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Francis De Sales

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Day 38: Methods of Prayer

Many spiritual writers offer suggestions concerning methods in prayer. Francis de Sales, very much influenced by his own experience of St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, offers some suggested structures and formats for the practice of meditation and prayer. He suggests six steps as a guide to moving through a time of prayer.

  1. Place yourself in the presence of God. Remember that God is near, not for away. He is in the very depth of your heart, your spirit. "Begin all your prayers, whether mental or vocal, in the presence of God. Keep to this rule without any exception and you will quickly see how helpful it will be."
  2. Ask the Lord to help you pay attention to Him, to open yourself up to His Word and presence.
  3. Pick out a passage from Scripture, a scene from the Gospel, a mystery of the Faith, or a passage from some spiritual reading. If the subject matter you have chosen lends itself to it, picture yourself in the same place as the action or event that is happening. Use your imagination to place yourself in the midst of the scene near Jesus, with the disciples.
  4. Think about what you've chosen to meditate on in such a way as to increase your love for the Lord or for virtue. The purpose is not primarily to study or know more, but to increase your love for God and the life of discipline.
  5. If good affections should rise up - gratitude for God's mercy, awe at His majesty, sorrow for sin, desire to be more faithful, for example - yield to them.
  6. Come to some practical resolutions concerning changes you would like to make as a response to these affections. For example, resolve to be more faithful in prayer, or more ready to forgive, or more eager to share the faith with others, or more determined to resist sin, in as practical and concrete a way as you can determine.

Most of all, after you rise from meditation you must remember the resolutions and decisions you have made and carefully put them into effect on that very day. This is the great fruit of meditation and without it meditation if often not only useless but even harmful. Virtues meditated on but not practiced sometimes inflate our minds and courage and we think that we are really such as we have thought and resolved to be.

Francis recommends that we end the time of meditation-prayer with expressions of gratitude to God for the light and affections He has given us in our time of prayer; then, an offering of ourselves to the Lord in union with the offering of Jesus; and thirdly, a time of intercession for our self and others. At the same time, Francis doesn't intend that the structure or method he proposes be followed mechanically if the Holy Spirit draws us to something different.

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Day 34: Are you willing to fight?

Realistically, St. Francis de Sales says, there will probably be falls along the way, but God can use even these to deepen our humility.

Imperfections and venial sins cannot deprive us of spiritual life; it is lost only by mortal sin. Fortunately for us, in this war we are always victorious provided that we are willing to fight.

Francis, like many of the saints, wants to encourage us on the spiritual journey. This is a journey on which we are all called to embark; and God will give us the grace to make progress on this journey, if only we are willing to persevere, to fight the good fight.

As for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance. (Lk. 8:15)

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Day 33: affection for sin weakens our spirit

To nourish affection for venial sin weakens the powers of our spirit, stands in the way of God's consolations, and opens the door to temptations.  St. Francis de Sales assures us that inadvertent venial sins and faults are "not a matter of any great moment" if as soon as they occur we reject them, and refuse to entertain any affection for them Francis make clear that the process of purification will continue throughout our life, and so "we must not be disturbed at our imperfections, since for us perfection consist in fighting against them."

Hatred for sin is important.  Confidence in the mercy of God is even more important.

May the Lord, who is good, grant pardon to everyone who has resolved to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, though he be not clean as holiness requires. (2 Chron. 30:18b-19)

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Day 30: The Affection for Sin

One of St. Francis De Sales' most helpful insights is his teaching on the affection for sin. He points out that oftentimes we might turn away from serious sins in our life and try hard not to commit them, but still nurture affection for such sin, which greatly slows down our spiritual progress and disposes us to future falls. He points out that although the Israelites left Egypt in effect, many did not leave it in affection; and the same is true for many of us. We leave sin in effect, but reluctantly, and look back at it fondly, as did Lot's wife when she looked back on the doomed city of Sodom.

Francis gave an amusing but telling example of how a doctor, for the purpose of health, might forbid a patient to eat melons lest he die. The patient therefore abstains from eating them, but "they begrudge giving them up, talk about them, would eat them if they could, want to smell them at least, and envy those who can eat them. In such a way weak, lazy penitents abstain regretfully for a while from sin. They would like very much to commit sins if they could do so without being damned. They speak about sin with a certain petulance and with liking for it and think those who commit sins are at peace with themselves."

Francis says this is like the person who would like to take revenge on someone "if only he could" or a woman who doesn't intend to commit adultery but still wishes to flirt. Such souls are in danger. Besides the real danger of falling into serious sin again, having such a "divided heart" makes the spiritual life wearisome and the "devout" life of prompt, diligent, and frequent response to God's will and inspirations virtually impossible.

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