“We ought always to pray.” — St. Luke 18.1.
There is something more which often afflicts those who practice the holy exercise of prayer. It is distractions. Distractions sometimes arise from unmortified senses, sometimes because the soul cannot for any length of time occupy itself with the same object; but often it is permitted by God to try His servants. What is to be done when one is distracted? We must suffer this humiliation with humility and patience. The time employed thus will not be lost. Such a prayer is oftentimes more advantageous than many made with recollection and sweetness, because in banishing or supporting these distractions with the intention of pleasing God we perform so may acts of love of God. — St. Teresa.
St. Jane Frances gave this counsel to her Daughters of the Visitation: “When one is distracted during prayer, it is well to make the prayer of patience and to say humbly and lovingly: ‘Lord, Thou art the only hope of my soul, and all my consolation.’”
St. John Chrysostom advised one who had frequent distractions to endeavor to avoid falling into this fault by making the following reflections: “What! When I entertain a friend and converse of history, news, trifles, etc., etc., I am very attentive; when entertaining myself with God on things of so great importance as the pardon of my sins, the means of salvation, I do not hesitate to let my mind dwell upon strange subjects! Being upon my knees before God, how dare I permit my thoughts to stray away from Him, to go where I am not? O hypocrisy, how criminal! Have I faith? If I have faith, I must then have lost my senses.”
A pious person banished distractions by recalling this maxim of Cæsarius of Arles: “When we pray, we adore the object of which we voluntarily think.”
He who directed St. Louis Gonzaga in spiritual affairs interrogated him regarding his distractions. “Have you distractions during prayer?” Having reflected for a moment, the saint replied: “If I added together all that I have had during the past six months, they would occupy as much time as it would take to say one ‘Hail Mary’.” This was most admirable. The reason was because he closed within himself the source of distractions; he labored continually to mortify his senses, and never permitted his mind to dwell upon subjects that did not tend to perfection or the science of his vocation.
My God, I will labor to destroy the kernel of distractions in myself. I will mortify myself, and endeavor to walk in Thy holy presence. I will not voluntarily occupy my mind with dissipating thoughts.