The length of your prayers should be measured by the amount of your work, and inasmuch as it has pleased our Lord to place you in the kind of life in which you are perpetually distracted, you must accustom yourself to making short prayers, but you must also make them so habitual that you will never omit them except upon the rarest occasions.
In the morning, when you rise, you should bend your knees before God to adore him, make the Sign of the Cross, and ask him for his blessing for the entire day; this can be accomplished in the amount of time it takes to say one or two Our Fathers.
If you go to Mass, it will suffice for you to hear it devoutly and attentively. In the evening, before the meal or just after it, you can easily find the time to make a few fervent prayers, throwing yourself before our Lord for as long as it takes to say one Our Father — for there can hardly be an occasion that holds you so bound that you cannot tear away such a little bit of leisure.
At night, before retiring, you can, while you do other things and wherever you may be, pass under review what you have done during the day, in outline, and then, as you go to bed, throw yourself on your knees and ask God’s pardon for the faults you have committed, and pray him to watch over you and give you his blessing. This you can do in short compass, in about the time of a Hail Mary.
Above all, during the day, you should bring your heart back to God and say to him a few brief words of fidelity and love.
Perseverance in Worship
You should firmly believe that you harbor no lasting desires contrary to the will of God — that is, desires for venial sin — even though certain imperfections and bad inclinations surprise you from time to time.
Do not cease receiving Communion. No longer be in doubt, but employ your heart in being faithful to the exercise of poverty amid wealth, meekness and calm amid clamor, and resignation to all that can befall you in God’s providence. When we have God, what else can we possibly need?
It is better for you to assist at Mass every day than not to do so on the pretext of having more time to pray at home. It is better not only because the real presence of the humanity of our Lord cannot be replaced by his presence in our minds, but also because the Church strongly desires that we attend Mass. We can consider this desire as advice that to follow is a kind of obedience when we can do so rightly and, by our good example, be of use to others.
A Devout Life
You wish to have a devout and peaceful spirit, which is not a small thing to wish for. The virtue of devotion is nothing other than a general inclination and readiness of the spirit to do what is pleasing to God. It is that opening of the heart of which David spoke: “I will run in the way of your commandments when you have opened up my heart” (Ps. 119:32, following de Sales’s reading of the Vulgate). Those who are simply upright men and women walk in the way of the Lord, but the devout run along it, and when they are very devout, they fly. Here are a few rules that you must follow in order to be truly devout.
You must before all things observe the general commandments of God and of the Church, which are established for all faithful Christians, and without which it is not possible to have any devotion. Beyond the general commandments, you must carefully keep the particular commandments that relate to your vocation. Whoever fails to do so, even if he were to raise the dead, will fall into a state of sin and, if he die, be damned. For instance, bishops are commanded to visit their flock, to teach, reprove, and console them. If I were to remain at prayer throughout the week, fast my whole life, and yet neglect these prescribed duties, I would die. If a person in the married state were to work a miracle but not fulfill the duties of marriage or care for his children, he would be “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
These, then, are the two kinds of commandments that must be carefully kept as the foundation of all devotion. Yet the virtue of devotion does not consist in merely observing them, but in observing them promptly and willingly. The following considerations will help you to acquire this readiness.
The first is that God so wishes it, and we exist to do his will. Alas, every day we pray that “his will be done,” and yet when it comes to our doing it, how difficult it is! We offer ourselves to God so often, we say to him, “Lord, I am yours” (cf. Ps. 119:94), and then when he wants to make use of us, we are so cowardly! How can we call ourselves his if we do not want to bend our will to his?
The second consideration is to think about the nature of God’s sweet, gracious, and mild commandments, not only the general ones, but still more those pertaining to our vocations. What could cause them to annoy us? Nothing, except our own will, which wants to reign no matter the cost. We desire things when they are not commanded and reject the same things when they are. From out of a hundred thousand delicious fruits, Eve chose the single one that was forbidden to her, and no doubt she would not have done so had it been permissible. In a word, we wish to serve God, but according to our will, not his. To the extent to which we have less self will, we shall more easily observe the will of God.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from St. Francis de Sales’ Roses Among Thorns, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.