July 18, 2011

If something is worth doing, it's worth doing well. If it's going to be done well then it must be done often.

Take physical fitness, for example. To keep healthy and spry, it just won't suffice to go for a weekly one-hour walk. Strenuous activity needs to happen frequently, daily if possible, to maintain even a modicum of heart-lung fitness.

Or eating. No one would dream of leading a good life by eating only one meal a week.

Yet, how often do we do that in our relationship with God? We show up for Mass every Sunday, say but a few Hail Marys during the week and then complain because Mass is boring. Should this be a surprise?

We attend Mass not to be entertained, but to worship God. If our hearts are not attuned to God's glory and majesty, we should not expect to be able to automatically switch into our praise and worship mode on Sunday morning.

The Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist the source and summit of Christian living. It's a mixed metaphor, but one nevertheless worth exploring. The Mass is the source of our living, in that life is a long stream that flows out of the source - our union with Christ in the Eucharist.


The Eucharist is the mountaintop of Christian living. But for the mountain to have a top, it must be built on a much larger middle and bottom. We cannot experience the joy of standing on the summit if we haven't built the foundation with huge numbers of acts of charity and times of prayer.

Last week's article provided a method of mental prayer that St. Francis de Sales recommends that we practise for an hour a day. This week, we need to look at something even more important - brief times of prayer throughout the day. If we take seriously the fact that the nature of the human person is found in an orientation toward God then we must seek to pray always.

Francis provides an outline for morning prayer, evening prayer and then for what he calls "spiritual retreat."

In the morning, "before leaving your room," you should thank God for the gift of a new day and ask forgiveness for any sins you may have committed during the night. One should also anticipate the events of the day and try to foresee what might spur our anger, vanity or other negative responses.

Once or twice a day, cast yourself in spirit at the foot of Christ's cross.

Once or twice a day, cast yourself in spirit at the foot of Christ's cross.

Seek to find ways to avoid acting in a way that will undermine your salvation and God's glory. At that point, humble yourself and tell the Lord you need his help to carry out your good resolutions.

At the end of the day, thank God for any good you have done and repent for any wrongdoing. Then commend yourself, your family and friends, and the Church to God's providence.

When St. Francis talks about making a spiritual retreat, he is not recommending going to a retreat house for the weekend, as valuable as that might be. Rather, he is encouraging us "to retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others."


The devout layperson engages in an ongoing back and forth process of surging outwards in action and retiring inwards through recollection.

To live the devout life, your day must be filled with "short, ardent movements of your heart." These times of brief spiritual recollection or spontaneous prayers of adoration and intercession are, for Francis, the most important aspect in achieving sanctity.

Because of that, I reproduce the following sentence, which is perhaps the longest sentence in St. Francis' Introduction to the Devout Life, but is filled with examples of how to direct your heart briefly toward God:

"Marvel at his beauty, implore his help, cast yourself in spirit at the foot of the cross, adore his goodness, converse often with him about your salvation, present your soul to him a thousand times during the day, fix your interior eyes upon his sweet countenance, stretch out your hand to him like a little child to his father so that he may lead you on, place him in your bosom like a fragrant bouquet, plant him in your heart like a flag and make a thousand different motions of your heart to provide you with love of God and arouse in yourself a passionate and tender affection for this divine Spouse."

Prayer is not a some time thing. It is a habitual disposition of the heart. Absolutely central to being a Christian is the belief that we are made for God. This is a fact but it is also a vocation. In order to live out that vocation, we need to look to God in prayer always - at certain set times, but also in every situation of the day.