I picked up a book while on retreat last February, and it’s been sitting on the end table near my prayer chair for several months. I’ve been reading it off and on over the past few weeks. Thy Will Be Done! is a collection of letters written by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church, author of Introduction to the Devout Life, and one of my personal faves. St. Francis de Sales made a huge impact on the Church during the Counter Reformation by calling all people, not just clergy and religious, to the universal call to holiness. His preaching, teaching, and writing still stands today in calling us to that same vocation.
Some of the letters in this book struck me and made me really think, especially with this being ordinary time. The letters deal with the ins-and-outs of an ordinary day in ordinary lives of ordinary people as they strive to do God’s Will. Their struggle is our struggle. As these letters touched me, I thought, perhaps, the same might be true of you. I pass along this particular letter to you (although it’s a little long) hoping that the wisdom of this holy and humble servant of God will bless you as it did me.
“We must remain in the presence of God!”
To Jane de Chantal, on prayer
My dearest child,
Your manner of prayer is good, but be very careful to remain near God in this gentle and quiet attention of heart, and in this sweet slumber in the arms of His holy will, for all this is agreeable to Him.
In praying this way, avoid strenuous efforts to understand because they hurt you, not only in other matters, but even in prayer; circle around the dear object of your meditation with your affections quite simply and as gently as you can. Your understanding will surely make some dartings to intrude itself, but you must not busy yourself to keep on your guard against it, for that would form a distraction. But when you perceive it, be satisfied with returning to the simple at of the will.
To keep ourselves in the presence of God and to place ourselves in the presence of God are, in my opinion, two different things. For to place ourselves in this presence it is necessary to recall our minds from every other object and render it actually attentive to the divine presence, as I say in my book (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 2, ch. 2).
But after placing ourselves in the presence of God, we keep ourselves there by making certain acts toward God, either by understanding or by will. We can make these acts by looking at Him or by looking at some other thing for love of Him. We can make them by looking at nothing, and instead by speaking to Him. Lastly, we can make them by neither looking nor speaking, but simply by staying where He has put us, like a statue in its niche.
When there is added to this simple staying some feeling that we belong completely to God, and that He is our all, we must indeed give thanks to His goodness. If a statue that had been placed in a niche in some room could speak and was asked, “Why are you there?” it would say, “Because my master has put me here.”
“Why don’t you move?”
“Because he wants me to remain immovable.”
“What use are you there; what do you gain by being so?”
“It is not for my profit that I am here; it is to serve and obey the will of my master.”
“But you do not see him.”
“No, but he sees me, and takes pleasure in seeing me where he has put me.”
“Would you not like to have movement, so that you could go nearer to him?”
“Certainly not, except when he might command me.”
“Don’t you want anything then?”
“No; for I am where my master has placed me, and his good pleasure is the unique contentment of my being.”
My God! What a good prayer and a good way to keep in the presence of God, to keep ourselves in His will and His good pleasure! I think that Magdalen was a statue in her niche, when without speaking, without moving, and perhaps without looking at Him, she listened to what our Lord said, seated at His feet (Lk 10:39). When He spoke she heard; when He paused from speaking, she ceased to listen, and still stayed ever there.
A little child who is on the bosom of its sleeping mother is truly in its good and desirable place, although it says no word to her nor she to it.
My God! How glad I am, my child to speak a little of these things with you! How happy we are when we will to love our Lord! Let us, then, love Him well. Let us not set ourselves to consider too exactly what we do for His love, provided we know that we will to do nothing but for His love.
For my part, I think we keep ourselves in the presence of God even while sleeping. For we go to sleep in His sight, by His will, and at His pleasure; and He puts us there like statues in a niche. And when we wake we find that He is there near us; He has not moved any more than we; we have the kept in His presence, but with our eyes shut and closed…
Be resolute, dear child; doubt not. God holds you with His hand, and will never leave you. Glory be to Him for ever and ever! Amen.