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Homilies and Reflections
How to begin prayer - St Francis de Sales PDF Print E-mail

How to begin prayer- by St. Francis de Sales

As our lives return to normal, it’s easy to be drawn into the many tasks and things which so often can bog us down. But we can keep in touch with our Lord and Saviour throughout the day through prayer.

People pray all the time. Studies show that even those who describe themselves as nonbelievers pray. But what is prayer? Saint Thérèse of Lisieux described prayer as, “a surge of the heart, a simple look towards heaven.” I think this is a great description of prayer, as it focusses on heaven, which is ultimately where we have come from and where we are going. Summer is a great time to recharge our batteries and to direct our lives towards the things which really matter. Prayer enables all of us to notice God’s presence in our daily lives, and to appreciate his invitation to live joyful, meaningful, peaceful lives together, nourished and guided by his grace.

The sixteenth century Bishop and Doctor of the Church St. Francis de Sales advised, “Take half an hour a day for prayer, except for when you are busy, then a full our is required.” He particularly advises us to pray in the morning, when our minds are clearest, and I especially advise this as well. He’s also a big supporter of short prayers throughout the day, simply the name of Jesus Our Saviour is a spiritually powerful prayer in itself. In one of his books he gives us specific advice on how to begin prayer, which I’d like to share with you now.

He says, “There are four main ways in which I advise you to start prayer. Make use of one or other of these methods for placing yourself in the Presence of God; do not try to use them all at once, but take one at a time, briefly and simply.

Firstly, a lively earnest realization that His Presence is universal; that is to say, that He is everywhere, and in all, and that there is no place, nothing in the world, devoid of His Presence, so that, just as the wings of birds meet the air continually, we, meet with that Presence always and everywhere. It is a truth which all people are ready to grant, but all are not equally alive to its importance. A blind man when in the presence of his prince will preserve a reverential demeanour if told that the king is there, although unable to see him; but practically, what men do not see they easily forget, and so readily lapse into carelessness and irreverence. In a similar way, we do not see our God, and although faith warms us that He is present, not seeing him with our eyes, we easily forget Him, and act as though he were far away: for, while knowing perfectly that He is everywhere, if we do not think about it, it is as if we didn’t know it. And therefore, before beginning to pray, it is needful always to rouse the soul to a steadfast remembrance and thought of the Presence of God. Therefore, when you make ready to pray, you must say with your whole heart, “God is indeed here.”

The second way of placing yourself in this Sacred Presence is to call to mind that God is not only present in the place where you are, but that he is very specially present in your heart and mind, which He kindles and inspires with His Holy Presence, abiding there as Heart of your heart, Spirit of your spirit. God, while present everywhere, makes His special abode within your spirit. Therefore David calls Him “the Strength of my heart;” and St. Paul said that in Him “we live and move and have our being.” Dwell upon this thought until you have kindled a great reverence within your heart for God.

The third way is to dwell upon the thought of our Lord, Who in His Ascended Humanity looks down upon all men, but especially on all Christians, because they are His children; above all, on those who pray, over whose doings He keeps watch. Nor is this any mere imagination, it is the truth, and although we see Him not, He is looking down upon us.

The fourth way is simply to exercise your ordinary imagination, picturing the Saviour to yourself in His Sacred Humanity, as if he were beside you like a friend, and fancy that we hear them at our side. But when the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is there, then this Presence is no longer imaginary, but most real; and the sacred species are but as a veil from behind which the Present Saviour beholds and considers us, although we cannot see Him as He is.”

Saint Teresa of Avila has a great prayer which is useful for all of us amidst the changes of everyday life. Let’s say it together:

Let nothing disturb you;

Let nothing frighten you.

All things are passing.

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.

God alone suffices.


Brian Wilson

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