I understand that what you wish of me is not merely to establish great principles to prove the need of using your time well; for of this, you were persuaded by grace long ago. It is good to find souls with whom more than half of the way, so to speak, has been traveled. But lest this seems to flatter you, there still remains much to be done, and a persuaded mind and even a well-intentioned heart is a long way from an exact and faithful practice.
Nothing has been more common in every age, and still so today than meeting souls who are perfect and saintly in speculation. “You will know them by their works and by their behavior,” said the Savior of the world, and this is one rule which is never deceiving if it has been well developed. It is by this we should judge ourselves.
There are many different times in our life, but the principle which should be applied to the whole of it is that none of it should be considered useless, that it all counts in the order and sequence of our salvation, that every hour is loaded with duties which God has allotted to it with his own hand, and for which he will hold us accountable; because from the first seconds of our existence until the last moment of our life, God has not intended to leave us any empty time, nor any which might be said to be left to our discretion, or for us to lose. The important thing is for us to know what He wants us to do with it.
We reach this knowledge, not by a tense and restless zeal, which would be more apt to completely obscure than to clarify our duties, but by a sincere submission to those who represent God. In the second place, we reach it by a pure and honest heart which seeks God in simplicity, and sincerely combats all the duplicity and false cleverness of self-interest, as fast as he finds them; for a person does not only lose time by doing nothing, or doing what is wrong, he also loses it by doing something other than that which he ought to do, even though what he does is good. We are strangely ingenious in perpetually seeking our own interest, and what worldly souls do crudely and openly, people who want to live for God often do more subtly, with the help of some pretext, which, serving them as a screen, stops them from seeing the ugliness of their behavior.
A general rule for the good use of time is to accustom ourselves to live in continual dependence on the Spirit of God, receiving from moment to moment whatever it pleases Him to give us. When we don’t know what we should do, we should immediately turn to him in our weakness, so that the goodness that God has given us does not drift away from us in exhaustion. We call on him lifting ourselves up to him as it were when we see our intimacy with God slipping away because we are allowing material things to lead us imperceptibly off the path and so that we find ourselves forgetting our duty and moving towards worldliness.
Happy is the soul which by sincere self-renunciation holds itself ceaselessly in the hands of its Creator, ready to do everything which he wishes, which never stops saying to itself a hundred times a day, “Lord, what would you have me do?” “Teach me to perform your holy will, for you are my God.” “You will show that you are my God by teaching me, and I will show that I am your creature by obeying you.” “In whose hands, O great God, should I be better off than in yours?” “Beyond that, my soul is always exposed to the attacks of its enemies, and my salvation is always in danger.” “I am only ignorance and weakness, and I should consider my ruin certain if you left me to my own leadership, leaving to my own disposal the precious time which you give me for my sanctification; and following the ways of my own heart blindly.”
“In such a state, what could I make of time, but a wrong choice? And what should I be able to develop in myself but self-interest, sin, and damnation?” “Send your light then, O Lord, to guide my steps.” “Shed your grace upon me at every moment according to my needs, as one gives nourishment to children according to their age and their weakness.” “Teach me, by a holy use of the present time which you gave to me to repair the past, and never should I count foolishly on the future!”
Our time for business and for outside affairs, to be well used only needs simple attention to the rules of Providence. Since it is he who prepares them for us and who offers them to us, we have only to follow him obediently and to yield entirely to God our mood, our own will, our sensitiveness, our anxiety, our self-concern, as well as the over-enthusiasm, haste, foolish joy and other emotions which all make conflicts for us according to whether the things which we have to do are agreeable or inconvenient. We must be careful not to be swamped by countless outer concerns, whatever they may be. We should try to begin every undertaking in the vision of the pure glory of God, to continue it without relaxing, and to finish it without strain or impatience.
Our time for social contacts and diversion is the most dangerous for us and can be the most useful for others. At that time, we must be on guard, that is, more faithful in the presence of God. The practice of Christian vigilance so recommended by our Lord, the aspiration and elevation of mind and heart toward God, not only as a habit but actually doing so as much as possible in the simple light of faith, the gentle and peaceful dependence of the soul upon grace, which it recognizes as the only basis of its safety and of its strength; all this ought to be called upon to keep the soul from the subtle poison which is often hidden in conversation and recreation, and to let it know how to use wisely an opportunity to teach and influence others. This is especially necessary for those in positions of great power, and for those whose words can do great good or great harm.
Our free time is usually the most pleasant and most useful for ourselves. We can scarcely use it better than by consecrating it to the renewal of our strength (I mean even bodily strength) in more secret and more intimate communion with God. Prayer is so necessary and the source of so much good, that the soul which has found this treasure cannot resist returning to it when left to itself.
There is more to be said about these three kinds of time. Perhaps I shall be able to say something if the ideas which impress me at the moment are not lost. In any case, it is a very small loss. God gives further views when it pleases him. If he does not give them, it is a sign that they are not needed, and if they are needed for our good, we need not mind losing time for ourselves to receive whatever God wants us to learn.
Christian Perfection Topics
Christian Perfection is the collection of short letters or essays written by Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fénelon (6 August 1651 to 28 March 1720), better known as François Fénelon.
In my opinion, these letters are some of the most helpful Christian writings that I have ever read concerning the way of spiritual maturity. I have taken from the translation of Christian Perfection made by Mildred Whitney Stillman and reworded sections to make things easier to glean what I believe was the intended meaning. You can click the link Christian Perfection above to read Mrs. Stillman’s translation for yourself, and I highly recommend you read the introduction by CHARLES F. WHISTON, The Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California, written in 1946.