I have taken to reading the book “Letters to Young Men”, by Fr. Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, OP. Fr. Lacordaire was the man who re-established the Dominican Order in France in the 1850s. I cannot say too much about him (as I do not really know all that much about him yet), but he showed great courage in re-establishing the Order of Preachers in France, and my parish, St. Louis Bertrand, has this book of letters by him in the historical room. So, I figure it cannot be all that bad.
Unsurprisingly, Fr Lacordaire’s letters have been very edifying to this young man, even 150+ years onwards. I think a new project I will undertake is posting the letters of his that I find most interesting. Below is one such letter, on prayer, penance, and the reading of Scripture. How much better would it be if we were all to spend a few minutes’ time each day reading and prayerfully reflecting upon two chapters of the Holy Scripture each day? How much more edifying would it be than the latest news and gossip from the television? What would it profit our soul compared to the bubble-gum pop tarts on the radio lodging themselves in our mind?
As a note, thanks to the generous work of a number of contributors, Fr. Lacordaire’s writings can be found on at the Works of Lacordaire. For those who notice one of the translators involved in the project, that is indeed the Fr Christian, OP who was assigned to St. Louis Bertrand for many years.
XXL Prayer – Penance – The Reading of the Scriptures
Paris, November 7, 1849.
YOUR letter shows me, my dear friend, that you have already made some progress—at least in openness and simplicity with regard to me. Long and continuous watchfulness over yourself, prayer, reading, meditation, the sacraments, works of penance and charity will alone enable you to root out whatever is bad in you, and above all your pride. Thus, for instance, you ought to be very watchful over yourself in recreation, in order to see whether it is the desire of giving others pleasure, or that of being conspicuous and of winning the appreciation of others, which actuates you.
Kindness in one’s dealings with others is the great charm of life. A mind which is tactful towards others, which avoids everything calculated to give them pain, which is generous, which is not silent or reserved out of touchiness or pride, that mind is the mind of a Christian, and is the joy of every one who comes in contact with it. Make yourself loved, for virtue alone can win love.
With regard to your meditation, I think the best thing you can do is to listen attentively to what is read to you, and in it to seek for something upon which your mind can dwell. To contemplate truth, to apply it to oneself, and to embrace it as lovingly as one can—that is true mental prayer.
Don’t let dryness discourage you. Sensible joy is a consolation, but duty done is the real source of all progress within.
Constant meditation, even if indifferently made, in the long run promotes increase of spiritual life. Even if one does not attain perfection, one at least forms a habit of its first degrees, namely reading and reflection. “Attend to reading,” says St Paul (i Tim. iv, 13).
Do not attempt any practices of penance which might be seen by others ; not that we ought to be afraid of being taken for penitents, but because nothing extraordinary ought to be done before the eyes of every one, and also because we must not lay ourselves open to be thought holier than we really are. You can very easily practise certain outward penances which others will not notice—for instance, some slight mortification in your meals, prostrations in your room, and other things of the same kind.
During your recreations associate with those who are least agreeable to you; humbly beg pardon of those whom you have offended; privately offer up your body to God to be humbled and chastised in what way He will; think of our Lord’s passion ; reflect especially upon those parts of it which affect you most; do this particularly on Fridays.
It was meditation on our Lord’s sufferings that made the saints ; this it is which cures our pride, our lusts and all our vices whatever they be. If you meet some good young fellow towards whom you feel drawn, ask him to point out to you your faults and failings ; but be careful not to form friendships which spring from the heart alone and not from God, for it is difficult for the flesh not to be at the root of them.
Read daily with attention two chapters of Holy Scripture—one from the Old Testament, beginning with the first chapter of Genesis; the other from the New Testament, beginning with the first chapter of St Matthew.
Go down on your knees for a moment in order to prepare yourself for reading, and kiss your Bible affectionately at the beginning and end. You must get to esteem above everything else every word of that book, and to value other books only in so far as they approach it. After having thus read the whole Bible, you would do well to study chiefly the Psalms in the Old Testament and the Epistles of St Paul in the New. If you could learn those two parts by heart it would be of great profit to your soul.
I should not advise you to widen the circle of your philosophical studies, but, on the contrary, to narrow and concentrate them. Concentration alone gives strength. Learn to dwell upon a few lines of an author, even though an indifferent one. Nothing is of much use except what has been fertilized by meditation. A large range of reading dazzles the mind, and in the case of one with a good memory may dazzle others also, but it gives neither strength nor depth. Depth always implies breadth, but breadth does not imply depth. . . .
I recommend myself to your prayers, and embrace you tenderly in our Lord.