Saint Cassian the Roman
If we were to ask some prominent citizen, not to save our life but simply to do us some small favor, would we not fix our gaze and our heart on him? Would we not literally ‘hang upon’ the expression of his face, with great attention, in order to ensure his consent, even with just a nod of his head? We would not tremble in case an inappropriate or gauche word from us would irritate him and change his good intentions towards us.
If we were to find ourself in some court or other with a prosecutor against us and we, at the most critical time in the trial, started to cough, to spit, to laugh, to yawn or to fall asleep, wouldn’t our watchful, ill-intentioned opponent try to turn the strict judge against us straight away?
So now, when we’re entreating the Heavenly Judge, the infallible witness to all the mysteries of our heart and we’re begging Him to redeem us from eternal death- while at the same time we have an ill-disposed and harsh prosecutor, the devil, working against us- should we not concentrate our attention even more closely and make our prayer as fervent as we can? Shouldn’t we keep pestering the Lord to show mercy and kindness towards us?
What do you say? Wouldn’t we be guilty, not only of a mere transgression, but of great impiety, if, at the time when we stand before God, we ceased to have the sense of His presence and felt that there was just somebody there, some blind and deaf audience?
Otherwise, why don’t we shed tears over our apathy, over our lethargy, which stops us from praying?
Otherwise, why don’t we consider it a misdemeanor when, while we’re praying, we allow our mind to be captivated- even briefly- by thoughts that are irrelevant and foreign to the words of our prayer?
Why don’t we lament this falling away and why don’t we ask God’s forgiveness for it?
Why don’t we understand what great damage we do to our soul when our mind ceases to remember God and wanders off into thinking about other things? Don’t we realize that, in this way, the demons are making us their playthings?
So much for us.
Even if the saints are overcome by such thoughts for one moment, however, and are involuntarily distracted from their prayer, they think of it as a kind of sacrilege. Even though they immediately turn the eyes of their heart back to God, they charge themselves with being impious. Even if it’s fleeting, the taint of earthly thoughts is insufferable for them. And they recoil from anything that separates their mind from the True Light.