PRAYER FOR TEMPORAL THINGS
A. It is licit and necessary to pray for temporal goods, benefits of the natural order.
B. Prayer does not seek temporal favors for their own sake.
C. Prayer for specific temporal benefits is fitting and desirable.
D. Temporal goods are always to be petitioned conditionally, because they can be disadvantageous in the affair of salvation.
E. Temporal goods are to be asked in moderation.
F. The removal or avoidance of temporal evil can and should be the object of prayer.
G. Prayer cannot seek moral evil in any way, but it can seek physical evil indirectly.
A. In studying the things for which we can and should pray, the question of temporal goods deserves a special consideration. We call those things temporal goods which are of themselves primarily and immediately ordered to the perfection of man’s natural life, and through this natural life to the ultimate perfection of man’s salvation. In this class will he found, of course, food, shelter, clothing. and all the material goods which man needs in order to live a human life according to the accepted standards. Naturally the money which is the medium of exchange by which these things can he procured, and the work, or the resources required for earning the money or producing these material goods enter into this category. So, too, immediate success in whatever walk of life a man has chosen (always providing, of course, that this occupation is legitimate) can be counted as a material good. Health of mind and body, and all the complexus of subordinate goods necessary to produce and to sustain these, count among the material goods. So also do the social position and the responsibilities of the individual, and the goods which are needed to keep up a man’s position.
It must be stressed that material things are by no means the only factors which can be counted among these temporal goods, insofar as these are considered as constituting the object of prayer. The grasp of a science is not a material thing. but it is a temporal advantage to persons who are engaged in certain types of work. Ability to reason, again, is something which may be considered as contributing to a man’s success and to his ability to live according to a human standard. In short, all the intellectual and cultural accomplishments which than uses for his own legitimate advancement and for the performance of the work from which he derives his livelihood or his recreation enter into the category of temporal goods.
These temporal goods are legitimately the object of prayer. A man is expected to ask for them, and as a matter of fact prayer is a necessary agency for the acquisition of some of them. There are some of these gifts which God grants to man in answer to man’s petition, and which He would not concede except in answer to that petition. That is the common Catholic doctrine, abundantly illustrated by the teaching of Sacred Scriptures and the history of the Church. It is legitimate and permissible to pray for goods which can and may be the object of desire. And certainly temporal goods are legitimately the object of the desire and the hope of the Christian. He works and expends his labor for the immediate purpose of possessing these goods. And it is only fitting that he should call upon God to grant them to Him in answer to his prayer, and thus use these very gifts of God as instruments by which to serve Him.
B. At the same time Catholic teaching is absolutely firm on one fundamental point. We are not to desire or to pray for these temporal goods as ends in themselves. We are not to set our hearts upon them, and to consider them as goods, in the possession of which we can find an ultimate happiness. They must be referred, and practically referred, to the one ultimate end and destiny of man, the fullness of the supernatural life.
The teaching of Christ and of His Church gives the Catholic an objective appreciation of the world. Enlightened by that teaching, the follower of Christ sees this world, and all the goods which enter into the perfection of this life as goods which are ordered ultimately to contribute to the accomplishment of man’s salvation. To use the things of this world otherwise, or to desire them for their own sake, independently of any ordination to God is to abuse them and in a certain sense to frustrate the purpose for which they were placed in the world. To ask for these temporal things apart from any ordering of these things to God would not be prayer; it would not be the petition of fitting things from God.
C. We can ask for temporal things either in general or specifically and individually. We pray for them in a general way when we beg God to grant us what we need for a sufficiency of life, in order to serve Him. That sort of prayer is common in the Christian liturgy. It has the distinct advantage of allowing us to keep in mind clearly the end and purpose of the temporal things we desire.
At the same time it is permissible and laudable to pray for these things specifically, to ask for this particular temporal favor, but always under the condition that we desire this good only if it is really conducive to our salvation. It is to our advantage to pray for particular temporal goods under this condition, because we actually work for and desire individual things, and it is only proper that our life of prayer should be in line with the course of our activity. Prayer is not meant to be a sort of rarified activity, in which we petition something that has little to do with the ordinary course and objective of our activity. What we seek in prayer is ultimately that which we try to acquire in the acts which go to make up the ordinary course of our lives. The favors which God grants to us in prayer are ordered to the same end as those things which we acquire in our lives of toil, the eternal life with God in heaven. When we pray for that object which we hope at the same time to possess through the exercise of our own activity, we are sanctifying and directing that activity in the light of faith. It is certainly not a mark of perfection to neglect prayer for the individual temporal things which we desire.
St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes two reasons why these material things enter into the object of prayer. First, they are necessary to sustain the natural life of man, and second, they are supposed to serve as instruments of the supernatural and Christian virtues. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the natural and earthly life of a man is in reality the preparation of one who has been called to be a fellow citizen of the saints, a citizen of the eternal city of God. The life that these earthly things are supposed to sustain and perfect is the life of a man who lives with the life of habitual grace. By sustaining that life, these earthly things fulfill their part in the plan of God’s providence, and glorify God.
These temporal goods enter into the economy of the supernatural life even more intimately when they are desired and prayed for to the end that they may be instrumental in the operation of the virtues. It is perfectly possible for a man to desire material goods in order that he may give alms, and may be of material assistance to the work of the Church. It is perfectly possible for a man to wish and pray for talent, or for the grasp of an art or a science, in order that he may expend his energy thereby for the glory of God and the triumph of His city.
D. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the fact that these same material goods, and even the intellectual attainments, may be harmful. In dealing with the spiritual life and the theology of prayer we must not allow ourselves to forget the all-important fact of original sin. If it is decreed by God that we should live our lives in this world by using temporal goods, we also achieve the salvation for which we work and pray by being purified of any improper attachment to these goods. For the life which we lead in the supernatural order is not merely the life, of habitual grace. It is the life of the grace of Christ. It is a life which we have through the bitter passion of our Lord Himself. In living that life, the Savior who carried His cross to Calvary is our Model. It is a life of prayer, and a life which affords a supernatural happiness, but in this world it is also a life of suffering and mortification. The things of this world are expected to chastise us, as well as to sustain our natural lives. They serve us instrumentally in the cause of virtue when we are ready to submit our will to God’s will.
There will be then some goods which we shall work and pray to acquire, and which God will not allow us to have precisely because He loves us, and in His infinite wisdom He knows that being deprived of this particular good is to our eternal advantage. To be a prayer in the strict sense of the term, a petition has to be made to God for temporal things with that condition in mind. We must realize that we are making a petition which God will either grant or withhold as a manifestation of His love for us. If He does not give the temporal favor which we have asked of Him, it is because He knows that we can attain our salvation and advance in grace without the things we have sought, and He, in His love for us, wills that we should do so. If He grants this favor, He gives us something which we are to utilize in such a way that it is instrumental in the attainment of our eternal happiness and our advance in the life of grace.
E. Naturally, the temporal goods we ask of God in prayer under the condition that they should be valuable for the attainment of our eternal and supernatural destiny, are to be sought in moderation. That is to say, the amount and the intensity of the thing sought is to be evaluated in terms of the ultimate object to which it is subordinated. The rule in determining these objects is the rule of Christian faith rather than that of emotion.
F. This same rule holds true in prayer which we offer to God in order that we may be relieved from some temporal evil. Just as prayer to be forgiven for the sin we have committed is, in the last analysis, a prayer for the grace of God and, as such, a prayer for something which cannot be other than good for us in the accomplishment of our salvation, so prayer to be relieved or preserved from temporal evils is a petition for the temporal good of which the evil is a privation. Such prayer is governed by the laws which deal with prayer for temporal goods. We can and should pray to be freed from suffering and sickness, yet with the understanding that this suffering or sickness may be something which God wishes us to endure for His sake, and thus to advance in His love. Hence, we wish to be preserved or freed from these evils if such is the will of God in our regard. Otherwise we are willing to bear with them. This condition is so essential to prayer that without it our act would not be a petition of fitting things from God.
War, pestilence, and famine are among the evils which we pray to have averted in this way, and under this condition. In this case it is important for us to remember that the magnitude of a physical or temporal evil in no way places it outside of that class, and in no way exempts prayer to have that evil averted from the condition of which we have spoken. War, for example, is a horrible thing, one of the greatest scourges that can afflict mankind. Yet there is such a thing is a just war. The fact that the weapons of war have been perfected in a frightful way in no way changes the essence of war. And God can allow His people to suffer from even an unjust war in such a way as to have the endurance of that evil a means for their salvation and perfection.
G. Moral evil can in no way be the object of prayer. It would certainly not be a fitting thing to petition from God. Under a certain aspect, however, physical or temporal evil can be sought. A person could, and some saints actually do pray that they may have the privilege of undergoing some suffering for the sake of Christ. That in itself, of course, is most laudable. To a certain extent, when the Church prays that the machinations of her enemies may be brought to nothing, she asks for their discomfiture, and so for something which they would regard as a physical evil. She prayed that the forces of the infidels would be defeated in the great days of the Crusades, when she prayed that the men who were fighting for the Christian cause would be victorious.
The Church does not pray for the death of any person. Such petition would be adverse to the intention for which she was instituted by Christ. Her children are expected to follow her example. In any case, it is utterly wrong to wish, or to petition God, for some temporal evil to fall upon some person because of one’s animosity against that person. A petition is anything but prayer if it is directed to the end of hatred. In the last analysis, the object of prayer is the object of Christian hope, and of a hope which is inspired and governed by charity.
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