“One of the parts of the Mass in which the Church gives her priests autonomy over word choice is the introduction to the Prayers of the Faithful. There are many fine ways to direct the faithful to prayer, but one that I have heard in several places and found particularly striking is, “Let us pray to God for what is needed.”
If we are in the habit of praying, chances are we know in a profound way that we are needy creatures. But can we know what we really need? St. Thomas considers this very concern in his commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. He calls prayer of petition nothing other than the expression to God of our desires (desideriorum explicatio). As one Dominican, Giles Emery, puts it, “To know what is necessary to ask, is to know what is necessary to desire.”
St. Thomas thought that we could have a general knowledge of those things to desire and for which to ask by calling to mind the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. After all, it is a good thing to desire the accomplishment of God’s will, or a worldly good to sustain one’s life (to be given one’s “daily bread”), or to be spared temptations. But the devil is found in the details, as it were. For instance, you may desire to further God’s Kingdom as a missionary in Africa, while his will is actually that you further it as a good father or mother in Altoona. You may believe that a certain temporal good will allow you to be a better Christian, but, as St. Thomas is quick to warn, “many [have] perished on account of riches.” You may wish fervently to avoid some temptation, but perhaps God desires to use this temptation as a “thorn in the flesh” so that, like St. Paul, you may avoid prideful boasting in anything save the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 12:7).
By ourselves, we do not know what we ought to desire in the concrete particularities of life, and so neither do we know for what we should ask God. This is what St. Thomas calls the weakness (infirmitas) of life. Each of us, due to the effects of original sin and our own personal sins and errors, can feel like a vessel on the sea amidst a dense, enveloping fog. We struggle to discern whether we are close to port or off our charted course.
To the Romans, St. Paul gave this assurance: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:26). St. Thomas explains that the Holy Spirit cannot intercede for us as if he were an inferior, for he is true God. Rather, “the Holy Spirit makes us pray, insofar as he causes right desires in us.” Like the beacon of a lighthouse to a distressed ship, the Holy Spirit sends forth the charity of God into our hearts in order to dispel the darkness and enable us to see how to pray for what is truly needed here and now.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us all how to pray to our Heavenly Father in a general way. The Spirit, whom the Father and the Son send into the world as Advocate, desires to teach each of us how to desire and to ask for what is needed in our particular parishes, communities, families, and lives. If we are docile to the Spirit, his gift to us will be the conformity of our desires to the will of God, whereby they become acceptable and efficacious.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people. Enkindle in us the fire of your divine love. Send forth the divine radiance of your light, for in this way alone can we ask with daring confidence for what we desire, and desire what we truly need, having been made wise and fit to enjoy your heavenly consolations. Amen.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom