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Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi
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CHAPTER XI


OF HOLY PRAYER


Prayer is the beginning, the middle and the end of all good; prayer illuminates the soul, and enables it to discern between good and evil. Every sinner ought to pray daily with fervour of heart, that is, he should pray humbly to God to give him a perfect knowledge of his own miseries and sins, and of the benefits which he has received and still receiveth from the good God. But how can that man know God who knoweth not how to pray? And for all those who shall be saved, it is needful above all things that, sooner or later, they be converted to the use of holy prayer. Brother Giles said thus: “If a man had a son who, for his evil deeds, had been condemned to death or banishment, most certainly he would use every means in his power, labouring day and night, to obtain from the emperor the pardon of his son, and his release from banishment or death; he would make many prayers and supplications, he would give presents or pay fines to the utmost of his power, either in his own person or by the hands of his kindred and friends. Now, if a man do all this for the mortal life of his son, how much more careful and diligent ought he to be in praying to God, and in begging both good men in this world and the saints in heaven to pray for his own soul which is immortal, when it is banished from the heavenly city, or when it lies under sentence of eternal death for its many sins!”

A certain friar said to Brother Giles: “Father, it seems to me that a man ought to feel great sorrow and grief of heart when he experiences not the grace of devotion in his prayer.” Brother Giles answered him: “My brother, I counsel thee to proceed calmly and gently; for if thou hadst a little good wine in a bottle, and if in that same bottle there were dregs below the good wine, thou wouldst assuredly take care not to shake or move it, for fear of mixing the good wine with the dregs. Now, until thy prayer be freed from all vicious and fleshly lust, thou shalt receive no divine consolation; because that prayer is not pure in the sight of God which is mingled with the dregs of carnal things. Wherefore a man should strive as much as possible to free himself from all the dregs of worldly concupiscence, that his prayer may be pure before God, and that he may derive therefrom devotion and divine consolation.”

A friar put to Brother Giles this question: “Father, why is it that a man is more disturbed by temptations during prayer than at any other time?” To which Brother Giles made answer as follows: “When a man has to bring any question for the determination of the judge, and goes to him for aid or counsel, his adversary no sooner hears of it than he straightway appears to oppose and resist his appeal, and to throw every obstacle in the way of his cause. So it is when a man goes to prayer, for he goes to seek help from God in the cause of his soul; and immediately there cometh his adversary the devil with his temptations, to make great opposition and resistance, using every effort, artifice and labour to hinder his prayer, lest it should prove acceptable in the sight of God, and to take from it all merit and all consolation. And this we may plainly see; for when we are speaking of worldly things and feel perhaps no temptation, nor experience any distraction of mind; but when we go to prayer to delight and console ourselves, we are suddenly pierced with many arrows, to wit, by divers temptations, which the devil putteth in our way in order to distract our mind, that the soul may have no delight or consolation in its converse with God.” Brother Giles said, furthermore, that a man in prayer ought to be like a good knight in battle, who, however hard pressed by his enemy, scorneth to leave the field, but resisteth manfully, striving to overcome his foe, that he may rejoice and triumph in the glory of victory. But if he should leave the battle for fear of wounds or death, assuredly he would meet with nothing but shame, confusion and dishonour. And so ought we to do, for we ought not to intermit our prayer for every temptation which may present itself, but resist courageously; for, as the Apostle says: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for, when he hath overcome, he shall receive the crown of eternal life.” But if, because of temptations, a man abandon prayer, he will certainly be defeated, dishonoured and overcome by his adversary the devil.

Another friar said to Brother Giles: “Father, I see some men who have received from God the gift of tears, which they shed abundantly and devoutly in their prayer; and I can experience none of these graces when I pray to God.” To whom Brother Giles made answer: “My brother, I counsel thee to labour humbly and faithfully in this thy prayer, for the fruits of the heart cannot be gathered in without labour and fatigue being used thereon; and even after this labour and toil the desired fruit follows not immediately, nor until its appointed season; so also God gives not these graces in prayer immediately nor until the fitting time is come, and the mind is wholly purged from all carnal vices and affections. Therefore, my brother, do thou labour humbly in prayer; for God, who is all good and gracious, knoweth all things, and discerneth what is best for thee; and when the fit time and season is come, he will in his loving mercy, give thee abundant fruit of consolation.”

Another friar said to Brother Giles: “What art thou doing, Brother Giles? What art thou doing, Brother Giles?” And he answered: “I am doing evil.” And that friar said to him: “What evil doest thou?” Then Brother Giles, turning to another friar, said to him: “Tell me, my brother, which, thinnest thou, is the readier, our Lord God to give us his grace, or we to receive it?” And that friar made answer: “Most assuredly God is readier to give us grace than we to receive it.” Then said Brother Giles: “Do we well in this?” And that friar said: “Nay; but we do evil.” Then Brother Giles turned to the friar who spake first, and said: “See, brother, this shows us clearly that we do evil, and that I spoke truly when I answered thee, to wit, that I was doing evil.” Brother Giles said also: “Many works are praised and commended in Holy Scripture, such as the works of mercy and other holy works; but when the Lord speaketh of prayer, he saith thus: ‘Our heavenly Father seeketh men to adore him on earth in spirit and in truth.’” Again Brother Giles said: “The true Religious are like wolves; because they never come into public and frequented places save upon great necessity, and seek immediately to return to their secret haunts rather than to remain long among men. Good works adorn the soul.” A friar who was a very familiar companion of Brother Giles said to him: “Father, why goest thou not sometimes to speak of the things of God, to teach and to labour for the salvation of souls?” To whom Brother Giles replied: “My brother, I desire to fulfill my duty to my neighbour with humility, and without injury to my own soul; and that is done by prayer.” “At least,” said the friar, “go sometimes to visit thy parents.” And Brother Giles answered: “Knowest thou not what our Lord saith in the Gospel, ‘He who shall leave father, or mother, or brethren, or sisters, for my sake, shall receive an hundredfold’?” And he added, moreover: “A nobleman entered the Order of Friars Minor whose possessions valued, perhaps, sixty thousand pounds; great, then, shall be the reward of those who leave much for the love of God, since it is to be returned to them an hundredfold. But we who are blind, when we see any man virtuous and pleasing to God, understand not his perfection because of our own blindness and imperfection. Were we truly spiritual, we should seldom desire to see or speak with any one, except upon great necessity; for the truly spiritual man desireth to dwell apart from creatures, and to be united to God in contemplation.”

Then Brother Giles said to a certain friar: “Father, I would fain know what is contemplation?” And the friar answered: “Father, truly I know not.” Then Brother Giles said: “To me it seems that contemplation is a divine fire, a sweet devotion infused by the Holy Ghost, a rapture and suspension of the mind inebriated by the unspeakable savour of divine sweetness, and a sweet and tranquil enjoyment of the soul which is rapt and suspended in loving admiration of the glories of heaven, and an inward and burning consciousness of that celestial and unspeakable glory.”


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