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A Year with the Saints -September
There is certainly nothing more useful than prayer. Therefore, we ought to entertain great esteem and love for it, and employ every effort to make it well.----St. Vincent de Paul
All the Saints have shown great love for this exercise. St. Cajetan used to spend in it eight hours in succession; St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, and St. Stephen, King of Hungary, almost all night; St. Frances of Rome, all the time that was left from her ordinary occupations; St. Rose of Lima, twelve hours a day. At a very early age, St. Aloysius Gonzaga adopted the practice, which he never gave up, of occupying in it one, two or three hours a day. When he was at court he hid himself in the woods, that he might not be interrupted, while praying, by his companions. St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, while still in the world and only nine years old, dedicated to this Divine exercise one hour, then from two to four hours daily, and finally, whole nights; and after she entered religion, she spent in it all the time which the novices had left at their disposal. St. John Berchmans, from the age of eleven, gave to it all the time that remained from his studies. Any corner of the house served him for an oratory, and he was often found by his family at midnight praying with bare knees upon the ground.
St. Philip Neri, from his childhood, gave himself to prayer so earnestly, advanced in it so far, and acquired such a habit of it that wherever he might be, his soul was always elevated to Divine things. And so, when his room was full of people, and various affairs were under discussion, he could not sometimes refrain from raising his eyes or hands to Heaven, or uttering some aspiration, though he watched over himself carefully, that he might do nothing of the sort in the presence of others. When he went out of the house he was so abstracted that someone had to warn him when a salutation was to be returned; and sometimes, when his attention had been secured with great difficulty and by pulling his robe, he would make a gesture like a person who has just been roused from a heavy sleep.
Prayer well made gives much pleasure to the Angels, and therefore it is much assisted by them; it gives great displeasure to the devils, and therefore is much persecuted and disturbed by them.----St. John Chrysostom
The same Saint says that the Angels have a high esteem for him who renders himself intimate with God by prayer; that while he is making it, they stand beside him in perfect silence; and when he has finished, they praise and applaud him.
St. Macarius, being present one night at the prayers of the Community, saw the place filled with black children who went among the monks and mocked them. They pressed two fingers on the eyes of some, and these immediately fell asleep; they laid a finger on the mouths of others, and these yawned; to some they appeared in the form of women; to others, in that of laborers at work; to these, of merchants selling goods; to those they seemed as if at play: and they produced in the minds of all a vivid picture corresponding to the outward appearance they assumed. But scarcely had they approached some, when they fell to the ground, as if violently repelled. When the Saint afterwards asked his companions what had happened to them at that time, he found they all had suffered the same temptations which he had seen.
Souls that have no habit of prayer are like a lame and paralytic body, which, though it has hands and feet, cannot use them. Therefore, to abandon prayer seems to me the same thing as to lose the straight road; for as prayer is the gate through which all the graces of God come to us, when this is closed, I do not know how we can have any.----St. Teresa
St. Teresa proved this by her own experience; for having abandoned prayer for some time, she began to fall into certain faults and defects from which, though they were slight, she could not free herself; rather, she went daily from bad to worse. She was herself obliged to say that she was on the road to perdition, to which the Lord told her she would have come, if she had not resumed prayer.
The soul that perseveres in the exercise of prayer, however many sins, temptations and falls of a thousand kinds the devil may oppose to it, may hold it for certain, after all, that the Lord will sooner or later rescue it from danger and guide it into the harbor of salvation.----St. Teresa
St. Mary of Egypt confessed to the Abbot Zosimus that for seventeen years after her conversion, she suffered constant and frightful temptation; yet because she gave herself to prayer, she never fell. The same thing happened to St. Augustine, to St. Margaret of Cortona and to many others.
A man of prayer is capable of everything; therefore, it is of great importance that missionaries should give themselves to this exercise with particular earnestness; and as without it they will gain little or no fruit, so with its help they will become much more able to move hearts and convert souls to their Creator, than by learning and oratorical skill.----St. Vincent de Paul
St. Francis Borgia was a man of much prayer, in which he would remain, as if in ecstasy, sometimes for six hours in succession, which appeared to him but a moment; and the mere sight of him in the pulpit would rouse the people to compunction.
St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure and the Blessed Albertus Magnus confessed that they gained their learning more by prayer than by study. We read of St. Thomas, in particular, that not being able to understand a text of Scripture, he had recourse to prayer, and while he was praying with great fervor there appeared to him the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and explained the difficulty in a voice so clear and distinct that it was heard by his companion Brother Reginald.
When we have to speak to others on spiritual matters, we ought first to speak of them to God in prayer, and empty ourselves of our own spirit, that we may be filled with the Holy Spirit, which alone illuminates the mind and inflames the will. Superiors, especially, should do this, and endeavor to have continual communication with God, having recourse to Him not only in doubtful and difficult cases but in everything that occurs, to learn immediately from Him what they are to teach others, in imitation of Moses, who announced to the people only what the Lord had previously taught him. Haec dicit Dominus----Thus saith the Lord.----St. Vincent de Paul
When this Saint was about to deliberate on some business, or take some resolution, or give some advice, he was accustomed before speaking and even before thinking of the matter to raise his mind to God to ask light and help. On such occasions he usually raised his eyes to Heaven, then dropped them and kept them partly closed, as if consulting with God in his own heart before replying. When matters of importance were under consideration, he desired that time should be taken, to recommend them to God. And as he trusted wholly to the Divine wisdom, and not at all to his own, he received from Heaven great lights and graces, by means of which he often discovered things which could not have been penetrated by the human intellect alone.
In grave matters, St. Ignatius never resolved upon anything without first recommending them to God in prayer.
When the Abbot Pambo was asked for advice, he used to reply, "Give me time to think." Then he made it a subject of prayer; and if he received any light from God, he communicated it; otherwise, he did not answer at all.
Mental prayer consists in weighing and understanding what we are saying, Who it is to Whom we are speaking and who we are to have the courage to speak to so great a Lord. To have these and similar thoughts is properly to make mental prayer. Their opinion, however, is not to be followed who believe that its whole essence consists in thinking, so that if they can keep their thoughts fixed by a great effort, then they consider themselves very spiritual and men of prayer; but if they are able to do this no longer, and their attention wanders a little, even to good things, they imagine they are doing nothing. No, the substance of mental prayer, in my opinion, consists in nothing but conversing with God as with a friend. And so, to speak of this thing or of that to Him, Who, we know, loves us, is mental prayer.----St. Teresa
When St. Ignatius was once traveling with his companions, each with a bundle on his shoulders, a worthy man, moved with compassion, offered to carry all their burdens, and did so. When they came to inns on their way, the Fathers tried to find some nooks, each for himself, to make their prayer; and the good man, seeing this, found a corner of his own where he remained kneeling, like them. When someone asked him what he was doing there, "I am doing nothing," he replied: "These are Saints, and I am their ass. Whatever they are doing, I would do. And I stay there offering this to the Lord." It is said that in this manner he succeeded in becoming very spiritual and attaining the gift of a very lofty contemplation.
The venerable Monseigneur de Palafox, having frequently considered in prayer who he was that was speaking, and to Whom he was speaking, that it was the most unworthy of men to the Divine Goodness, a wretched worm to God, was so filled with humiliation that he wept. It grieved him that he had the temerity to speak. "What!" he exclaimed, "a little dust of the earth, the worst, the most miserable, the most abandoned, man in the world, speak to the Eternal, the Infinite, the Boundless!" Then he was afraid, and said: "O Lord, am I to speak to Thee? Am I to have the boldness to love Thee? a God infinite, a God all-powerful, Creator of all that is created! and I nothing, and less than nothing, and, what grieves me most, wicked, and more than wicked! What is this? How can this be borne?" But again he would say: "O Lord, is it not just to love? Then ought I not to love Thee? O Lord, the worms adore Thee, and I am a worm; then I can adore Thee! O Lord, Thou camest to seek sinners----I am the greatest of sinners! O Lord, if Thou didst abase Thyself that we might adore Thee, might speak to Thee, might pray to Thee, why should I not adore Thee, speak to Thee, pray to Thee?"
If, while one is praying, he regards and considers the fact that he is conversing with God with more attention than the words that he utters, he is making vocal and mental prayer at once, which may be of much advantage to him. But if he does not consider with Whom he is speaking, nor what he is saying, it may be thought certain that, however much he may move his lips, he prays very little.----St. Teresa
A certain bishop once saw an Angel come down from Heaven, and collect the tears of a woman who was praying in a corner of the church. Astonished at this, he asked her, as they went out, what she had been doing at that time. She replied that she was reciting the Pater Noster; Ave Maria, and Credo.
After our affections have been moved in prayer, we need not multiply considerations, but stop a little and dwell upon those already made; then, from time to time, say to Our Lord some word of compunction, love or resignation, according as we feel ourselves inclined. This is the best kind of prayer.----St. Jane Frances de Chantal
St. Cyril of Alexandria made this clear and plain by a comparison. "Meditation," said the Saint, "is like striking the flint with the steel to draw out a spark; but when the spark has come and lighted the tinder, we lay aside the steel. So, by considerations and the use of the intellect, we strike the hard rock of our heart, until we kindle in it the love of God, and the desire of humility, mortification, or some other virtue; and when this is come, we rest upon it, and seek to establish ourselves in it firmly. This is certainly a better and more useful prayer than if we should make very lofty and farfetched considerations and arguments." It was in this way that the Saint, and all others who have profited by prayer, conducted it.
This truth was well understood by a good servant of God, who in his prayer, which was generally upon Our Lord's Passion, did not go very fully into speculations and reasonings. But after representing to his mind the mystery upon which he was to meditate as soon as he felt any affection such as love or gratitude towards God or sorrow for having offended Him, with the intention to offend Him no more, or perhaps a desire to imitate Christ in humility or suffering, or any similar affection----he rested upon it, and endeavored to warm and cherish it in his heart. When he perceived that it was growing cool, he tried to enkindle it again with the whole or a part of the consideration which had lighted it up at first, saying: "What a great suffering was this! Who endured it? The Son of God----the Son of God! And for Whom did He endure it? For me; and the Son of God endured to suffer so much for me! And I cannot endure to suffer a word, a little slight, for love of Him! How much has Jesus Christ done for me! and I never cease offending Him! Where are my ordinary human feelings! Ah, how sorry I am that I have grieved my God in this way! Surely I will offend Him no more! Behold, how much my good God has loved me! and I do not love Him, Who loved me so much! Ah yes, I mean to love this God, Who loves me so much!" So he continued dwelling on these affections and bringing them up afresh, and in this way became a man of great perfection.
Souls but little confirmed in piety advance well and happily when the Lord gives them consolations in prayer. But if He afterwards deprives them of these, they immediately become languid and discontented, like children who thank their mother when she gives them sweet things and cry when she takes them away, because they are children, and do not know that a long course of such things is hurtful to them and causes worms. Sensible consolations of the soul often produce the worm of self-satisfaction and that of pride, which is the poison of the soul, and corrupts every good work. This is the reason why the Lord, who gives them to us at first to encourage us, afterwards takes them away that they might not hurt us, and therefore merits no less thanks in taking them away than in giving them.----St. Francis de Sales
A great servant of God said of himself: "For forty years I have exercised myself in prayer without any interior consolation, but with much advantage. My only comfort is that I have served God at my own expense."
St. John Berchmans often experienced great consolation in prayer, but from time to time, also great aridity. In such cases he never lost his courage or cheerfulness.
When the soul finds herself oppressed by aridity and sterility, she ought to make the prayer of reverence, confidence, and conformity to the Divine Will, standing in the presence of God like a poor man before his prince, making use of such words as express a loving submission to the Divine pleasure.----St. Jane Frances de Chantal
"I should never wish," said St. Teresa, "for any other prayer than that which would cause me to grow in virtue. So I should consider that a good prayer, which was attended by many aridities, temptations, and desolations, that left me more humble. Can he be said not to pray, who is in the midst of such trials? On the contrary, if he offers them to God and bears them with conformity to His holy will, as he ought, this is prayer, and very often much better than his who wearies his brain with various reflections, and persuades himself that he has made a good prayer if he has squeezed out four tears."
St. Philip Neri considered it an excellent remedy in such case to imagine ourselves beggars, as it were, in the presence of God and the Saints, and, as such, to go now to one, now to another, to ask spiritual alms, with that feeling and earnestness which the destitute usually exhibit. He advised too, that this should be done even corporally at times by visiting the churches of different Saints, to ask some favor from each.
Whoever wishes to profit by prayers should not take account of spiritual consolations. I know by experience that the soul which has started on this road with a full determination not to consider whether the Lord gives or denies him consolations and tenderness, and really acts on this determination, has already made a great part of the journey.----St. Teresa
St. John Berchmans, when asked what remedies he made use of against aridity, replied, "I pray, I take care to be occupied, and I have patience."
St. Francis de Sales was never angry with himself on account of the desolations, aridities, or interior abandonment which he endured. He told St. Jane Frances de Chantal that when he was at prayer, he was not in the habit of reflecting as to whether he was in consolation or desolation, but if the Lord gave him any good sentiments he received them with profound reverence and simplicity; and if He gave none, he did not reflect upon it, but remained still before God, with great confidence, like a loving little child.
There is another thing which greatly afflicts those who give themselves to prayer. It is the distractions which often come and carry their thoughts, and their hearts too, hither and thither. They come at times from the immortification of the senses; at times with the soul being distracted in itself, and often because the Lord wills it, to try His servants. Now in such cases we must recall our thoughts from time to time, by reviving our faith in the presence of God, and by remaining before Him with reverence and respect. If we do not succeed in fixing them on the prescribed point, we must bear those annoyances and vexations with humility and patience. It will not be lost time, as at first sight it may appear, but such a prayer will sometimes be more fruitful than many others made with recollection and pleasure. For all the actions performed to banish or to endure these distractions, as they are done in order not to displease God, and to become better qualified for His service, are so many acts of the love of God.----St. Teresa
St. Jane Frances de Chantal gave this advice to her daughters, which she surely also practiced herself. "When one is disturbed by distractions in the time of prayer, it is well to make the prayer of patience, and to say, if possible, humbly and lovingly: "O Lord, Thou art the sole support of my soul, and all my consolation!"
St. John Chrysostom advised one who was easily carried away by distractions to arouse himself by this comparison: "What! I stand talking with a friend about news, trifles, reports, and I am all attention; now that I am conversing with God about the pardon of my sins, and the way for me to be saved, I am all torpor! Though my knees are bent, my mind goes wandering through the house and through the streets! Where is my faith? where, my reason?"
St. Aloysius Gonzaga possessed a gift of prayer that was no less worthy of wonder than of envy. We read of him that he reached such a point that he scarcely ever suffered from distractions. Once when he was giving an account of his interior, the spiritual Father asked him whether he suffered many distractions in prayer. He paused to think a moment, then answered that if he should put together all he had had for six months, he did not believe they would occupy as much time as one Ave Maria. A great gift, in truth! But the efforts he made to induce the Lord to grant it were not slight. By practicing continual mortification of all his senses; by never occupying his mind with any thoughts but such as might perfect him in piety and learning; by throwing himself at the time for prayer, wholly, with all his fervor, into it----thus he had so closed the way to distractions that they did not dare, so to speak, to approach him.
The whole aim of whoever intends to give himself to prayer ought to be to labor, to resolve, to dispose himself, with all possible diligence, to conform his will to that of God. For in this consists all the highest perfection that can be acquired in the spiritual way.----St. Teresa
It was the principal object of all the prayers of this Saint, to conform herself in everything to the Divine Will. This also was the end that St. Bernard fixed for himself at the beginning of his prayer, when he encouraged himself to make it, as we read in his Life, by the hope of knowing and doing the will of God. The same thing is related of St. Vincent de Paul, and of many other servants of God.
Prayer ought to be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering and accompanied with great reverence. One should consider that he stands in the presence of a God, and speaks with a Lord before whom the Angels tremble from awe and fear.----St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi
St. Francis de Sales, even when he was alone, remained before God through the whole time of prayer, humble, abased, composed, motionless and with singular reverence, like a loving son. St. John Berchmans remained always on his knees, with his eyes closed, his hands clasped on his bosom, without support, motionless as a rock, with a countenance full of joy and such ardor that others placed themselves near him, that they might gain fervor by looking at him.
St. Rose of Lima kept herself recollected, and so great was her attention and devotion that any object that presented itself before her distracted her no more than if she were insensible. When she went to church she placed herself in a corner, with her eyes fixed upon the tabernacle. She would remain thus for many hours immovable, while the sight of persons passing near her and the general buzz and murmur of the crowd did not disturb her at all.
At the close of their prayers, many Saints showed exterior marks of their fervor. St. Gervasius, the Bishop, was often seen with rays around his head; the face of the venerable Father John Leonardi was so changed and glowing that he seemed transformed into a Seraph; and the Abbot Silvanus was transported to such a degree that all the things of the earth seemed to him vile and abject, and he covered his eyes with his hands that he might not see them, saying: "Close, my eyes, and seek not to look at the things of the world; for there is nothing in it worthy to be gazed upon."
St. Bernard, one morning, saw an Angel going through the choir with a censer full of perfumes, censing the monks as they were at prayers. This censing produced in the hearts of the fervent a very sweet fragrance, but in those of the negligent and sleepy, a foul and sickening odor.
Try to disengage yourself from so many cares, and take a little time to think of God and to rest in Him. Enter into the secret chamber of your heart, and banish from it everything save your Creator alone and what can help you to find Him; then having closed the door, say to Him, with all your soul: "Lord, I seek Thy Divine countenance----teach me to find it!"----St. Augustine
St. Francis de Sales called the center of his soul the sanctuary of God, where nothing enters save the soul and God. This was the place of his retirement and his ordinary abode; and therefore, in his soul there was nothing but purity, simplicity, humility, and union of the spirit with its God.
When St. Bernard was entering a church to pray, he would say to his thoughts: "Remain here outside, useless thoughts and disorderly affections, and thou, my soul, enter into the presence of thy Lord!"
Those who can shut themselves up in this little heaven of the soul, where He dwells who has created Heaven and earth, may believe that they are walking in an excellent way, and that they shall not fail to drink of the water of the fountain, for in a little time they will make great progress.----St. Teresa
St. Catherine of Siena, who was very fond of retirement, was loaded by her parents with cares and employments. But she built for herself a cell in her own heart, where she remained in constant retirement, even in the midst of the most active occupations, contemplating God and conversing familiarly with Him. Thus she succeeded in gaining a firm and constant union with His Divine Majesty, and she used to say that the Kingdom of God is properly in our hearts, where He fixes His abode.
A devout maiden having become a Religious, devoted herself to a peculiarly retired life, withdrawing herself more than usual from all communication at the grate. For this reason her relatives endeavored to persuade her to rest and refresh herself with some innocent conversation; but she replied that she was constantly engaged in intercourse that kept her cheerful and happy, and it was communion with Jesus Christ.
"How much it helps me," said St. Teresa, "to remember that I have company in my heart, even God! and I remain there truly with Him."
In mental prayer, we are not obliged to employ our intellect all the time. We can occupy ourselves in the presence of God by conversing and consoling ourselves with Him, without the weariness of formal considerations and choice words. We can represent to Him simply our necessities, and the cause He has for showing us mercy. For example, when we think of some part of the Passion, it is a good thing to make a consideration first, by meditating on the pains which Our Lord suffered in it. But let not the soul weary itself by seeking too long for this; let it rather sometimes remain still with Christ, and keeping the intellect inactive if possible, let it occupy itself, in thought, in looking upon Him; let it accompany Him, ask favors of Him, humble itself and console itself with Him, and remember that He did not deserve to be there. This method of prayer has many advantages.----St. Teresa
This Saint testifies of herself that she frequently practiced this kind of prayer, and derived much advantage from it. Gerson relates that a servant of God used to say: "For forty years I have practiced mental prayer with all possible diligence, and I have found no better nor easier method of making it well, than that of presenting myself before God as a child or a beggar, poor, blind, naked and abandoned."
It was thus that St. Francis prayed, when he passed whole nights repeating and dwelling upon these few words, "My God, Who art Thou, and who am I?" Now exciting himself to love for so great a God, now to contempt for so vile and ungrateful a creature, he would sink into confusion and shame for his many failures, and ask pardon and help from the Lord.
In prayer it is well to occupy ourselves sometimes in making acts of praise and love to God; in desires and resolutions to please Him in all things; in rejoicing at His goodness and that He is what He is; in desiring His honor and glory; in recommending ourselves to His mercy; also in simply placing ourselves before Him, beholding His greatness and His mercy, and, at the same time, our own vileness and misery, and then to let Him give us what He pleases, whether it be showers or aridity; for He knows better than we what is most suitable for us. These acts do much to arouse the will and the affections. Be careful, when these sentiments come, not to leave them for the sake of finishing the ordinary meditation. For, to profit greatly in this course, the chief point is not to think much, but to love much. Therefore, whatever will arouse you to love, do it.----St. Teresa
Father Segneri the younger one day said with tears to an intimate friend, "Do not act as I have done; for, from the time I began to study theology, I always spent the hour for meditation in making various considerations to excite the affections, so that I had little time left for recommending myself to God. But finally the Lord deigned to open my eyes. Ever since, I have always tried to spend the whole time in recommending myself to Him; and if I have done any good either to myself or others, I think it is all due to this holy exercise."
We read of St. Jane Frances de Chantal that she found her delight and repose in the consideration of the vast perfections of God, and in the desire that this Supreme Good might be known and loved by all His creatures. It is related, too, of the blessed Egidius, a companion of St. Francis, that by meditating often upon the perfections, works and mercies of God, he became filled with such great love towards Him, that he could not speak of Him, nor hear Him spoken of, nor even think of Him, without immediately falling into an ecstasy.
It is well to imagine sometimes in prayer that insults or affronts are inflicted upon us, or that misfortunes fall upon us, and then to strive to accustom our hearts to pardon them and bear them all with patience, in imitation of our Saviour; for in this, much spiritual strength is gained.----St. Philip Neri
When St. Ignatius was once confined to his bed by illness, he began to think whether anything could happen which could disturb him. After having imagined many troubles and trials, he found that nothing could afflict him and take away his peace, except to see the destruction of his Society. But after meditating several times upon the point, he gained the mastery over himself to such a degree that he thought if this should happen, a quarter of an hour spent in praying would suffice to make him tranquil and resigned.
We should set a high value on meditation upon the Passion of our Redeemer. For a simple remembrance or meditation upon this is worth more than if for a whole year one should take the discipline to blood, or fast on bread and water every week, or recite the whole psalter every day.----Bl. Albertus Magnus
This was an ordinary subject of meditation with St. Francis Xavier, and a continual one with St. Casimir, even when hearing Mass, and he applied himself to it with so much intensity that he frequently became insensible. St. Bridget, too, made it almost always, and never without tears. The Empress Leonora, from long meditations on the Passion, conceived so tender a love for Jesus Crucified that if she had been equally sure, as she said, of being saved in the midst of ease and honors, she would have chosen in preference the way of the Cross, that she might in some degree resemble her Lord. Thence she drew that generosity which enabled her to conceal her illness and bodily pains, and refrain from complaint or lamentation. And if anyone, in such cases, seemed to sympathize with her, the humble servant of God would say: "This cross is very light and very dear to me; without it I could not be contented. I have very great need of it----I should otherwise be too presumptuous."
The venerable Monseigneur de Palafox often practiced the same exercise. Sometimes he represented his soul under the figure of a bird flying, and then becoming weary, and resting upon the nail which fastened Our Lord's feet to the Cross; then contemplating Him, and drinking with the greatest consolation the Blood that flowed from His Wounds. Again, he would take the figure of a bee, going as, from flower to flower, to one or another wound of Our Lord----to those of the head, the hands, the feet and especially to that of the side, into which he would enter and bathe himself. Sometimes, when weary of temporal things, such as writing or study, he would turn to the feet of Jesus, saying, "My Jesus, let me rest here!"
This devotion rose to a singular height in St. Philip Neri, who could not meditate, nor read, nor speak, nor hear of the Passion of our Saviour, without becoming pale as ashes and shedding a flood of tears. This was especially the case in Holy Week, and still more, if any mention was made of the love with which He suffered for us. One day, when he was preaching on this topic, he was overcome by extraordinary fervor and began to weep and sob so violently that he could not recover his breath, and was obliged to descend from the pulpit and leave the church. As this occurred many times, and could not be prevented, he was obliged for some years before his death to give up preaching on this subject; and he could not speak of it even in private. He even became so sensitive that at times, if he only heard the words Passion of Christ, he would weep so as to be unable to utter a word.
A similar thing is said to have happened, on a Good Friday, to the venerable Father Louis de Grenada, when he went into the pulpit to preach on the Passion. Scarcely had he uttered the words, "Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi," when he burst into a torrent of tears. After he had recovered his breath a little, he repeated the same words, but with the words the tears came back, and more abundantly than at first. Finally he made a vigorous effort to begin the sacred words for a third time; but a third time the fit of weeping returned, with such force and violence that it excited universal commotion through the audience, so that for a long time nothing was to be heard in the church but sobs and cries. And so the sermon ended without having begun.
As one friend often visits another, going to bid him good morning and good night, and looking in upon him at times during the day; so should you often visit Jesus in His Sacrament, and offer His Precious Blood many times in each visit to the Eternal Father, and you will see that your love will increase marvellously by these visits.----St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi
St. Francis Borgia made seven such visits daily, and acquired by them such familiar affection that on entering a church he could tell by the sense of smell where the Blessed Sacrament was.
Every time St. John Berchmans went out to take a walk he was careful to visit some church, whether it was a time of Exposition in it or not. On such occasions his recollection was so profound that he did not notice when his companion arose to go out, so that the latter was often obliged to come back from the church door and arouse him, and even call him aloud by name, so great was his abstraction.
St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi visited the Blessed Sacrament 33 times a day, to her great happiness and advantage; and St. Wenceslaus, Duke of Bohemia, used to pay visits to the churches barefooted, by night, through snow and ice, so that the pavements were stained with his blood.
St. Vincent de Paul made visits as often as he was able, and the rest that he took from his grave occupations consisted in staying, sometimes for hours, before the sacred Tabernacle. He remained there with an aspect so humble that it seemed as if he would willingly have sunk to the center of the earth, and with an exterior as modest and devout as if he were beholding the person of Jesus Christ with his own eyes, so that he inspired with devotion all who beheld him. When he had difficult business to transact, he had recourse, like Moses, to the sacred Tabernacle, to consult the oracle of truth. On leaving his house, he went to the chapel to ask a blessing, and on his return, to give thanks for the graces received and to humble himself for the faults he had perhaps committed. He did this not as a matter of form, but with true religious feeling.
We must not neglect to exercise ourselves in self-knowledge, for this is of great importance in the contemplative way. But this should be done with due regard to time and measure. I mean, that after a soul has yielded and surrendered itself, and clearly understands that of itself it has no good thing, and is ashamed and confounded to stand before so great a King, and sees how little it returns for so many gifts----what necessity is there, under these circumstances, to occupy it and make it spend more time, in this? We must let it pass to other things which the Lord places before it, so that it may come forth from itself, and fly to consider the greatness of its God.----St. Teresa
From the time St. Francis Borgia first applied himself to prayer, he spent two hours every morning in self-examination. By this time he arrived at so humble an opinion of himself that he was astonished that everyone did not treat him with contempt.
St. Bonaventure tells of St. Francis that he used to pass whole days and nights in this brief prayer: "My Lord and my God, Who art Thou, and who am I?" and on such occasions he was often seen to be lifted from the ground, and surrounded by a bright halo.
A story is told in the Lives of the Fathers of a young monk, who said to an old one: "Father, my heart tells me that I am good." But the old man answered: "Whoever does not see his sins, always thinks himself good; but when one sees them, his heart cannot persuade him of any such thing. It is necessary, then, to strive to know ourselves."
We read of the Abbot Isidore that one of his disciples entered his cell one day, and finding him in tears, asked the cause. "I am weeping," he answered, "for my sins." "But, Father, you have no sins," said the disciple. "My son," returned the Abbot, "if God should reveal my sins to men, the world would be filled with terror."
A vision recorded by the venerable Sister Maria Crucifixa is well adapted to illustrate this point. "It was permitted me to enter," she writes, "by a spiritual glance, into the most secret recesses of the human heart. I was amazed at the sight of wonders of human ugliness and deformity, as I was shown the birthplace of sin. It appeared like a horrible subterranean cavern, wherein swarmed constantly vast troops of animals and insects, great and small, all frightful and loathsome. These typified mortal and venial sins and imperfections. By this terrible sight I penetrated the deep abyss of knowledge of myself and of my extreme misery, so that I perceived myself to be deserving only of scorn and ignominy, for I appeared like a mass of black and greasy soot, like foul and corrupt refuse, or an ugly and dangerous monster, which no one could behold without taking to flight." She had this vision on the day of her profession, and this sight of herself made so strong an impression upon her soul that it lasted a whole year. All this time she believed that her companions saw her as she saw herself, and was astonished at their self-control and virtue, and could not understand why they did not all abhor and fly from her. "I would willingly have buried myself alive," she writes, "if I could thus have hidden from their eyes my intolerable appearance. Therefore when I received wrongs and insults I thought they rather praised and honored me, for I felt that they were treating me better than I deserved, and it was impossible for me to think otherwise. So that if they had told me that I was ugly, stupid, without talent or wit, I should certainly have wondered and said: 'Oh how little you know of my miseries! I am insufferable in the eyes of God by my extreme destitution, and you wonder that I am not rich in good qualities! What would a begger do, who, while barely covered with rags, should hear himself reproved for not having a gold chain and a badge of knighthood? What would he do on hearing such reproofs? Instead of being angry, he would be amazed, and would say: I have not so much as a shirt, and you wonder that I am without a gold chain and a badge! In charity, give me a bit of bread, for I have nothing to do with chains and badges.' "
The great work of our perfection is born, grows, and maintains its life by means of two small but precious exercises----aspirations and spiritual retirement. An aspiration is a certain springing of the soul towards God, and the more simple it is, the more valuable. It consists in simply beholding what He is, and what He has done and is doing for us; and it should excite the heart, as a consequence, to acts of humility, love, resignation or abandonment, according to circumstances. Now, these two exercises have an incredible power to keep us in our duty, to support us in temptation, to lift us up promptly after falls and to unite us closely to God. Besides, they can be made at any time or place, and with all possible ease; therefore, they ought to be as familiar to us as the inspiration and expiration of air from our lungs.----St. Francis de Sales
Every time that the clock struck, St. Ignatius collected his thoughts and raised his soul to God. Though he might happen to be in the company of men of rank, St. Vincent de Paul always uncovered his head when the clock struck, and raised some devout aspiration to Heaven. At other times, he often uttered some devout ejaculation or aspiration, most frequently this one: "O my Lord! O Divine Goodness! when wilt Thou give me the grace to be entirely Thine, and to love only Thee?" St. Bartholomew the Apostle adored God by making a hundred genuflections each day, and as many in the night. St. Thomas Aquinas used this kind of prayer many times a day----when he was at Mass, when he was studying, when he left his cell or returned to it and at all odd moments.
Cassian says that the monks of Egypt frequently employed this brief ejaculation, which is full of humility and confidence: "Deus, in adjutorium meum intende. Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina----O God, incline unto mine aid. O Lord, make haste to help me."
Monseigneur de Palafox, the Bishop, practiced it on all occasions. When anything seemed doubtful, he turned to God and said, "O Lord, what shall we do in this matter? counsel me, guide me Thyself, in danger. O Lord, rule me; let me not be presumptuous, but humble; do not permit me to stray a hair's breadth from what pleases Thee." When through human frailty he fell into some fault, or said or did some thing that was not suitable, he would say, "O Lord, raise me up! What is this, O Lord? Is it possible that I am to be always the same? Hold me, that I may hold to Thee!" Often, too, he would say in his heart: "I desire nothing, I wish for nothing, I cling to nothing, except Thyself, my God and my All! Glory? it is Thine, and I seek it only for Thee! Honor? all my honor, my Jesus, is Thy honor. Satisfaction? my only satisfaction and pleasure is that Thou art satisfied and pleased"; and so on.
It is a great help to humility to accustom ourselves to draw from all things reflections suited to raise our hearts to God, by beholding in them all His perfections, or else the love He bears us, and our obligation to serve Him faithfully.----Scupoli
Such was the practice of St. Francis de Sales. On beholding a beautiful landscape, he would say, "We are fields cultivated by God." If he saw magnificent and richly adorned churches, "We are the living temples of God; then why are our souls not as well adorned with virtues?" If he looked at flowers, "When will the time come that our flowers shall change into fruit?" If he saw rare and valuable pictures, "Nothing is as beautiful as the soul made in the image of God." If he walked in a garden, "When will that of our soul be dotted with flowers, filled with fruit, well arranged, and free from dust and rubbish?"
If he came to a fountain, "Oh, when shall we drink our fill from the fountains of the Saviour?" If to rivers, "When shall we go to God, as these waters do to the sea?" Thus he made use of all visible things to raise his soul to God.
There is a certain method of prayer which is both very easy and very useful. It consists in accustoming our soul to the presence of God, in such a way as to produce in us a union with Him which is intimate, simple, and perfect. Oh what a precious kind of prayer is this!----St. Francis de Sales
In all his actions and exercises, Rusbruchio kept his mind elevated to God so that, he confessed, he had obtained from the Lord this special favor, that he could without difficulty immerse himself at will in a most sweet contemplation of the Divinity, whether he was alone in his room or abroad in company with others.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga found nothing easier than to keep his mind constantly united to God, so that he had as much difficulty in turning his thoughts from Him, as others have in keeping them fixed in that direction.
If we persist in walking for a year in the presence of God, at the end of the year we shall find that we have reached unconsciously the summit of perfection.----St. Teresa
It is narrated in the Lives of the Fathers, that a holy Abbot instructed one of his novices that he should take care never to lose sight of God, and think of Him as always present. "For," said he, "this is the rule of rules, and the one which the Lord taught to Abraham, when He said, 'Ambula coram Me, et esto perfectus----Walk before Me, and be perfect.' " This was so impressed on the mind of the young man that he practiced it wonderfully well; and from the reckless youth that he was, he became a monk so perfect that when he died a few years after, he was seen to fly directly, and with great glory, into Heaven.
The greater part of the faults which Religious commit against their Rules, and in all the exercises of piety, arise from easily losing sight of the presence of God.----St. Francis de Sales
It is said of St. John Berchmans that he never lost sight of the presence of God, that he practiced it with rare facility and naturalness, and what is more wonderful, he was free from absence of mind, so that he was always attentive to whatever he was doing and ready and prompt to assist others. He performed his spiritual exercises, too, with so much devotion that he was never seen to transgress the smallest of his Rules, nor commit a fault of any kind.
There is a certain method of practicing the presence of God, by which, if the soul chooses, she may remain always in prayer, and constantly enkindled and inflamed with the love of God. This consists in realizing, in the midst of our occupations, that we are doing the will of God in each, and in rejoicing and being glad that it is so.----St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
St. Francis de Sales, for many years before his death, had scarcely any time for prayer, as he was overwhelmed with other occupations. One day St. Jane Frances de Chantal asked him whether he had made his meditation. "No," he replied, "but I am doing what is worth as much." In fact, he endeavored to keep himself continually united with God, and he used to say that in this world we must make a prayer of works and activities. Thus his life was a continual prayer, for he did not content himself with merely enjoying a delicious union with God in prayer, but equally loved to do His will.
The highest and most perfect prayer is contemplation. But this is altogether the work of God, as it is supernatural and above our powers. The soul can only prepare itself for this prayer, and can do nothing in it. The best preparation is to live humbly, and to give ourselves in earnest to the acquisition of virtues, and especially, of fraternal charity and the love of God; to have a finn resolution to do the will of God in all things; to walk in the way of the Cross, and to destroy self-love, which is a wish, on our part, to please ourselves rather than God.----St. Teresa
This Saint fulfilled all this with great perfection, and for that reason she was endowed with such lofty contemplation and rare gifts.
When St. Anthony the Abbot was asked how he could pass whole nights in prayer, he answered: "I never knew in what true contemplation consists as long as I had regard to myself. But when I succeeded in purifying my mind from every disorderly motion and separating my heart from every earthly affection, then I began to enjoy that admirable fruit of the Divine Will which purified souls are wont to taste in contemplation."
The following words came from a soul that had received much light: "I know by experience that to learn mystic theology, it is more useful to study the crucifix than books; that is, instead of occupying ourselves with much reading, we ought to labor in the practice of virtue, in the imitation of Jesus Christ, in attention to purity of life, to prayer, and to fidelity in doing and suffering whatever God requires of us, as well as in dying to ourselves."