Many persons fail to make a distinction between the presence of God in their souls and the consciousness of this adorable presence, between faith and the sensible feeling of faith.
This shows a great want of discernment. When they do not realize God’s presence dwelling within them, they suppose He has withdrawn himself through some fault of theirs.
This is an ignorant and hurtful error. A man who endures martyrdom for love of God does not think actually and exclusively of God but much of his own sufferings; and yet the absence of this feeling of faith does not deprive him of the great merit due to his faith and the resolutions it caused him to make and to keep.
Your vocal prayers should be few in number but said with great fervor. The strength derived from food does not depend upon the quantity taken but upon its being well digested.
Far better one Our Father or one Psalm said with devout attention than entire rosaries and long offices recited hurriedly and with restless eagerness.
If you feel whilst saying vocal prayers—those not of obligation—that God invites you to meditate, gently and promptly follow this divine impulse.
You may be sure that in doing so you make an exchange most profitable to yourself and agreeable to God from whom the inspiration comes.
Prepare yourself for prayer by peaceful recollection and begin it without agitation or uneasiness.
St. Francis de Sales has this to say on the subject: “Some little time before you are going to pray, calm and compose your heart, and be hopeful of doing well; for if you begin without hope and already devoid of relish, you will find it difficult to regain an appetite…. The disquiet you experience in prayer, accompanied by great eagerness to discover some object that can fix and satisfy your thoughts, is of itself sufficient to prevent you finding what you seek.
When a thing is searched for with too great eagerness, one may have his hands or his eyes almost upon it a hundred times and yet fail to perceive it. This vain and useless anxiety in regard to prayer can result in nothing but weariness of mind, and this in turn produces coldness and apathy in your soul.”
Be careful not to overburden yourself with too many prayers, either mental or vocal. As soon as you feel uncontrollable weariness or distaste, postpone your prayers, if possible, and seek relief in some pleasant pastime, or conversation, or in any other innocent diversion.
This advice is given by St. Thomas and other learned Fathers of the Church and is of the utmost importance. Follow it conscientiously, for lassitude of mind begets coldness and a kind of spiritual stupor.
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.
*In St. Ignatius’ time there was a certain religious of the Society of Jesus who was a victim of this kind of scruple. The recital of the daily Office always kept him much longer than was necessary because he would repeat again and again and for hours at a time any passage that he suspected had not been said with sufficient attention.
St. Ignatius tried to correct him by various means, but in vain. At length the thought occurred that one scruple might be cured by another.
He therefore commanded the poor Jesuit, under pain of sin and in virtue of religious obedience, to close his breviary every day at the end of a specified time, this being just enough to allow him to read the Office through once and rather quickly.
The first day the religious was obliged to stop before he had half finished. This caused him such intense regret that ere long the fear of not being able to say the entire Office made him contract the habit of finishing it within the allotted time.
* 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 offense.
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.
“This temptation should be treated exactly the same as temptations of the flesh: do not dispute with it at all, rather imitate the children of Israel who made no attempt to break the bones of the paschal lamb but cast them into the fire.
You need not answer the enemy, nor even pretend to hear what he says. Let the wretch clamor at the door as much as he wants to, it is not even necessary to call: Who is there? What you tell me is no doubt true, you say, but he annoys me and the uproar he makes prevents those within from hearing one another speak.
That makes no difference. Have patience, prostrate yourself before God and remain at his feet. He will understand from your very attitude, although you utter no words, that you are his and that you crave his help.
Above all, however, keep yourself well within and do not on any account open the door, either to see who it is, or to drive the importunate fellow away. Eventually he will tire of shouting and will leave you in peace.”
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.
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