The following is from St. Thomas More’s “The Sadness of Christ,” a meditation on the passion and death of Christ which he wrote while imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting his own trial and eventual martyrdom. The immediate context is his thoughts about the apostles falling asleep in the garden of Gethsemane after Jesus had already asked them to stay awake, and what that means for us, who also have a tendency to fall asleep during our prayers:
“Nevertheless, such is God’s kindness that even when we are negligent and slumbering on the pillow of our sins, He disturbs us from time to time, shakes us, strikes us, and does His best to wake us up by means of tribulations. But still, even though He thus proves Himself to be most loving even in His anger, most of us, in our gross human stupidity, misinterpret His action and imagine that such a great benefit is an injury, whereas actually (if we have any sense) we should feel bound to pray frequently and fervently that whenever we should wander away from Him He may use blows to drive us back to the right way, even though we are unwilling and struggle against Him.
Thus we must first pray that we may see the way and with the Church we must say to God, “From blindness of heart, deliver us, O Lord.” And with the prophet we must say, “Teach me to do your will” and “Show me your ways and teach me your paths.” Then we must intensely desire to run after you eagerly, O God, in the odor of your ointments, in the most sweet scent of your Spirit. But if we grow weary along the way (as we almost always do) and lag so far behind that we barely manage to follow at a distance, let us immediately say to God, “Take my right hand” and “Lead me along your path.”
Then if we are so overcome by weariness that we no longer have the heart to go on, if we are so soft and lazy that we are about to stop altogether, let us beg God to drag us along even as we struggle not to go. Finally, if we resist when He draws us on gently, and are stiff-necked against the will of God, against our own salvation, utterly irrational like horses and mules which have no intellects, we ought to beseech God humbly in the most fitting words of the prophet, “Hold my jaws hard, O God, with bridle and bit when I do not draw near to you.”
But then, since the fondness for prayer is the first of our virtues to go when we are overtaken by sloth, and since we are reluctant to pray for anything (however useful) that we are reluctant to receive, certainly if we have any sense at all we ought to take this weakness into account well in advance, before we fall into such sick and troubled states of mind — we ought, in other words, to pour out to God unceasingly such prayers as I have mentioned, and we should humbly implore Him that, if at some later time we should ask for anything untoward — allured perhaps by the enticements of the flesh or seduced by a longing for worldly things or overthrown by the clever snares of the devils — He may be deaf to such prayers and avert what we pray for, showering upon us instead those things He knows will be good for us, no matter how much we beg Him to take them away. In fact, this is the way we normally act (if we are wise) when we are expecting a fever: we give advance warning to those who are to take care of us in our sickness that even if we are to beg them, they should not give us any of these things which our diseased condition makes us perversely long for, thought they are harmful to our health and only make the disease worse.”
I have been reading this passage over and over, meditating on the combination of dogged faith and hope with cagey realism about his own human frailty, redeemed by his absolute trust in the providence of God working all things out for good, even imprisonment, public disgrace, sickness, false accusations, mock trial and death. This confidence was his, I believe, because he prayed for it. Unfortunately it was not shared by his wife or most of his family, but I sincerely hope they came to understand eventually.
St. Thomas More, pray for us.