Who can persevere the whole day in the praise of God? I will suggest a help. Whatsoever thou doest do well, and thou hast praised God. (S. Aug., on Ps. xxxiv., Disc. 2.)
Oh! what do I suffer interiorly whilst with my mind I consider heavenly things; and presently a crowd of carnal thoughts interrupt me as I pray. (Imit., B. III., c. XLVIII., v. 5.)
1. We ought to love meditation and should make it often on the Passion of our divine Lord, striving above all to derive therefrom fruits of humility, patience and charity.
2. If you experience great dryness in your meditations or other prayers, do not feel distressed and conclude that God has turned His Face away from you. Far from it. Prayer said with aridity is usually the most meritorious.
*It is quite a common error to confound the value of prayer with its sensible results, and the merit acquired with the satisfaction experienced. The facility and sweetness you may have in prayer are favors from God and for which you will have to account to him: hence the result is not merit but debt. (Read the Imitation, B. II, c. IX.)
* The very fact that we derive less gratification from such prayer, makes it all the more pleasing to God, because we are thus suffering for love of him. Let us call to mind at such times that our Lord prayed without consolation throughout his bitter agony.
*“All this trouble comes from self-love and from the good opinion we have of ourselves. If our hearts do not melt with tenderness, if we have no relish or sensible feeling in prayer, if we do not enjoy great interior sweetness during meditation, we are at once overwhelmed with sadness: if we find difficulty in doing good, if some obstacle is opposed to our pious designs, we give way to disquietude and are eager to conquer all this and to be free from it. Why?
Undoubtedly because we love consolations, our own comfort, our own convenience. We wish to pray immersed in sweetness, and to be virtuous that we may eat sugar; and we do not contemplate our Saviour Jesus Christ, who, prone upon the ground, is covered with a sweat of blood caused by the intense conflict He feels interiorly between the repugnances of the inferior portion of his soul and the resolutions of the superior.”*—St. Francis de Sales.
*The same teaching is given by another great master of the spiritual life: “We frequently seek the gratification and consolation of self-love in the testimony we desire to render to ourselves.
Thus we are disturbed about our lack of sensible fervor, whereas in reality we never pray so well as when we are tempted to think we are not praying at all.
We fear to pray badly then, but we should fear rather to give way to the vexation of our cowardly nature, to a philosophical infidelity, which ever wishes to demonstrate to itself its own operations—in fine, to an impatient desire to see and to feel in order to console ourselves.
There is no penance more bitter than this state of pure faith without sensible support. Hence I conclude that it is freer than any other from illusion. Strange temptation! to seek impatiently for sensible consolation through fear of not being sufficiently penitent!
Ah! Why not rather accept as a penance the deprivation of that consolation we are so tempted to seek?”*—Fénelon.
3. You will sometimes imagine that at prayer your soul is not in the presence of God and that only your body is in the church, like the statues and candelabras that adorn the altars. Think, then, that you share with those inanimate objects the honor of serving as ornaments for the house of God, and that in the presence of your Creator even this humble rôle should seem glorious to you.
*“You tell me that you cannot pray well. But what better prayer could there be than to represent to God again and again, as you are doing, your nothingness and misery?
The most touching appeal beggars can make is merely to expose to us their deformities and necessities.
But there are times when you cannot even do this much, you say, and that you remain there like a statue. Well, even that is better than nothing.
Kings and princes have statues in their palaces for no other purpose than that they may take pleasure in looking at them: be satisfied then to fulfill the same office in the presence of God, and when it so pleases Him He will animate the statue.”*—St. Francis de Sales. 4. When you have not consciously or voluntarily yielded to distractions, do not stop to find what may have been their cause, or to discover if you have in any way given occasion to them.
This would be simply to weary and disquiet yourself unprofitably.
From whatever direction they come, you can convert them into a source of merit by casting yourself into the arms of the Divine Mercy.
St. Francis de Sales when asked how he prayed, replied: “I cannot say it too often—I receive peacefully whatever the Lord sends me. If he consoles me, I kiss the right hand of his mercy; if I am dry and distracted, I kiss the left hand of his justice.”
This method is the only good one, for as the same Saint says: “He who truly loves prayer, loves it for the love of God: and he who loves it for the love of God, wishes to experience in it naught but what God is pleased to send him.”
Now, whatever you may experience in prayer, is precisely what God wills.
5. St. Francis de Sales teaches us that merely to keep ourselves peacefully and tranquilly in the presence of God, without other desire or pretension than to be near him and to please him, is of itself an excellent prayer.
“Do not exhaust yourself,” he says, “in making efforts to speak to your dear Master, for you are speaking to Him by the sole fact that you remain there and contemplate Him.” *“Remember that the graces and favors of prayer do not come from earth but from heaven and therefore that no effort of ours can acquire them, although, it is true, we must dispose ourselves for their reception diligently, yet withal humbly and tranquilly.
We ought to keep our hearts wide open and await the blessed dew from heaven.
The following consideration should never be forgotten when we go to prayer, namely, that we draw near to God and place ourselves in His presence principally for two reasons. The first is to render to God the honor and the homage we owe Him, and this can be done without God speaking to us or we to Him, for the duty is fulfilled by acknowledging that He is our Creator and we are His vile creatures, and by remaining before Him, prostrate in spirit, awaiting His commands.
The second reason is to speak to God and to listen to Him when He speaks to us by His inspirations and the interior movements of grace…. Now, one or other of these two advantages can never fail to be derived from prayer.
If, then, we can speak to our Lord, let us do so in praise and supplication: if we are unable to speak, let us remain in his presence notwithstanding, offering him our silent homage; he will see us there, our patience will touch him and our silence will plead with him and win his favor.
Another time, to our utter astonishment, he will take us by the hand, and converse with us, and make a hundred turns with us in his garden of prayer.
And even should he never do this, still let us be content to know it is our duty to be in his retinue, and that it is a great favor and a greater honor for us that he suffers us in his presence.
In this way we do not force ourselves to speak to God, for we know that merely to remain close to him is as useful, nay, perhaps more useful to us, though it may be less to our liking.
Therefore when you draw near to our Lord speak to him if you can; if you cannot, stay there, let him see you, and do not be anxious about anything else….
Take courage, then, tell your Saviour you will not leave him even should he never grant you any sensible sweetness; tell him that you will remain before him until he has given you his blessing.”*—St. Francis de Sales.
(To Be Continued….)