13 January 2011

"Thoughts on Prayer" - by Fulton Sheen

-  We do not pray in order that we may change God’s Will; we pray rather to change our own.

-  We do not pray that we may have good things; we pray rather that we may be good.

The perfect prayer is not one in which we tell God what we wish from Him, but rather one in which we ask God what He wishes from us.

Do not pray only in an emergency. The plea of strangers is never as effective as the plea of friends. Do not think of God only in times of distress or danger. Heaven is not a firehouse, and God does not put out all the fires.

Do not make all your prayers, prayers of petition. Where there is love we seek rather to give than receive. Such is the test of a real love of God.

When God does answer your prayers of petition, do you ever thank Him for His gift? You cannot always depend on prayers to be answered the way you want them answered, but you can always depend on God.

God, the loving Father, often denies us those things which in the end would prove harmful to us. Every boy wants a revolver at age four, and no father yet has granted that request. Why should we think God is less wise? Someday we will thank God not only for what He gave us, but also for that which He refused.

We should never pray for anything without at the same time submitting to God’s Will. Since God is good, petition is inseparable from resignation. When our will is one with God’s Will, then nothing can happen to us except what God wills; thus we will never be disappointed.

God will not supply every want; but He will supply every need. The trouble is that we want what we do not need.

Prayer is not the breaking down of the reluctance of God; it is rather the opening of the door. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” The latch is on our side and not his. Prayer opens that door.

-  The perfect prayer is one in which we seek to identify our will with God’s will.

When you pray, do not do all the talking! Listen! Speak, Lord, for thy servant is listening. If we keep pounding away with our hammers, how can the Divine Architect tell us how we ought to build?

If you are in the state of grace, God dwells in your heart. Hence, do not think of God being “way up there”; think of Him being on the inside. Because our body is a temple, we should try to keep God dwelling therein. This is the basic reason for purity.

-  It is really not so important what we say to God as it is what He says to us.

-  Prayer is not asking God to put Himself at our disposal.


In addition to saying prayers on the knees, there is also the Prayer of Action. Never undertake any duty, whether it be K.P., shouldering a gun, typing a letter, dressing children, sitting down to a meal, going to a movie, listening to a dull story, studying, or digging, without doing it in the name of God. It then becomes a prayer. Every action is an unsigned check; when we offer it in the name of God, we sign God’s name to it and give it the value of a prayer.

A disappointment, a contradiction, a loss borne patiently in His name and endured as in His presence is worth more than any prayer said by the lips. First thing every morning offer yourself to God, body and soul, reason and senses, purpose and desires, to be for that day whatever God wants you to be as revealed in the circumstances of life.

Say to God in some such language as this:
“You know, good Lord, that I am tempted to get angry with, or to be jealous of (here mention the person or persons), to take your Holy Name in vain, or (here mention the ways you are apt to sin or you have in the past). But, Dear Lord, for the love of You, I want to pass this day without committing these sins, or any other sins in thought, word, or deed. Please help me. Without You I can do nothing, with You I can do anything.”
Our divine Lord never preached on the dignity of labor. But He who carpentered the universe also worked at a carpenter’s bench making wagon wheels, mending roofs, and fixing children’s wagons. There is no work that cannot be made a prayer.

In addition to the Prayer of Action there is the Prayer of Sacrifice. The only way we can prove that we love anyone is by sacrifice. Love does not mean to have, to own, to possess. It means to be had, to be owned, to be possessed. It is the giving of oneself for another. That is why we speak of “arrows and darts of love” – something that wounds. And the day men forget that love is synonymous with sacrifice, they will ask what kind of a God is it who asks for mortification and self-denial. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

At least three times a day, deny yourself some tiny, legitimate pleasure, such as the extra cigarette, the second drink, or the extra lump of sugar, in order to discipline your spirit and keep mastery over yourself for the love of God. These little “deaths” are so many rehearsals for the final death. Dying is a masterpiece, and to do it well, we must die daily: “If any man would come after me, let him . . . take up his cross daily.”

Mortification does not mean that we “give up” something; it means that we make an exchange. We do not “give up” our worldly pleasures; we exchange them for peace of soul. Hence, those who speak of sacrifice as the negation of life never seem to understand that all love involves a choice: Adam chose between a fruit and a garden, as we have to choose between the world and Christ. In our choice, we get something back in exchange: misery if we choose sin, peace if we choose Christ. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

Make a sacrifice by not saying the nasty word or answering an insulting remark. For in that way, we lower ourselves to the vulgarity we condemn. No one will ever get ahead of us so long as he stays behind to kick us.

Catholics call the trials and disappointments of life “crosses.” We consider them redemptive. “Let him take up his cross daily.” Wherein do I take up the cross daily?

  • Sacrifice without love is pain.
  • Pain with love is sacrifice.
  • Pain without love is misery.
  • Love without pain is Heaven.
  • Love with pain is Purgatory.
  • Pain without love is Hell.

Pain in itself is not unbearable; failure to understand it is. If pain and suffering had no reason, then we can be sure our divine Lord would never have embraced them. By patiently accepting each pain in union with His Cross, we become redeemers with a small r as He is a Redeemer with a capital R.

Everyone who suffers is on a cross. Some ask to be taken down, like the thief on the left. Others want to be taken up, like the thief on the right.


“Bear one another’s burdens,” St. Paul tells us. This is difficult to do, unless we love God. Our Lord is walking through the world in disguise: as a soldier, as a tramp, as a neighbor, as a passerby, as a child, as a paralytic, as the blind, as the deaf. It is not for me to inquire whether they are worthy or not. That judgment belongs to God. It is sufficient to know that they are creatures of God: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” And the King answering shall say to them “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

I shall make any sacrifices to which my country may call me – to serve at the front, buy bonds, labor long hours in factory or home, accept inconveniences – in reparation for my sins. There is a thrill in paying off a debt, and we are all in debt to God! “Forgive us our trespasses,” that is, our debts.

The thief crucified on the right hand of our Lord offered his cross in reparation for his sins: “And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man had done nothing wrong.” In one day he blotted out his sins: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” I will sacrifice and suffer gladly that, through the example of my patience, others may come to know something of the blessedness of having found God. We live in a universe where the good and evil that one does has social repercussions. A stone thrown into the ocean affects even the most distant shore.

Doctors graft skin from the body to the face when it is burned; they transfuse blood from one member of society to another. Now, if it is possible to graft skin, why is it not possible to graft prayer; it if is possible to transfuse blood, why is it not possible to transfuse sacrifice?

The sacrifices I make can therefore be applied to others: to a friend in battle; to a wife back home; to a brother who has been away from the sacraments for years; to a sister who has a bad marriage; to little children, that they may grow up as worthy children of God; and above all for peace of the world.

 Taken from Wartime Prayer Book (2003) / The Armor of God (1943)

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