Letters of St. Francis de Sales

On Prayer and Joy among Difficulties

LETTER IV. (To a Young Lady.)

You must resign yourself entirely into the Hands of God, and after having done all you can on your part to promote the good design you have in view, you must leave the rest to Him; being willing, if after all your efforts He shall not see fit to crown them with success, to sacrifice your own will, and to live contentedly, humbly and devotedly, entirely reconciled, and resigned to His good-will and pleasure which you must equally recognize in the non-consummation of your wishes.

For God sometimes proves our love and courage, by depriving us of things which both seem to us, and are in themselves, very good for our souls; but if He sees us earnest in the pursuit, and yet at the same time resigned and humble under the loss and privation of the object of our desire, He vouchsafes us greater blessings while denying us our wishes, than we should have attained in their fulfillment; for above all things, God loves those who, on all occasions, and under all circumstances, are ready with an honest and simple heart to say, “Thy will be done.”

LETTER V. (Advice concerning Prayer.)

The over-anxiety you feel in prayer, and which is joined to a great desire to find some object which can arrest and content your mind, is quite enough of itself to prevent your finding what you seek. One passes over a thing a hundred times, without finding it when one is seeking it too anxiously. So with the mind,—coldness and indifference, and lassitude is sure to succeed this useless, and vain, and excessive eagerness. I do not know what remedies you could employ, but I think if you would steadily try to check this eagerness, you would gain much, for it is one of the greatest traitors real devotion can encounter. It appears to be kindling us to greater devotion; but in reality it is tending to chill us; it only hurries us on that we may the sooner stumble; therefore we must be on our guard against it on all occasions, and especially in prayer.

And to aid you in this, ever bear in mind that the graces and blessings of prayer spring not from the fountains of earth, but from Heaven; and that with all our efforts, we cannot acquire them for ourselves; we must prepare ourselves humbly, earnestly, carefully, and calmly to receive them; one must as it were, lay one’s heart open before Heaven, and wait for its holy dew to fall upon us; and in prayer ever bear in mind this consideration, that in this act we approach God, and place ourselves in His Presence, for two principal reasons.

The first is, to render to God the homage and honor that we owe to Him; and that, remember, can be done without our speaking to Him, or He to us; for this duty is performed in recognizing Him as our God, and ourselves as His vile creatures, lying prostrate in spirit before Him, waiting His commands.

How many courtiers are there who come a hundred times a day into the presence of the king, not to speak to him, nor to hear him, but simply to be seen by him, and to show by their assiduity that they are his servants. And to present ourselves before God for this end, merely to testify and protest our willingness and devotion to His service, is not only excellent, and pure, and holy, but tends greatly to perfect us.

The second reason for presenting oneself before God, is to commune with Him, and to listen to Him speaking to us by His inspirations, and inward movings of our souls: and generally this begets most exquisite delight, because it is an immeasurable blessing to speak to so great a Lord; and when He replies, He spreads a thousand precious balms and ointments, which give great peace and healing to the soul.

Now one of these two blessings can never fail in prayer, if we may speak to our Lord; let us speak, let us praise Him, let us pray to Him, let us listen to Him, if we cannot speak openly to Him because we are surrounded, let us nevertheless raise our hearts to Him. He will see us, and He will accept our silence, let us only remember to keep ourselves as it were, ever before Him, and to feel what an inestimable blessing and honor it is that He permits us to come into His Presence.

As to your fear that your father will not allow you to do what you desire, by the very probation he has prefixed to it, say to God, “Lord, Thou knowest all my desire,” and leave it to Him; He will dispose your father’s heart, and turn it to His glory, and your good. Meantime cherish this good desire, and keep it alive under the ashes of humility and resignation to the will of God.

LETTER VI. (Submission to God’s will in Trials.)

I have heard, the Lord has tried your heart and your firmness; but remember we must in proportion spiritually rouse ourselves and struggle with these waves. And O! blessed be the wind from wheresoever it cometh, if it only drive us for shelter to the right harbor.

These are the conditions with which we ought to give ourselves to God, that He would entirely do His will towards us, and our affairs, and designs, and thwart and defeat us, as He thinks best. O! happy they whom He shall lead in His way, and whom He shall reduce to His good pleasure, be it by tribulation or by consolation! But remember, the real servants of God have always more highly esteemed the road of adversity, as more conformable to their Chief, Who would not secure our salvation and the glory of His Own Name, but by the Cross and shame.

LETTER VII. (To a Young Lady, living in the world.)

You will be often thrown among the children of this world, who, according to their custom will mock at all they see, or think to be in you, contrary to their own miserable ideas; do not waste time by disputing with them, nor show the slightest annoyance at their attacks; but good-temperedly laugh at their laughter, despise their contempt, smile at their remonstrances; and without paying any attention to it at all, go forward joyfully in the service of God ; and in your prayers, commend these poor souls to His mercy. They deserve our pity for not having a better purpose in their conversation than merely laughing at, and trifling with subjects worthy of their highest respect and reverence.

I see you abound in the good things of this world: take care not to fix your heart upon them. Solomon, the wisest of all men, first erred in the satisfaction that he took in the grandeur, and ornaments, and magnificent apparel that were his; forgetting that such things were merely the accidents of his station. Consider that all we have does not really make us any better than others in this world; and that it all is as nothing in the sight of God and His Angels.

Remember to strive especially to do the will of God under those circumstances in which you find the most difficulty; for it is but a little matter to please God in what is pleasing to ourselves: filial affection requires that we should wish to please Him in what is displeasing to ourselves, setting before us what the Well Beloved Son said of Himself, “I come not to do My will, but the will of Him that sent Me,” for you are not called by His Name to do your own will, but the will of Him Who has adopted you to be His child, and heir of His eternal kingdom.

And now, we are about to part without any chance of our meeting again in this world. Let us pray to God earnestly that He will give us grace so to live according to His good pleasure, in this our earthly pilgrimage, that when we arrive in that Heavenly country we may rejoice together that we have known each other here below, and have spoken together of the mysteries of eternity. This ought to be our only pleasure in the love we bear each other in this life, that it all has been for the glory of God’s eternal Majesty, and our own everlasting salvation.

Cultivate that holy cheerfulness which nourishes the strength of the soul and edifies our neighbor. Go on thus in peace, and God be thy Protector, He will ever uphold thee with His Hand, and conduct thee along the path of His Holy will; to Whom be all honor, praise, and glory. Amen.

LETTER IX. (Fidelity and Peace among Distractions.)

I beseech you to pray to our Lord for me; that He would keep me in the path of His will, that I may serve Him with faithfulness and earnestness. I would rather die than not love God; death or love; for life without this love is far worse than death. My God! how happy we should be, if we could love Thee as we ought; Thou, Who hast prepared for us such good things, such rich blessings.

Hold fast to this amid all the various trials with which you are surrounded in this present world. How can we better manifest our faithfulness than by being faithful amid distractions. Alas! Solitude has its temptations, and the world has its trials; but through all we must have good courage, because help from Heaven is ever nearest to those who put their whole trust in God, and who earnestly seek His Fatherly help with humility and patience.

Take care that your anxiety does not turn into restlessness and disquietude, embarked as you are upon the waves and amid the winds of many trials; look up constantly to Heaven and say, “O God ! to Thee all my efforts are directed, be Thou my guide and my compass;” and then comfort yourself by thinking that once in port, all your toil and labor in reaching it will be more than repaid, by the blessedness and rest you will enjoy there. He will help us through all these storms if our hearts are set aright, our intentions good, our courage firm, our eye fixed on God, and our whole trust in Him.

Be not distressed, then, at the little vexations and troubles that a multiplicity of domestic affairs bring upon you. No! rather be thankful that, by them, you are called upon to exercise those virtues which our Lord most highly commended. Believe me, real virtue is not nourished by external repose, any more than the best fish are found in the stagnant waters of a marsh.

LETTER X. (Confidence in God.)

You will be indeed happy if amid all the vanities that surround you, you live in yourself to God, Who alone is worthy of being served and followed devotedly; for, by so doing, you will set a good example to others, and gain peace and tranquility in yourself. Leave others to argue the subject of frequent Communion: it is enough for you to feel that your soul constantly needs the refreshing and strengthening of this Holy Sacrament; and if any one wishes you to tell them the reason, you can say that you require constantly to receive this Heavenly meat, because you are very weak, and that without frequent renewal of strength, you feel your mind would easily be dissipated.

Keep your heart in peace, in spite of the difficulties which surround you. Commit to God’s most secret care all your distresses, and firmly believe that He will surely guide you, and your life, and all your affairs.

Do you know what the Arabian shepherds do when it thunders and lightens, and the sky is overcast with clouds? They withdraw under the laurel trees with their flocks and herds. And so, when we see persecutions or contradictions threatening to overwhelm us, we should retire, with all our hopes and affections, under the shelter of the blessed Cross, feeling confident that all will be permitted to work together for good to those that love God.

Above all, keep yourself collected.

Guard against over anxiety, place all your trust in the providence of God, and be assured that heaven and earth shall sooner pass away, than God fail in His watchfulness over those that trust Him and strive to obey Him.

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