Question 51

What about those who do not know to pray for themselves?  Are they lost?

There are gifts that God gives even to those who do not pray, such as the birth of faith.  And there are gifts that God gives only to those who pray, such as final perseverance.

from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger


Man is a religious being, homo religiosuscreated as imago Dei.  He has the Law written upon his heart (cfrRom 2:15) easily identified throughout the varied cultures of man in their seeking after happiness, truth, justice, and beauty which can be summarized as “the good”.  Man desires “the good”, and sets his will to seek it so that it might be obtained.  Virtues are those practices, habits, that allow the obtaining of “the good” and the life of obtaining is a moral life.  That “the good” is not possessed by man means that it is outside of him, possessed by “the other”.  That man is drawn to possess it means that it can be possessed, and if it can be possessed, it can be asked for.  To whom should a man ask to possess the good?  “The other”, of course; the one who possesses “the good”.  Herein this quick sketch we have rationally established the need of prayer, its impetus, and to whom prayer is directed as something that is intrinsically part of what it is to be human.  To not pray is, therefore, an inhuman act, an impious act, and an act of irreligion. None of this need start from a point of theology but is firmly grounded in the reality of man being a rational being who seeks the good but is not himself the good.

A man who does not pray is not condemned by God but is condemned by his own nature.  There are two types of people who do not pray; those that do not know that they should pray and those that know but reject prayer.  The first case is more so of an individual who prays poorly, who doesn’t know how to pray, rather than someone who truly has no prayer.  Many so-called atheists do not live their lives statically but still seek after “the good”.  While the object of their prayers is not the God of History and Revelation, nor any gods of the Gentiles, and not necessarily the “god of their bellies” (their sentiments and carnal appetites), they will make forms of prayer and petition to philosophy, to politics, to the unfolding of the universe, to humanity.  An example is needed.  An atheist who wakes and says, “May today I become a more rational person and help others to be more rational,” has uttered a prayer.  He might not even verbalize it, but if he has put his will into motion to obtain this thing, he has petitioned for its obtainment.  Such a man cannot be condemned for not praying, as lost and as in need of help as he might be.  And God has promised that He will help those who pray.

Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts (Psa. 94:8).  The dangerous thing of prayer is that it is not something spoken into the void; a curse of the cursed.  Prayer is answered and what is sought is obtained.  How is it when man finds “the good” in his possession? How more so when he finds the Giver of “the good”?  To those that pray poorly, ineptly, wrongly, or falsely, God gives the gift of Faith. It is not something merited, for there is no merit in simply doing that which humans do.  So God, according to His own promises, comes to the individual and gives to him the initial gifts of being taught how to pray, what to pray for, and, more importantly, whom to pray to.

And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and the heart of his servants, and it was made exceeding hard (Ex. 9:35). In a sense, we are all Pharaohs over our interior kingdoms; our wills and our souls are ours, even if we have the tendency to put them into bondage and servitude to demonic masters.  If God should come to one, should answer one’s prayer, and yet one should reject the gifts and the Divine Gift Giver, what then?  If one should hear a report of God, refuse to be amazed by His deeds, and refuse to pray that His promises of greeted deeds be done (cfr. Hab. 3:2), what then?  His heart hardens along with the heart of his servants, his interior faculties, darkening precisely because, in rejecting prayer and God, he no longer will receive those things prayed for.  His “prayer” to not receive God is answered and he is condemned.

When God answers our prayers, even for those who have Faith, when we hear His voice, it is important to accept those things that He gives in answer to our prayer, least in the receiving of His good things according to His design and timing, not our good things vainly wished for, we harden our hearts, pull back, and stop praying.

But to those that pray, and through grace continue to pray, shall find that they are no longer lost and obtain those good things promised by God.


The Ten Commandments (still), Paramount Pictures, 1956