On Repeating Prayers

Archbishop Francois Fenelon by Joseph Vivien

Padre Quadrupani has much to say about the inclination to repeat prayers said while distracted:

“Never repeat a prayer, even should you have said it with many distractions. You cannot imagine the innumerable difficulties in which you may become entangled by the habit of repeating your prayers. Therefore I beg of you not to do it. Begin your prayer with the desire of being very recollected. This is all that is necessary. ‘A desire has the same value in the sight of God as a good work,’ says St. Gregory the Great, ‘when the accomplishment of it does not depend upon our will.’ During these involuntary distractions God withdraws the sensible feeling of His presence, but His love remains in the depths of our hearts. St. Theresa, in the midst of dryness and distractions, was wont to say: ‘If I am not praying I am at least doing penance.’ I should say: you are doing both the one and the other: you do penance by all that you are suffering, you pray by the desire and intention you have to do so.”

“You should never repeat a prayer nor a point in your meditation even if you have had in the inferior portion of your soul ideas and feelings at variance with the words pronounced by your lips or with the sentiments you wished to excite in your heart. Nay, do not be induced to do it, even were these ideas and feelings injurious to God. Under such conditions, be careful not to give way to anxiety and agitation and do not try to make reparation for an imaginary offence. Continue your prayer in peace as if nothing had disturbed it, not taking the trouble to notice these dogs that come from the devil and that can bark around you while you pray in order to distract you, if may be, but that cannot bite you unless you let them. St. Augustine says that the devil is a formidable giant to those who fear him, but only a miserable dwarf to those who despise him.”

The editor of Light and Peace adds this eloquent discourse by Francois Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambrai: “Need we be surprised that St. Augustine often assures us that the whole Christian life is but one long, continual tending of our hearts towards that eternal justice for which we sigh here below? Our only happiness consists in ever thirsting for it, and this thirst is in itself a prayer; consequently if we always desire this justice, we pray always. Do not think it necessary to pronounce a great many words and to struggle much with one’s self in order to pray. To pray is to ask God that his will may be done, to form some good desire, to raise the heart to God, to long for the riches he promises us, to sigh over our miseries and the danger we are in of displeasing him by violating His holy law. Now this requires neither science nor method nor reasoning; one can pray without any distinct thought; no head-work is necessary; only a moment of time and a loving effusion of the heart are needed; and even this moment may be simultaneously occupied with something else, for so great is God’s condescension to our weakness that he permits us to divide it when necessary between him and creatures. Yes, during this moment you can continue what you were doing: it is sufficient to offer to God your most ordinary occupations, or to perform them with the general intention of glorifying him.”

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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