St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Prayer is from the Heart

 

I cried with my whole heart: Hear me,
O Lord: I will seek your justification. Psalm 118:145. Douay-Rheims version, (the first English Catholic Bible.)
["I call with all my heart, O LORD; answer me that I may observe your laws." Psalm 119:145 NAB]
 
editor's summary*

The cry to the Lord of those who pray, if made only by the sound of the body's voice, and not by the heart intent on God; who can doubt that it is made in vain? But if it comes from the heart, though the voice of the body be silent, it may remain unknown to men, but not to God. Therefore, when we pray to God with the voice of our body, if there is occasion for this, or when we pray in silence, we must pray from the heart. The cry of the heart is an intense turning of the mind to God, which made in prayer expresses the great longing of the soul, asking and desiring; so that it does not despair of its fulfillment.

And we cry with our whole heart when the mind is not turned elsewhere. Prayer such as this is rare among the many; but frequent with a few. Whether there is anyone whose whole prayer is of this kind, I know not. He who sings this psalm speaks of such a prayer from his own heart. I cried with my whole heart; Hear me, Lord. To what end he cries he goes on to say: I will seek your justifications. For this therefore he cries with his whole heart; longing that this may be granted to Him by the Lord Who hears his prayer: That he may come to know what is right and just in God's eyes. Let us therefore pray that we may come to know what we are commanded to do.

How far is he who seeks to know, from him who does the will of God! For it does not follow that he who seeks, shall find; or that finding, he shall do. But he cannot do the will of God unless he comes to know it. But the Lord Jesus has given us great hope by saying: Seek, and you shall find. And Wisdom also says (and Who is Wisdom but He?): The wicked shall seek me, and not find me (Prov. i. 28). Therefore not to the bad, but to the good was it said:

"Seek, and you shall find. Rather it was said, a little later in the same place, to those to whom He said: If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children" (Mt. 7:7-11).

How then does He say to the wicked, Seek, and you shall find, when in another place He says: The wicked shall seek me, and not find me? Or is it that the Lord wished them to seek something other than wisdom when He promised that they who seek shall find? For it is in wisdom that all things are to be sought by those who desire to be blessed. And there also shall we find His justifications. We are therefore given to know, not that all the wicked shall not find wisdom, if they seek it; but only those who are so wicked that they hate wisdom. For this is what He said: The wicked shall seek me and not find me for they hate wisdom. They therefore do not find it, because they hate it.

But again, if they hate what they are seeking, why do they seek it; unless that they do not seek it for itself, but because of something the wicked love, and which they think they shall more easily attain by means of wisdom. For there are many who search eagerly into the words of wisdom; not to live by them, but to possess them as learning; not to come by the way of life wisdom teaches to the Light of God, which is Wisdom Itself, but that through the language of wisdom, they may gain the praise of men; which is vainglory.

They therefore are not seeking wisdom, even when they seek it: for they do not seek it for its own sake; if they did they would live by it.

They seek to be puffed up with its words; and the more they are inflated with them, the more they are a stranger to it. But the psalmist, imploring this of the Lord, which the Lord commands him to do; that he may work in him what He commands him to do; for it is God Who works in us, so that we both will and do, according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13DR, NAB) cries: I have cried with my whole heart: Hear me, O Lord: I will seek your justifications; not only that he may know them, but also to fulfill them; lest he become like a stubborn servant, who understands, and will not answer (Prov. 29:19DR; NIV).

 

I have cried unto you: Save me:
that I may keep your commandments (Psalm 119:146 RSV, or see NIV).

I have cried: Save me; or as some Greek and Latin copies have it: I have cried unto you. What does, I have cried unto you mean but: Crying out, I have called upon Your Name? But when he says: Save me, what did he then add? That I may keep your commandments; that is, that I may not in my weakness deny You. For health of soul will make us do what we know we must do, even to the death of the body: should the defense of divine truth demand of us this supreme testimony. But where the soul is unhealthy, weakness will surrender, and truth be betrayed.

Turning then to the Lord our God, the Father Almighty, let us as best we can give thanks with all our hearts, beseeching Him that in His Goodness He will mercifully hear our prayers and by His grace drive evil from our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, guide our minds, grant us His holy inspirations and bring us to joy without end through His Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Editor's summary: For prayer to be effective it must be sincere and "from the heart", which means from the core of who we are, from deep within, from genuine desire. James (4:3) tells us that in addition we must not ask wrongly, so Augustine teaches we must seek "justification". This means more than forgiveness but also harmony with God. We need to seek to do God's will, to honor and keep his decrees, rather than asking for something selfish. Perhaps the simplest way to say this is to ask God sincerely with deep longing to aid us with his grace to love Him fully. See Generally the first epistle of John, and especially 1 John 3:21-23, 5:3.]


The links provided above on justification are to bible dictionaries that are Protestant in origin. There have been differences among some Protestant and Catholic teaching teaching on this doctrine. For historical material see the article on justification in the Catholic Encyclopedia. For contemporary material on justification see the Catechism of the Catholic Church sections mentioning justification or sections 1989 to 1995, 1996ff.

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