Distractions in Prayer

St. Francis de Sales offers these suggestions for dealing with distractions experienced during prayer:

“When your heart is distracted in prayer, bring it gently back to the point from which it has wandered, and lay it tenderly at the feet of its Master. If you do but this your hour will be well employed.”

“You should be so in love with God that even though you can do nothing in his presence, you should nevertheless be glad to be near Him, were it only to see Him and look at Him from time to time.”

“He who ardently loves God does not turn back his gaze upon himself to discover what he is doing, but keeps his heart occupied with God, the object of his love. A heavenly chorister takes so much delight in pleasing God, that he desires no pleasure from the melody of his voice, save as it is pleasing to his Sovereign.”

One who deeply loves God persists in prayer: “If we can speak to our Lord in prayer let us speak to Him, praise Him, listen to Him. If we cannot speak because we are spiritually hoarse, let us stay nevertheless and make Him a reverence.”

One who prays well is devoted to God: “We must be constant in aspiring to the perfection of holy love, in order that love may be perfect; for the love which seeks anything less than perfection cannot fail to be imperfect.”

St. Francis readily acknowledged that we are obliged to perform the duties of our particular stations in life. Concerning those occasions when the temporal necessities of human life seem to interfere with our spiritual life, he has this to say: “If what we are doing be necessary, even though it distract our attention from God, we need not be troubled. We are taught to do all our actions for God, and by so doing we keep ourselves in his presence. Beware of thinking it necessary to offer each action to our Lord, for that would interfere with the simplicity of the practice of the Presence of God.”

So, take heart and rest assured, for the gentle Bishop of Geneva says: “Frequently behold our Lord who looks down upon you, poor little creature that you are, and sees you in the midst of your labours and distractions.”

Quotations from Maxims and Counsels of St. Francis de Sales, translated by Ella McMahon (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1884).

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Praying Points

Here St. Francis de Sales gives advice on how to pray:

“We are always wishing for this or that, and though we have our sweet Jesus in our breasts, we are not content. Yet it is all we can desire. One thing alone is necessary, and that is, to he near Him.” Therefore, “Frequently during the day cast your heart, your mind, and your care upon God with great confidence, saying, ‘I am thine, save me.'”

“Let us humble ourselves and speak of our wounds and miseries at the door of the temple of divine piety; but remember to show them with joy, and be perfectly happy to appear in want and despoiled of all things, in order that our Lord may fill you with his grace.”

“Frequently raise your heart to God, ask his help, and let the foundation of your consolation be the happiness of belonging to Him.”

“Do not be angry, or at least troubled because you have been troubled; do not be overcome because you have allowed yourself to be overcome; do not be disquieted because you have allowed yourself to be disquieted by angry passions; but take your heart and place it gently in the hands of our Lord and ask Him to cure it; meanwhile, do all you can to renew and strengthen your good resolutions.”

And what if certain prayers of petition seem to go unanswered? “When you have meditated upon the grievous anguish which our Master endured in the Garden, and in union with Him prayed to the Father for consolation, if it does not please Him to send it, think no more of it, but brace your courage to work out your salvation.”

And again, “Think of that great dereliction which our Master endured, and see how this dear Son, having asked consolation of his good Father, and seeing that He willed not to grant it, thought of it no more, ceased to seek it, but, as if He had never desired it, valiantly and courageously set about the work of our redemption. After you shall have prayed to your Heavenly Father for consolation, if it does not please Him to give it you, cease to think of it, but renew your courage to work out your salvation.”

Quotations from Maxims and Counsels of St. Francis de Sales, translated by Ella McMahon (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1884).

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A Good Day’s Work

St. Francis of Assisi and his followers believed in putting in a good day’s work. Here is how St. Francis would have the brethren conduct themselves throughout each day: “Be patient in tribulation, watchful in prayer, strenuous in labours, modest in speech, grave in manners, and grateful for benefits, because for all these things God has prepared for you an eternal kingdom.” And he warns: “That man sins who wishes to receive more from others than he is himself willing to give to the Lord his God.”

St. Clare of Assisi remarked: “Remember that the time of labour and suffering is short, and that, on the contrary, the reward which awaits us is eternal.”

Francis’ close friend Blessed Egidius of Assisi wisely observed: “The slothful man loses both this world and the next; he gathers fruit neither for the one nor the other. It is impossible to acquire virtue without care and labour.”

St. Rose of Viterbo elaborated upon the usefulness of labor when she said: “Labour has its sufferings; but it procures for us many advantages. Not only does it preserve us from idleness, that source of so many vices; but it is transformed into prayer by the offering we make of it to God, it enriches us with merit, and is a means of satisfying for our sins.”

St. Francis of Assisi never shied away from manual labor. Here he gives some reasons why:

“Idleness is the hotbed of evil thoughts; we must, then, give ourselves earnestly to some serious occupation.”

“We ought to blush at allowing ourselves to be carried away by idle and silly distractions when, in time of prayer, we are in converse with a great King.”

“Woe to him who places his delight in vain and idle words, and thus makes men contract the habit of senseless laughter!”

“Consider and see how the day of death approaches. With all respect, I beg of you not to forget God amid the many distracting occupations in which your life is spent, and do not wander from the way of His Commandments.”

Following St. Francis’ advice, St. Leonard of Port Maurice gives this admonition: “Shun idleness, remember that time flies and returns no more, that you have but one soul, and if you lose it you lose all.”

Quotations from Flowers from the Garden of Saint Francis for Every Day of the Year (London: Burns and Oates, 1882).

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Humility in Prosperity and Adversity

Which is better: prosperity or adversity? Here is how four thoughtful Franciscan saints weighed in on the question:

St. Joseph of Cupertino said: “The adversities and tribulations of life are special graces, and those most to be desired. God reserves them for His clearest friends. Receive them, then, as such with patience, constancy, and joy.” And again, “To suffer for the love of God is a great favour, of which man in himself is unworthy. But man does not understand this; for he thanks God for prosperity, and does not consider that affliction would be a much greater benefit.”

St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, echoed Joseph’s sentiments when he said, “Adversity is very useful to those who make profession of serving God, giving them an occasion of practising patience, humility, and resignation to the Divine Will, and disposing them more perfectly to practise every virtue.”

His uncle, St. Louis the King, saw good in either adversity or prosperity. He said, “If God sends you adversity, receive it humbly and thankfully; think that you have deserved it, and that it is for your good. If He sends you prosperity, thank Him for it, and beware of giving way to pride; for we ought not to use God’s gifts as arms against Him.”

This outlook seems to follow from the admonition of St. Clare of Assisi: “Beware of allowing yourself to be cast down by adversity or puffed up by prosperity; faith renders the soul humble in success and constant amid reverses.”

St. Francis of Assisi frequently encouraged his followers to cultivate in themselves the virtue of humility. He gave them this thoughtful maxim to consider: “A fall follows an exaltation; a snare attends on praise; while in humility there is great profit for the soul.”

St. Bonaventure teaches: “The sovereign virtue of man is humility. It is that which cures, perfects, and keeps him. Without humility we can acquire no other virtue, nor attain to perfection.”

Bl. Angela of Foligno observes: “Humility renders him who possesses it affable, sweet, and thoughtful; hence the world seeks it so eagerly, it testifies so much respect and esteem for those noble characters who possess this divine virtue.”

And, Bl. Clare of Montefalco remarks: “Our souls are like wood: the more they imbibe the oil of submission and humility the more they are set on fire with divine love.”

Quotations from Flowers from the Garden of Saint Francis for Every Day of the Year (London: Burns and Oates, 1882).

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To Pray Without Ceasing

St. Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians (5:17) and elsewhere encourages the faithful to “pray without ceasing.” Padre Quadrupani discusses how it is possible to implement this mandate in daily life:

The ideal: “The constant remembrance of God’s presence is a means of perfection that Almighty God Himself prescribed to the Patriarch Abraham.”

The problem: “But this practice must be followed gently and without effort or disturbance of mind. The God of love and peace wishes that all we do for Him should be done lovingly and peacefully. Only in heaven shall we be able to think actually and uninterruptedly of God. In this world to do so is an impossibility, for we are at every moment distracted by our occupations, our necessities, our imagination. We but exhaust ourselves by futile efforts if we try to lead before the proper time an existence similar to that of the angels and saints.”

The solution: “Frequently the fear comes to you that you have failed to keep yourself in the presence of God, because you have not thought of Him. This is a mistaken idea. You can, without this definite thought, perform all your actions for love of God and in His presence, by virtue of the intention you had in beginning them. Now, to act is better than to think. Though the doctor may not have the invalid in mind while he is preparing the medicine that is to restore him to health, nevertheless it is for him he is working, and he is more useful to his patient in this way than if he contented himself with merely thinking of him. In like manner when you fulfil your domestic or social duties, when you eat or walk, devote yourself to study or to manual labor, though it be without definitely thinking of God, you are acting for Him, and this ought to suffice to set your mind at rest in regard to the merit of your actions. Saint Paul does not say that we must eat, drink and labor with an actual remembrance of God’s presence, but with the habitual intention of glorifying Him and doing His holy will. We fulfil this condition by making an offering each morning to God of all the actions of the day and renewing the act interiorly whenever we can remember to do so.”

What if a considerable space of time elapses without your having thought distinctly of God or raised your heart to Him? The Padre answers: “Do not allow this omission to worry you. The servant has performed his duty and deserves well of his master when he has done his will, even though he may not have been thinking of him the while. Always bear in mind the fact that it is better to work for God than to think of Him. Thought has its highest spiritual value when it results in action: action is meritorious in itself by virtue of the good intention which preceded it.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Quadrupani on Hope

Padre Quadrupani in Chapter Nine of his treatise argues that “the weakness of our souls is often attributable to lukewarmness in regard to the Christian virtue of hope.”

Hence, he offers the following advice: “Hold fast to this great truth: he who hopes for nothing will obtain nothing; he who hopes for little will obtain little; he who hopes for all things will obtain all things.” And again, “To aspire to the noblest and highest ends gives firmness and perseverance to the soul.”

Putting sin in perspective, he writes: “The mercy of God is infinitely greater than all the sins of the world. We should not, then, confine ourselves to a consideration of our own wretchedness, but rather turn our thoughts to the contemplation of this divine attribute of mercy.”

On human frailty, he adds this: “Assuredly our faults are displeasing to God, but He does not on their account cease to cherish our souls. A good mother is afflicted at the natural defects and infirmities of her child, but she loves him none the less, nor does she refuse him her compassion or her aid. Far from it; for the more miserable and suffering and deformed he may be the greater is her tenderness and solicitude for him.”

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we read that we have “a good and indulgent High Priest who knows how to compassionate our weakness, Jesus Christ, who has been pleased to become at once our Brother and our Mediator.” And St. Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Pet 5:6-7)

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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Quadrupani on Fear and Doubt

Fear and doubt are two of the most unwelcome denizens that regularly plague the human soul. Padre Quadrupani, drawing upon the wisdom of the saints, gives this advice on how to cope with these afflictions:

“Far from allowing yourself to be dejected by fear and doubt, raise your desires rather to great virtues and to the most sublime perfection. God loves courageous souls, Saint Theresa assures us, provided they mistrust their own strength and place all their reliance upon Him. The devil tries to persuade you that it is pride to have exalted aspirations and to wish to imitate the virtues of the saints; but do not permit him to deceive you by this artifice. He will only laugh at you if he succeed in making you fall into weakness and irresolution.”

“Sorrow, not fear, is the sentiment our sins should awaken in us. When Saint Peter said to his divine Master: ‘Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8-10), what did our Saviour reply? ‘Fear not.’ Saint Augustine remarks that in the Holy Scriptures we always find hope and love preferred to fear.”

The Padre quotes this astute observation of St. Thomas of Villanova: “What do you fear? This Judge whose condemnation you dread is the same Jesus Christ who died upon the Cross in order not to condemn you.”

Referring to his favorite spiritual guide, the Padre writes, “Our miseries form the throne of the divine mercy, we are told by Saint Francis de Sales, for if in the world there were neither sins to pardon, nor sorrows to soothe, nor maladies of the soul to heal, God would not have to exercise the most beautiful attribute of His divine essence. This was our Lord’s reason for saying that He came into the world not for the just but for sinners (Luke 5:32).”

Moreover, he notes: “The immoderate fear of hell, in the opinion of Saint Francis de Sales, can not be cured by arguments, but by submission and humility.”

Therefore, Quadrupani concludes, “Do not forfeit your peace of mind by wondering what destiny awaits you in eternity. Your future lot is in the hands of God, and it is much safer there than if in your own keeping.”

Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).

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