Tomorrow (January 7) marks the anniversary of the death of the Catholic philosopher and theologian Francois Fenelon.
François Fénelon (6 August 1651 – 7 January 1715), was a French Roman Catholic archbishop, theologian, poet and writer. He today is remembered mostly as the author of The Adventures of Telemachus, first published in 1699.
Since I first learned of his work in Richard Foster’s classic book Celebration of Discipline, I’ve long found Fenelon’s theological meditations to be immensely clear and practical. For example, here is an excerpt on how to pray from his brief treatise on Prayer:
From the book,
The Writings of Fenelon (1841)
Available as a FREE PDF ebook
through Google Books.
The Christian life is a long and continual tendency of our hearts towards that eternal goodness which we desire on earth. All our happiness consists in thirsting for it. Now this thirst is prayer. Ever desire to approach your Creator, and you will never cease to pray.
Do not think that it is necessary to pronounce many words. To pray is to say Let thy will be done; it is to form a good purpose; it is to raise your heart to God; it is to lament your weakness; it is to sigh at the recollection of your frequent disobedience. This prayer demands neither method, nor science, nor reasoning; it is not necessary to quit one’s employment; it is a simple movement of the heart towards its Creator, and a desire, that whatever you are doing you may do it to his glory, The best of all prayers is to act with a pure intention and with a continual reference to the will of God. It depends upon ourselves whether our prayers be efficacious. It is not by a miracle but by a change of heart, that we are benefited by a spirit of submission. Let us believe, let us trust let us hope and God never will reject our prayer. Yet how many Christians do we see, strangers to the privilege, aliens from God, who seldom think of him, who never open their hearts to him; who seek elsewhere the counsels of a false wisdom, and vain and dangerous consolations; who cannot resolve to seek, in humble, fervent prayer to God, a remedy for their griefs, and a true knowledge of their defects, the necessary power to conquer their vicious and perverse inclinations, and the consolations and assistance they require, that they may not be discouraged in a virtuous life.
But some will say, I have no interest in prayer; it wearies me my imagination is excited by sensible and more agreeable objects, and wanders in spite of me.
If neither your reverence for the great truths of religion, nor the majesty of the ever present Deity, nor the interest of your eternal salvation, have power to arrest your mind, and engage it in prayer; at least mourn with me for your infidelity; be ashamed of your weakness, and wish that your thoughts were more under your control, and desire to become less frivolous and inconstant. Make an effort to subject your mind to this discipline. You will gradually acquire habit and facility. What is now tedious will become delightful; and you will then feel, with a peace that the world cannot give nor take away, that God is good. Make a courageous effort to overcome yourself. There can be no occasion that calls for it more imperiously.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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