On Prayer and the Principal Exercises of Piety

  1. True prayer is only another name for the love of God. Its excellence does not consist in the multitude of our words; for our Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him. The true prayer is that of the heart, and the heart prays only for what it desires. To pray, then is to desire—but to desire what God would have us desire.
  2. How few there are who pray! For how few are they who desire what is truly good! Crosses, external and internal humiliation, renouncement of our own wills, the death of self and the establishment of God’s throne upon the ruins of self love, these are indeed good. Not to desire these, is not to pray. To desire them seriously, soberly, constantly, and with reference to all the details of life, this is true prayer.
  3. On the other hand, that heart in which the true love of God and true desire exist, never ceases to pray. It ceaselessly attracts his mercies; it is that Spirit which, according to St. Paul, helpeth our infirmities and maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Rom. viii. 26.)
  4. Love desires of God that he would give us what we need, and that He would have less regard to our frailty than to the purity of our intentions. Love leads us on, abandons us to all the operations of grace, puts us entirely at the disposal of God’s will, and thus prepares us for all his secret designs.
  5. Then we will all things and yet nothing. What God gives, is precisely what we should have desired to ask; for we will whatever He wills and only that. Thus, this state contains all prayer: it is a work of the heart which includes all desire. The Spirit prays within us for those very things which the Spirit himself wills to give us.
  6. There are two principal points of attention necessary for the preservation of this constant spirit of prayer which unites us with God: we must continually seek to cherish it, and we must avoid everything that tends to make us lose it
  7. We should choose those works for reading which instruct us in our duty and in our faults; which, while they point out the greatness of God, teach us what is our duty to Him; the tree must bear fruit; we can only judge of the life of the root by its fecundity.
  8. The first effect of a sincere love is an earnest desire to know all that we ought to do to gratify the object of our affection. Any other desire is a proof that we love ourselves under a pretence of loving God.
  9. Seasons of secret prayer must be regulated by the leisure, the disposition, the condition, and the inward impulse of each individual. We should be conversant not only with all the mysteries of Jesus Christ, and the truths of his Gospel, but also with everything they ought to operate in us for our regeneration.
  10. We may acquire the habit of forming no judgment except in their light; that they may be to us our only guide in matters of practice, as the rays of the sun are our only light in matters of perception. When these truths are once, as it were, incorporated in us, then it is that our praying begins to be real and fruitful.
  11. When his celestial rays begin to shine within us, then we see in the true light; then there is no truth to which we do not instantaneously assent, as we admit, without any process of reasoning, the splendor of the sun, the moment we behold his rising beams. Our union with God must be the result of our faithfulness in doing and suffering all his will.
  12. Our meditations should become every day deeper and more interior.
  13. We behold a truth, we love it and repose upon it; it strengthens the soul and detaches us from ourselves; let us dwell upon it in peace as long as possible.
  14. As to the manner of meditating, it should not be subtle, nor composed of long reasonings; simple and natural reflections derived immediately from the subject of our thoughts are all that is required.
  15. As to a method in prayer, each one must be guided by his own experience. A method is intended to assist; if it be found to embarrass, instead of assisting, the sooner it is discarded the better.
  16. As a general rule, those truths which we highly relish, and which shed a degree of practical light upon the things which we are required to give up for God, are leadings of Divine Grace, which we should follow without hesitation.
  17. Our intercourse with God resembles that with a friend; at first, there are a thousand things to be told, and as many to be asked; but after a time, these diminish, while the pleasure of being together does not. Everything has been said, but the satisfaction of seeing each other, of feeling that one is near the other, or reposing in the enjoyment of a pure and sweet friendship, can be felt without conversation; the silence is eloquent and mutually understood.
  18. Thus it is that in prayer, our communion with God becomes a simple and familiar union, far beyond the need of words. But let it be remembered that God himself must alone institute this prayer within us
  19. As regards retirement and attending upon ordinances, we must be governed by the advice of someone in whom we have confidence. Our own necessities, the effect produced upon us, and many other circumstances, are to be taken into consideration.
  20. True union with God is to do his will without ceasing, in spite of all our natural disinclination and in every duty of life, however disagreeable or mortifying.
  21. As precautions against wanderings we must avoid close and intimate intercourse with those who are not pious, especially when we have been before led astray by their infectious maxims.
  22. Would you judge of a man? says the Holy Spirit. (Prov. xiii. 20.) Observe who are his companions. How can he who loves God, and who loves nothing except in and for God, enjoy the intimate companionship of those who neither love, nor know God, and who look upon love to Him as a weakness?
  23. I am well aware that we cannot, nay, that we ought not to break with those friends to whom we are bound by esteem of their natural amiability, by their services, by the tie of sincere friendship, or by the regard consequent upon mutual good offices. We may see them in private, distinguish them from our less intimate friends, and confide to them those matters in which their integrity and friendship enable them to give us good advice, and to think with us,
  24. How perilous is our state without this precaution! If we do not, from the first, boldly adopt all measures to render our piety entirely free and independent of our unregenerate friends, it is threatened with a speedy downfall. Those who have not this estimable character, should be sacrificed at once; blessed are we, when a sacrifice that ought to cost us so little, may avail to give us so precious a security for our eternal salvation!
  25. Reserve the necessary time that we may see God alone in prayer. Those who have stations of importance to fill, have generally so many indispensable duties to perform, that without the greatest care in the management of their time, none will be left to be alone with God. The hours that belong to God Prayer, prayer! this is our only safety. “Blessed be God which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.” (Ps. 116:20.) And to be faithful in prayer it is indispensable that we should dispose all the employments of the day, with a regularity nothing can disturb.

The Inner Life – Francois Fenelon

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