“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. What does it mean to enter into temptation? It means to turn one’s back on faith. Temptation grows stronger in proportion as faith weakens, and becomes weaker in proportion as faith grows strong. To convince you, beloved, that Jesus was speaking of the weakening and loss of faith when he told his disciples to watch and pray that they might not enter into temptation, the Lord said in this same passage of the gospel: This night Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail. Is the protector to pray, while the person in danger has no need to do so?
“But in asking whether the Son of Man would find faith on earth at his coming, the Lord was speaking of perfect faith. That kind of faith is indeed hardly to be found on earth. Look at God’s Church: it is full of people. Who would come here if faith were non-existent? But who would not move mountains if that faith were present in full measure? Mark the apostles: they would never have left everything they possessed and spurned worldly ambition to follow the Lord unless their faith had been great; and yet that faith of theirs could not have been perfect, otherwise they would not have asked the Lord to increase it.”
Augustine makes a good point, albeit obliquely, in the first paragraph. Was Jesus’ prayer for Peter hypothetical, a mere rhetorical flourish before the final bloody curtain of Calvary? Or was it a genuine prayer? Assuming the latter — most certainly — how can we deny the reality of which the prayer worked against, to wit, the FAILURE of faith? Is there not an ultimate point of sinful regression in faith that demands something at least conceptually (if not verbally) like “mortal sin”? I’m reminded of Romans 6 and Galatians 5 and Luke 8 and Revelation 22. Grist for the prayer mill.