S. Jane-Frances de Chantal, whose Feast day it is, founded the Order of the Visitation; a community for women who desired to come close to God, but who for various reasons did not feel able to cope with the extreme austerities which were common in religious orders in those days.
Instead, it stressed prayer; a deep, personal, relationship of the sisters with God; and it is notable that S. Jane-Frances said a number of things about prayer which, perhaps remarkable in her day, have much to teach us today.
In an era when formal methods of prayer were much used, when ‘schools of prayer’ were seen as the ideal way of approaching God, she said ‘Follow your own way of speaking to our Lord sincerely, lovingly, confidently, and simply, as your heart dictates.’ Could anything be simpler than this ? Talk to God as you find most natural, most comfortable.
At the same time, she said that ‘With God there is no need for long speeches’, making the point that He understands the needs of our hearts before we say them; and that we say them only that we may understand what we ask of Him. She also observed that ‘In prayer, more is accomplished by listening than by talking’; reminding us that if we do not listen for the still small voice of calm, we may gain nothing from our prayers : because God tends to answer us far more quietly than we address Him.
However, she is no believer in being a shrinking violet if there is something urgent to pray for : she said ‘In prayer one must hold fast and never let go, because the one who gives up loses all. If it seems that no one is listening to you, then cry out even louder. If you are driven out of one door, go back in by the other.’ In other words, you should stick to it; God can do anything; but it is not always expedient for us that He does it at once, or in a way that strikes us as easiest . . . we must continue to implore Him, even if only to emphasize to ourselves our own inadequacy and dependence as a condition of His answering our prayers.
God always answers our prayers : even if He does not always do so in the way we expected – or wanted; and it is by speaking simply, listening carefully, and praying fervently that we may, through His grace, come to recognize His generous love to us, even when His answer to our prayers is not the one we expected to get. S. Jane-Frances had to overcome much in her life; but with the help of S. Francis de Sales she did so, and helped lead many women to God. Let us ask both of them to guide our prayers so that we, too, may learn those skills of prayer which may truly bring us closer to God in this life, that we may see Him – and them – in heaven at the last.