PHILOTHEA: St. Francis, I have been doing the meditations like you taught me, but now I am not getting anything. I don’t feel any better when I pray. I feel nothing.
ST.FRANCIS: Should you find neither delight nor consolation in meditation, do not be disheartened, but have recourse occasionally to vocal prayer, tell your trouble to the Lord, confess your unworthiness, and say with Jacob, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me”; or with the Canaanitish woman, “Yea, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.”
PHILOTHEA: Okay, so keep calling on the lord…try some humility…Our Father…What else?
ST. FRANCIS: Else take a book, and read attentively until your mind is quickened and reassured: or stir up your heart by the help of some outward action or gesture—prostrating yourself, crossing your hands upon your breast, embracing the crucifix (taking it for granted that you are alone).
PHILOTHEA: Make sure I am alone to get my body involved in praying…okay…and if there is still nothing?
ST. FRANCIS: But if these things avail you nothing, do not be disheartened, however great your dryness, only continue to present yourself devoutly before God.
PHILOTHEA: You mean, my faith is not gone if I cannot feel something good coming from prayer?
ST. FRANCIS: How many courtiers daily appear before their sovereign without a hope of speaking with him, content to be seen by him, and offer their homage? So, Philothea, we must pray purely and simply in order to do homage to God, and show our faithfulness.
ST. FRANCIS: If it pleases His Divine Majesty to speak with us, to hold converse with us by His holy inspirations and inward consolations, it is doubtless a great honor and unspeakable delight…
PHILOTHEA: You can say that again…that is why I feel like something is wrong…
ST.FRANCIS: [I]f He vouchsafes not so to favor us, neither speaking, nor even appearing to perceive us, as though we were not in His Presence, yet we must not therefore leave it [prayer/devotion]: on the contrary, we must remain devoutly and meekly before His sovereign goodness, and then He will assuredly accept our patience, and observe our assiduity and perseverance, so that when we come again before Him, He will look favorably on us, and reward us with His consolations, bidding us taste the sweetness of devout prayer.
ST. FRANCIS: But if not, let us rest contented, remembering that we are unworthy even of the honor of standing before Him and in His sight.
PHILOTHEA: And back to humility….I think you are right…He could be strengthening those things in me that are weak—my humility because I think I deserve delight every time I pray to the point where it can become an addiction and distraction AND patience because I want things right now. But you want me to not be afraid of that “dryness” as you call it, and continue forward being faithful to God. Thank you, St. Francis…Phew…
Look for the next conversation between St. Francis and Philothea, coming soon…
**from An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (Tan Classics, 2010).