I have recently been reading a book which explains almost all of the questions and struggles which I have ever experienced concerning prayer. I will share below the primary parts of it for those who may be interested. The passage quoted is taken from R. P. Quadrupani, Barnabite’s book, Light and Peace (originally published in French in 1818).
CHAPTER 3 – PRAYER
1. We ought to love meditation and should make it often on the Passion of our divine Lord, striving above all to derive therefrom fruits of humility, patience and charity.
2. If you experience great dryness in your meditations or other prayers, do not feel distressed and conclude that God has turned His face away from you. Far from it. Prayer said with aridity is usually the most meritorious. It is quite a common error to confound the value of prayer with its sensible results, and the merit acquired with the satisfaction experience. The facility and sweetness you may have in prayer are favors from God and for which you will have to account to Him: hence the result is not merit but debt. “The very fact that we derive less gratification from such prayer, makes it all the more pleasing to God, because we are this suffering for love of Him. Let us call to mind at such times that our Lord prayed without consolation throughout His bitter agony.” (The Imitation of Christ B. II C. IX)
3. You will sometimes imagine that at prayer your soul is not in the presence of God and that only your body is in the church, like the statues and candelabras that adorn the altars. Think, then, that you share with those inanimate objects the honor of serving as ornaments for the house of God, and that is the presence of your Creator even this humble role should seem glorious to you. “You tell me that you cannot pray well. But what better prayer could there be than to represent to God again and again, as you are doing, your nothingness and misery? The most touching appeal beggars can make is merely to expose to us their deformities and necessities. But there are times when you cannot even do this much, you say, and that you remain there like a statue. Well, even that is better than nothing. Kings and princes have statues in their palaces for no other purpose than that they may take pleasure in looking at them: be satisfied then to fulfill the same office in the presence of God, and when it so pleases Him He will animate the statue.” (Saint Francis de Sales)
4. When you have not consciously or voluntarily yielded to distractions, do not stop to find what may have been their cause, or to discover if you have in any way given occasion to them. This would be simply to weary and disquiet yourself unprofitably. From whatever direction they come, you can convert them into a source of merit by casting yourself into the arms of the Divine Mercy. St. Francis de Sales, when asked how he prayed, replied: “I cannot say it too often – I receive peacefully whatever the Lord sends me. If He consoles me, I kiss the right hand of His mercy; if I am dry and distracted, I kiss the left hand of His justice.” This method is the only good one, for as the same Saint says: “He who truly loves prayer, loves it for the love of God: and he who loves it for the love of God, wishes to experience in it naught but what God is pleased to send him.” Now, whatever you may experience in prayer, is precisely what God wills.
5. St. Francis de Sales teaches us that merely to keep ourselves peacefully and tranquilly in the presence of God, without other desire or pretension than to be near Him and to please Him, is of itself an excellent prayer. “Do not exhaust yourself,” he says, “in making efforts to speak to your dear Master, for you are speaking to Him by the sole fact that you remain there and contemplate Him.”
6. The same Saint gives further valuable advice as follows: “Many persons fail to make a distinction between the presence of God in their souls and consciousness of this adorable presence, between faith and the sensible feeling of faith. This shows a great want of discernment. When they do not realize God’s presence dwelling within them, they suppose He has withdrawn Himself through some fault of theirs. This is an ignorant and hurtful error. A man who endures martyrdom for the love of God does not think actually and exclusively of God but much of his own sufferings; and yet the absence of this feeling of faith does not deprive him of the great merit due to his faith and the resolutions it caused him to make and to keep.”
7. Your vocal prayers should be few in number but said with great fervor. The strength derived from food does not depend upon the quantity taken but upon its being well digested. Far better one Our Father or one Psalm said with devout attention than entire Rosaries and long Offices recited hurriedly and with restless eagerness.
8. If you feel whilst saying vocal prayers -those not of obligation- that God invites you to meditate, gently and promptly follow this divine impulse. You may be sure that is doing so you make an exchange most profitable to yourself and agreeable to God from whom the inspiration comes.
9. Prepare yourself for prayer by peaceful recollection and begin it without agitation or uneasiness. St. Francis de Sales has this to say on the subject: “Some little time before you are going to pray, calm and compose your heart, and be hopeful of doing well; for if you begin without hope and already devoid of relish, you will find it difficult to regain an appetite… The disquiet you experience in prayer, accompanied by great eagerness to discover some object that can fix and satisfy your thoughts, is of itself sufficient to prevent you finding what you seek. When a thing is searched for with too great eagerness, one may have his hands or his eyes almost upon it a hundred times and yet fail to perceive it. This vain and useless anxiety in regard to prayer can result in nothing but weariness of mind, and this in turn produces coldness and apathy in your soul.”
10. Be careful not to overburden yourself with too many prayers, either mental or vocal. As soon as you feel uncontrollable weariness or distaste, postpone your prayers, if possible, and seek relief in some pleasant pastime, or conversation, or in any other innocent diversion. This advice is given by St. Thomas and other learned Fathers of the Church and is of the utmost importance. Follow it conscientiously, for lassitude of mind begets coldness and a kind of spiritual stupor.
11. Never repeat a prayer, even should you have said it with many distractions. You cannot imagine the innumerable difficulties in which you may become entangled by the habit of repeating your prayers. Therefore, I beg of you not to do it.
12. You should never repeat a prayer not a point in your meditation even if you have had in the inferior portion of your soul ideas and feelings at variance with the words pronounced by your lips or with the sentiments you wished to excite in your heart. Nay, do not be induced to do it, even were these ideas and feelings injurious to God. Under such conditions, be careful not to give way to anxiety and agitation and do not try to make reparations for an imaginary offense. Continue your prayer in peace as if nothing had disturbed it, not taking the trouble to notice these dogs that come from the devil and that can bark around you while you pray in order to distract you, if it may be, but that cannot bite you unless you let them.
13. Should it happen that the whole time given in prayer be passed in rejecting temptations or in recalling your mind from its wanderings, and you do not succeed in giving birth to a single devout thought or sentiment, St. Francis de Sales is authority for saying that your prayer is nevertheless all the more meritorious from the fact of its being so unsatisfactory to you. It makes you more like to our divine Lord when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Mount Calvary. “Better to eat bread without sugar than sugar without bread. We should seek out the God of consolations, not the consolations of God: and in order to possess God in Heaven, we must now suffer with Him and for Him.”
14. It is well to bear in mind that in commanding us to pray always our Savior did not mean actual prayer, as that would be an impossibility. The desire to glorify God by all our actions suffices for the rigorous fulfillment of this precept, if this desire be habitual and permanent. “You pray often,” says St. Augustine, “if you often have a desire to pay homage to God by your actions: you pray always if you always have this desire, no matter how you may be otherwise employed.”
15. You should never omit or neglect the duties of your state of life in order to say certain self-imposed prayers. These duties are a substitute for prayers and are equally efficacious, St. Thomas teaches, for obtaining the graces you stand in need of and which are promised to those who ask for them properly. It is even more meritorious to perform some work for the love of God, to whom we offer it, than merely to raise the soul to Him by actual prayer.
16. Make frequent use of the prayers called ejaculations-which are short and loving aspirations that raise the soul to its Creator. According to St. Francis de Sales, ejaculations can in case of necessity replace all other prayers, whereas all other prayers cannot supply for the omission of ejaculations.
17. Ejaculatory prayers can be made at all times, wherever we are or whatever we may be doing. They might be compared to those aromatic pastilles, which we may always have about us and take from time to time to strengthen the stomach and please the palate. Ejaculations have a like effect on the soul by refreshing and fortifying it.
18. The monks of old, of whom St. Augustine speaks, could not say long prayers, obliged as they were to earn their bread by daily toil. Ejaculatory prayers, therefore, took the place of all others for them, and it may be said that although laboring unceasingly they prayed continually.
19. I cannot too earnestly urge you to accustom yourself to the profitable and easy practice of making frequent ejaculations. It is far preferable to saying many other vocal prayers, for these when too numerous are apt to employ the lips only rather than to reanimate and enlighten the soul.
20. St. Theresa’s opinion is that the body should be in a comfortable position when we pray, as otherwise it is difficult for the mind to pay the proper attention to prayer and to the presence of God. Do not then fatigue your body by remaining too long prostrate or kneeling: the important thing is that the soul should humble itself before God in sentiments of respect, confidence and love.