reflection of His own divine life, for when you are in the state of grace, your entire being shares in the life of the triune God. Your prayer, then, partakes of that which is properly divine. By grace, you are a member of the family of God, our Father, and you have been given a right to the eternal inheritance of the Beatific Vision.
If you are in the state of grace, your prayer has another claim on God: it is always made in the name of Jesus Christ. You will not, in your own sinfulness, presume to ask, but you speak in the name of Jesus, by His own command. Our Lord Himself assures you, “Whatsoever you ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
When you are in the state of grace, your prayer is assisted by God the Holy Spirit. “The Promise of the Father” dwells in your heart. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unutterable groanings.” The Holy Spirit teaches you how to pray, because He inspires you to ask for what is right. He arouses in you desires that, under His influence, can be helpful to your salvation.
However, for prayer to be meritorious, you must be in the state of grace. Prayer makes satisfaction to God for your sins; it increases sanctifying grace in your soul as well as the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prayer secures from God the help you need, both spiritual and temporal, to live a good and happy life and to save your soul, not by influencing God or by changing His unalterable will, but by fitting yourself to receive the gifts that He has determined from all eternity to grant to you through your prayers.
Prayer is a powerful force that is at your disposal
Jesus taught that through prayer you can ask for every gift, whether it be for the gifts of the Holy Spirit or for the daily bread you need. You can use prayer to storm Heaven and secure its treasures and thus reach the heart of God. Through prayer you can win untold graces and blessings and favors for yourself and for the whole human race.
Prayer wins for yourself and others the things that make life happy and eternity sure. Do not neglect to pray for others. St. John Chrysostom wrote, “We are compelled to pray for ourselves, but the love of our brethren engages us to pray for others also. Now, far more acceptable to God is the prayer that proceeds not from the pressure of our wants, but from the love of our neighbor.”
Use this powerful gift of prayer to win blessings for the world that does not pray, forgiveness for sinners who do not ask for forgiveness, and faith for those who have never heard the name of Christ or who have heard it only to turn away toward worldly pursuits. You can obtain strength and God’s willing assistance for all mankind. Pope St. Gregory writes, “He causes his prayers to be of more avail to himself who offers them also for others.”
You can never be grateful enough to the merciful God, who has given you this power. You can do no less than use this power as readily as He would have you use it. God does His part. He has given you the power of prayer and is willing to hear your prayer. He is able to grant your requests. The only thing that remains for you to do is to use this power of prayer as Christ meant you to use it. Prayer is the key that opens the treasury of God. You have the key. Use it well and often!
Editor’s note: This article has been adapted from a chapter in The Basic Book of Catholic Prayer, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.