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ON PRAYER AND THE DIVINE OFFICE.
OUR Lord said to the virgin Catherine . “The holy desire of the soul, that is to say, good-will, is a continual prayer, because it has the power of prayer. And, whatsoever man does for the love of God and of his neighbour, may be called prayer, since love is accounted as prayer. Good-will and pious affections should, however, at certain seasons and hours, be raised to Me by actual devotion. Know, O daughter, that the soul that perseveres in humble and faithful prayer, attains to all virtue. Wherefore, on no account, is the duty of prayer to be neglected or omitted because of any difficulties, whether they proceed from the illusions of Satan, or from human frailty, or from unclean thoughts, or from inordinate carnal motions of the flesh. For the devil often strives more during the time of prayer than at other times to infest the soul with various images and phantoms. And he then cunningly suggests to him who prays, that such a prayer avails him nothing, since he ought to have no thoughts but of his prayer. The malignant enemy strives to persuade him of this, in order that he may incur weariness and confusion of mind, and so be led to omit the exercise of prayer, which is the strongest defence against all enemies. Oh! how useful to the soul, and how pleasing to Me is that prayer which man makes with love, in the thought of his own vileness and of My goodness.”224
Again, our Lord said to St. Catherine: “A man sometimes resolves to recite a certain number of Psalms, or other prayers, to which he is not obliged by duty or obedience; if, in the mean time, I should benignantly visit his soul, he abandons the grace of My visitation, that he may fulfil the number of prayers which he had intended in his own mind to say. But he ought not to do thus, nor to believe the devil who wishes to deceive him. Let him, therefore, when he feels himself specially visited by Me, immediately follow My grace, and not impede it by the prayers which he had proposed to recite. He may, however, read them afterwards, if he has leisure; but if he cannot conveniently do this, let him not be in any way distressed, nor allow his mind to be disturbed. He obtains little fruit from prayer who looks only to the utterance of many words.”
It was once shown in spirit to St. Gertrude, that the words of prayer recited with attention of mind and holy devotion, are, as it were, brilliant jewels or most lovely flowers; but that the words of prayers said negligently, and, from habit, without earnest devotion, are like dull gems and faded flowers. And when the same virgin Gertrude had read a certain verse two hundred and twenty-five times, saluting Jesus, she understood that each salutation was presented to the Lord in the likeness of the melodious sound of a musical instrument; but those salutations which she had read with devout attention gave out most sweet harmony, while those which she had read less accurately yielded lower and less joyful sounds.225
Let him who prays take care lest his mind be distracted, voluntarily and by his own fault, through negligence; let him also beware of giving up prayer, because he may perhaps feel no- consolation in it. As distractions which occur against the will of him who prays take not away the fruit and utility of the prayer, so neither does aridity of heart, while a good intention remains. Hence our Lord once said to St. Gertrude: “I wish my elect to be convinced that their good works and exercises are very pleasing to Me, when they serve Me at their own cost. And those do Me service at their own cost, who, although they taste not the sweetness of devotion, yet faithfully go through their prayers and other pious exercises, trusting in My compassion, that I shall willingly and gladly receive them. There are many whose merit would be greatly diminished if sweetness and interior consolation were granted them, nor would it avail for their salvation.”
Man sometimes labours under such inconstancy of mind, that when he wishes to elevate his heart to God in prayer or meditation, or to fix it on any pious thought, he is presently driven away from it. This is treated of by St. Augustine, saying: “Prayer is often impeded by vain thoughts, so that hardly has the heart fixed itself on God, desiring to remain so fixed, than it flies off as it were from itself, and can not find a secure place in which to enclose itself, nor bars to restrain its Might and its wanderings. There is scarcely one persevering prayer among many. And God bears with the hearts of those who pray and 226admit various thoughts, not to say thoughts that are sometimes evil, perverse, and hostile to God. Wherefore, because His mercy is great, let us say to Him: “Rejoice the heart of Thy servant, because I have lifted up my heart unto Thee, Lord. And how have I lifted it up? As I was able, as Thou hast given me strength.” Thus speaketh St. Augustine. Let not, therefore, him who is of good will be disquieted without measure, because of the unsteadiness of his thoughts; but let him peacefully do what is in his power, so long as he humbly and patiently perseveres in prayer; for thus will he be most acceptable to God. Hence, the Lord taught the blessed Gertrude that when any one in prayer, meditation, or contemplation, fixes his mind and his thoughts holily on God, he then presents to God a throne of glory, as it were a mirror of marvellous splendour, in which the Lord, the Giver of all good, beholds with delight His own image. And when man, from impediments and the instability of his heart, finds difficulty in doing this, the more earnestly and patiently he labours, the more fair and resplendent does that mirror appear in the sight of the adorable Trinity and of all the Saints. But too great vehemence must be guarded against, lest the head should be injured, and the spirit disturbed.
When St. Bridget was harassed by temptations in prayer, Mary the Mother of God said to her: “The devil with malicious watchfulness seeks to hinder the good from praying. But do thou, daughter, what ever temptation may assail thee in prayer, persist in 227thy desire or good will, and in thy holy endeavours, as best thou canst; because thy pious desires and endeavours will be reputed as effectual prayer. Even if thou art not able to cast out the base and evil thoughts that come into thy mind, yet for those endeavours thon shalt receive a crown in heaven; thus these troubles will profit thee, provided thou consentest not to the temptation, but art displeased with whatever is unbecoming.”
It was revealed by our Lord to St. Gertrude, that when any one commends himself to the prayers of another, trusting that by his merits he will obtain divine grace, the merciful Lord, without doubt, blesses him according to his faith and desire, even if he to whom he had commended himself should neglect to pray devoutly for him,
A certain very simple man, who scarcely knew how to read the Lord’s prayer, asked holy counsel of St. Bridget, and as St. Bridget was praying for him Christ said to her: The simplicity of this man is more pleasing to me than the wisdom of the proud. Therefore, thou shalt instruct him to continue his work and his praiseworthy habits; and I will reward him. His good-will is very acceptable to Me. He has learnt from My Spirit the true wisdom, that is to say, the love of God, through which he keeps the law, and all the divine commandments. I say to thee, daughter, whosoever with faith and a perfect will says these words,—Jesus have mercy on me,—is more acceptable to Me than one who reads a thousand verses without attention.” The Lord likewise said to 228St. Gertrude: “Although the souls in purgatory derive great profit from what is done for their relief by reciting the Office or Vespers of the Dead, and other prayers; yet a prayer uttered in very few words, with burning love, sometimes avails them more and obtains for them greater relief.” But no one should, on account of these words of our Lord, omit the long prayers which he is under obligation to say, unless he is forced to do so by real necessity. For it is right always to prefer to other exercises those prayers to which we are bound by duty and obedience, and which can well be said.
Once also, when St. Gertrude was confined to her bed by illness, and was unable to say her Office, or even, according to her desire, to say the whole angelical salutation in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she yet endeavoured often to repeat at least these words, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” (St. Luke i. 28). Whereupon, the Virgin Mother of God appeared to her, clothed in a mantle marvellously adorned with golden flowers, which represented the salutations recited by her with difficulty; and, in them shone forth brilliantly the pious affection with which she had desired to salute the glorious Virgin. There shone forth also the holy discretion with which she had recited those words only, when she felt herself unable to do more; and the entire confidence with which she trusted that the Mother of our Lord would graciously accept this her little service.
It was revealed to St. Mechtildis that he who has 229to recite the canonical Hours, will do it with great advantage, if he unites his task of the Hours with the prayer of Christ. Therefore, when he is about to begin the Hours which he is obliged to recite, he may pray in this or in like manner, either in his heart or with his lips; “O Lord Jesus, I desire for Thy honour humbly to obey, faithfully to serve Thee, and purely to praise Thee, in union with that most perfect attention with which Thou didst praise and pray to Thy Father on earth; help me by Thy grace, for I can do nothing without Thee.” Thus his exercise will be wonderfully ennobled, and will be highly pleasing to God, for it will be reputed to be one with the prayer of Christ, as a little water mixed with wine is counted to be wine.
When the same virgin, Mechtildis, was praying for a certain person who had complained to her that he often recited the canonical Hours thinking, through human infirmity, of other things; she received from our Lord this answer; “Let him for whom thou prayest, always say these words humbly after the Hours: God be merciful to me a sinner (St. Luke xviii. 13). For, if these words of the Publican availed him so much, that on account of them he was ab solved from his sins and justified, why should they not also obtain pardon for any other? Since My mercy and clemency are not less ready to forgive now than they were then.” Happy, indeed, is he, who carefully fulfils his task of the Hours both by willing and humble obedience, and by reciting all the sacred 230words; for he is not voluntarily distracted, though he may suffer distraction of heart.
St. Gertrude was once saying the Divine Office with the other virgins of her monastery, and was striving to pronounce every word attentively, but since she was often distracted through human infirmity, she said mournfully to herself, “And what fruit can be derived from this endeavour, which is combined with so much inconstancy?” The Lord, therefore, wishing to console her, showed to her His Heart, that treasury of all good and of all blessedness, and said, “Behold, I display to the eyes of thy mind My most sweet Heart, to which thou shalt confidently commend all things which, of thyself, thou art unable to accomplish, that they may be fulfilled for thee; for thus will they all appear very perfect in My sight. Assuredly, My divine Heart, knowing the frailty and inconstancy of man, with desire always expects that thou shouldst, if not in words, at least in thought, commit to it whatever thou canst not of thyself perform, to be supplied, amended, and perfected for thee.” Therefore, after finishing the Hours, which must be not only read with the mind, but also pronounced with the lips, any one may pray in this or in like manner; “O good Jesus, be merciful to me a sinner. I commend my tepid and distracted service to Thy most sweet Heart, to be amended and perfected, and I offer it to Thee for the salvation of all men, in union with that most perfect attention wherewith Thou didst on earth praise and pray to Thy Father. 231Hearken, I beseech Thee, satisfy and supply for me most fully. Amen.”
Another time, St. Gertrude, feeling great difficulty in performing a certain work, said to God the Father, “O Lord, I offer Thee this work, to Thine eternal praise, through Thine only Son, in the virtue of the Holy Ghost;” and she understood that as a thing looks green or yellow, seen through a green or yellow glass, so everything which is offered to the Father through the Son, and everything which is humbly asked through 4 the Son, is made magnificent beyond all. human estimation, and becomes most acceptable to God the Father.”
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