In his gentle and methodical manner, St. Francis is showing Philothea how to attain prayer throughout the day. He began by showing her how to pray, then he reminded her to be consistent in having encounters with Jesus in the morning and night, and now he will show her how to start bringing Jesus into every moment so that she won’t feel like she has to runaway.
PHILOTHEA: Wow, St.Francis. Not only did you show me how to set the tone for the day with that morning exercise, but you also showed me how to put the day to rest. I have to say that doing the evening exercise has helped me get a better night’s rest. Who would have known that spiritual exercises were that important? I am so grateful that you are helping me to bring God into my life more and more. I sometimes wish I could just stay in my room to pray or go on a retreat or something…
ST. FRANCIS: On this subject, Philothea, I would require your most earnest attention to my counsels, for it involves one of the most important means towards your spiritual advancement.
PHILOTHEA: Okay. I’m ready.
ST. FRANCIS: As often as you can through the day, recall your mind to the presence of God by some one of the four methods I have mentioned [see “What is Meditation?...Four means to get in His presence...”] . Consider what He is doing, and what you are doing. You will always find His eyes fixed upon you with unchangeable love.
PHILOTHEA: Unchangeable love…oh, that is nice to hear…
ST. FRANCIS: Then say, O my God, why cannot I be ever looking up to Thee, even as Thou art ever looking down upon me?
PHILOTHEA: For sure.
ST. FRANCIS: Why dost Thou ever remember me, whilst I, alas, so often forget Thee?
ST. FRANCIS: O my soul, thy true rest is in God, art thou seeking it there only?
PHILOTHEA: Good point.
ST.FRANCIS: Just as the birds have their nests to which they can retreat, and the stag shelters himself in the thick forest, seeking shade and refreshment when the summer is hot, even so, Philothea, should our hearts daily seek a resting place on Mount Calvary or in the wounds of our Blessed Lord, or in some other spot close to Him, whither to retire on all occasions, there to rest from their worldly cares, and to find protection and strength against temptation.
PHILOTHEA: It is the only true place of rest, isn’t it St. Francis?
ST. FRANCIS: Happy the soul which can sincerely say to the Lord, “Thou art my House of defense, my strong Tower, my Shelter against the storm, and my Refuge against the heat.”
ST. FRANCIS: Remember then frequently to retire into the solitude of your heart, even whilst you are externally occupied in business or society.
PHILOTHEA: Even while I work, huh?
ST. FRANCIS: This mental solitude need not be hindered though many persons are around you, for they do but surround your body, not your heart, which should remain alone in the presence of God.
PHILOTHEA: This is a neat idea. I never thought of it that way.
ST. FRANCIS: This is what King David did throughout his numberless cares, and we find him in the Psalms perpetually exclaiming, “My God, Thou art ever before me! The Lord is ever on my right hand! To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up mine eyes! O Thou that dwellest in the heavens! Mine eyes are ever looking to the Lord.”
PHILOTHEA: This seems kind of difficult. I get very wrapped up in what I am doing. I don’t think I have the time. I mean, shouldn’t I just do it at morning and night?…I’ve always wanted to go on retreats, too. Wouldn’t that be a better time to have these little encounters?
ST. FRANCIS: We are rarely so engaged in intercourse with others as to be unable from time to time to recall our hearts into this blessed solitude. When St. Catherine ofSiena was deprived by her parents of all suitable time and place wherein to pray and meditate, Our Lord inspired her with the thought of making an oratory in her heart whither she could retire mentally, and amidst external distractions enjoy internal solitude.
PHILOTHEA: No excuses, huh…
ST. FRANCIS: And later, when the world troubled her, she was noways discomposed, saying that she could retire into the closet of her heart, and seek consolation with her Heavenly Spouse, and she afterwards recommended her spiritual children to do the same.
PHILOTHEA: So if I practice this, it should help me when trials come, so that I can stay at peace with God. I am beginning to see why this is important.
ST.FRANCIS: From time to time then, gather your spirit into the solitude of your heart, where, separate from all men, you can lay open your soul and speak face to face with God, and say with David, “I am become like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like a night-raven in the house. I have watched, and am become as a sparrow all alone on the housetop” (Psalm 101:7,8).
PHILOTHEA: That sounds great–to ever remember our Friend in our heart–but I don’t get that bird analogy.
ST. FRANCIS: In these words, we find (beyond their literal meaning, whence we gather that the pious King devoted a part of his time to solitude and spiritual contemplation) the description of three excellent kinds of retreat, as it were, three hermitages, where in our solitude we can imitate our Saviour who, on Mount Calvary, resembled the pelican of the wilderness, which revives its dying young ones with its own blood.
PHILOTHEA: Oh, wow, really…
ST. FRANCIS: By His birth, in a desolate stable, He was like the lonely owl, bemoaning our sins; and in His Ascension He resembled the sparrow flying up to heaven, which may be called the roof of the earth.
PHILOTHEA: That is really cool. The Cross, the Stable, and the Ascension, all in those birds…
ST. FRANCIS: Amidst the worry and vexations of the world, then, we may seek a retreat in any of these resting places.
PHILOTHEA: This is rather profound…I think you have released me from a major worry I had. I thought I had to go on a retreat to get a retreat, but because of my life’s circumstances, that just ain’t gonna happen. I can let go of that need to escape my life by learning how to deal with life in my heart with Jesus, by thinking of His Life and His Presence right here and now…wow, wow, wow…He will renew my strength throughout the day…
ST. FRANCIS: When the blessed Elzear, Count of Arian in Provence, had been long absent from his pious and chaste Delphine, she sent a messenger to bring her news concerning his health, by whom he replied—“I am well, dear wife, and if you would see me, seek for me in the wounded side of our sweet Jesus, for there I dwell, and there will you find me: in vain do you seek elsewhere”—truly he was a Christian knight!
PHILOTHEA: That’s right…the Saints and everyone else, they are there too…This is so awesome…I can have retreats throughout the day on top of those excellent morning and evening exercises…meditation is a hermitage in my heart…cool, cool, and cool….
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).