Scripture often testifies to the power of prayer. Our Lord himself assures us of this when he couples this command with a promise: “Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:24).
Echoing his Master, St. James reminds us that “the continual prayer of a just man avails much” (Js. 5:16).
Each time this lesson is presented, however, conditions are attached. For instance, Christ prefaces his offer with this hypothesis: “If you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you,” while chastising the Apostles by noting: “Hitherto you have not asked any thing in my name” (Jn. 16:23-24).
James, for his part, speaks of the continual prayer of a just man, after reminding us that none of us is just by admonishing us to “confess [our] sins one to another” (Js. 5:16).
What then does it mean to ask in the name of Jesus? Or to pray as just men, despite our many sins?
Our Lord provides the key when he speaks of “that day” in which we shall ask in his name: “I say not to you, that I will ask the Father for you: for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me” (Jn. 16:26-27).
It is our love for Christ that makes us like Christ, and therefore worthy of the Father’s love. If then we pray for love of Christ, our prayers will be answered, that our joy may be full, like his.
Likewise, St. James suggests that the “just man” whose prayer “avails much” is the man who follows the counsel of the Church, which bids us “confess [our] sins one to another: and pray for one another, that you may be saved” (Js. 5:16).
If we love Christ, we will desire his glory and the salvation of souls, and direct our prayers as well as our actions to this end. In that case, our prayers and our actions will “avail much.”
James illustrate the point by speaking of the prophet Elias, at whose prayer rain was withheld “for three years and six months,” and at whose subsequent prayer “heaven gave rain, and the earth brough forth her fruit” (Js. 5:17-18).
The Apostle finishes by urging us to convert any among us who “err from the truth” (Js. 5:19-20).
Of course, only God can convert souls. When we unite our wills to his, and seek the salvation of our brethren for the glory of God, we can be assured that heaven will give the necessary grace, and the parched earth of our wayward hearts will be blessed with abundant fruit.
As St. Augustine reminds us, it is only when we look past our “private joy” to the “joy of all” that we become capable of receiving the Lord’s promise: that our joy may be full!
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