By Francois Fenelon
I understand perfectly well that you do not ask at my hands any proof that it is incumbent upon us to employ all our time to good purpose; grace has long since convinced you of this. It is a pleasant thing to come in contact with those who can meet us half way; but, notwithstanding this, much remains to be done, and there is a wonderful distance between the conviction of the intellect, even combined with the good intention of the heart, and a faithful and exact obedience.
Nothing has been more common in ancient, as well as in modern times, then to meet souls who were perfect and holy, theoretically. (Matt. vii. 16,) "Ye shall know them by their fruits," says the Saviour. And this is the only rule that never deceives, when it is properly understood; it is that by which we must judge ourselves.
There is a time for everything in our lives; but the maxim that governs every moment, is, that there should be none useless; that they should all enter into the order and sequence of our salvation; that they are all accompanied by duties which God has allotted with his own hand, and of which He will demand an account; for from the first instant of our existence to the last, He has never assigned us a barren moment, nor one which we can consider as given up to our own discretion. The great thing is to recognize his will in relation to them. This is to be effected, not by an eager and restless seeking, which is much more likely to spoil everything, than to enlighten us as to our duty, but by a true submission to those whom God has set over us, and a pure and upright heart which seeks God in its simplicity, and heartily opposes all the duplicity and false wisdom of self, as fast as it is revealed. For we misemploy our time, not only when we do wrong or do nothing, but also when we do something else than what was incumbent on us at the moment, even though it may be the means of good. We are strangely ingenious in perpetually seeking our own interest; and what the world does nakedly and without shame, those who desire to be devoted to God do also, but in a refined manner, under favor of some pretext which serves as a veil to hide from them the deformity of their conduct.
The best general means to ensure the profitable employment of our time, is to accustom ourselves to living in continual dependence upon the Spirit of God and his law, receiving, every instant, whatever He is pleased to bestow; consulting Him in every emergency requiring instant action, and having recourse to Him in our weaker moments, when virtue seems to fail; invoking his aid, and rising our hearts to Him whenever we are solicited by sensible objects, and find ourselves surprised and estranged from God, and far from the true road.
Happy is the soul that commits itself, by a sincere self-abandonment, into the hands of its Creator, ready to do all his will, and continually crying, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do? Teach me to do thy will, for Thou art my God!" (Acts. ix. 6; Psalm cxliii. 10.)
During our necessary occupations, we need only pay a simple attention to the leadings of Divine Providence. As they are all prepared for us, and presented by Him, our only care should be to receive them with a child-like spirit, and submit everything absolutely to Him; our temper, our own will, our scruples, our restlessness, our self-reflections, our overflowing emotions of hurry, vain joy, or other passions which assault us according as we are pleased or displeased with the different events of the day. Let us be careful, however, not to suffer ourselves to be overwhelmed by the multiplicity of our exterior occupations, be they what they may.
Let us endeavor to commence every enterprise with a pure view to the glory of God, continue it without distraction, and finish it without impatience.
The intervals of relaxation and amusement are the most dangerous seasons for us, and perhaps the most useful for others; we must, then, be on our guard, that we be as faithful as possible to the presence of God. We must make use of all that Christian vigilance so much recommended by our Lord; raise our hearts to God in the simple view of faith, and dwell in sweet and peaceful dependence upon the Spirit of grace, as the only means of our safety and strength. This is especially necessary for such as are looked up to as in authority, and whose words may be the cause of so much good or evil.
Our leisure hours are ordinarily the sweetest and pleasantest for ourselves; we can never employ them better than in refreshing our spiritual strength, by a secret and intimate communion with God. Prayer is so necessary, and the source of so many blessings, that he who has discovered the treasure cannot be prevented from having recourse to it, whenever he has an opportunity.
I could add much more concerning these matters, and I may perhaps do so, if my present views do not escape me; but, if they do, it is of little consequence. God gives others when He pleases; if He does not, it is a proof that they are not necessary; and if so, we should be well satisfied with their loss.