From Humility, The Journey Toward Holiness
The secret of secrets: humility is the soul of true prayer. Until the spirit of the heart is renewed, until it is emptied of all Earthly desires and stands in a habitual hunger and thirst after God, which is the true spirit of prayer, until then, all our prayer will be more or less like lessons given to students. We will mostly say them only because we dare not neglect them. But be not discouraged; take the following advice, and then you may go to church without any danger of mere lip-service or hypocrisy, although there may be a hymn or a prayer whose language is higher than that of your heart. Go to the church as the tax collector went to the temple; stand inwardly, in the spirit of your mind, in that form that he outwardly expressed when he cast down his eyes and could only say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Stand unchangeably, at least in your desire, in this form or state of heart; it will sanctify every petition that comes out of your mouth; and when anything is read or sung or prayed that is more exalted than your heart is, if you make this an occasion of further identifying with the spirit of the tax collector, you will then be helped and highly blessed by those prayers and praises that seem to belong to a heart better than yours.
This, my friend, is the secret of secrets. It will help you to reap where you have not sown and will be a continual source of grace in your soul; for everything that inwardly stirs you or outwardly happens to you becomes good to you if it finds you in this humble state of mind. For nothing is in vain or without profit to the humble soul; it stands always in the state of divine growth, and everything that falls upon it is like dew for Heaven. Close yourself, therefore, in this form of humility; all good is enclosed in it; it is a fresh spring from Heaven that turns the fire of the fallen soul into the meekness of the divine life, and creates that oil out of which the love to God and man gets its flame. Be always clothed in it; let it be as a garment wherewith you are always covered and a shield with which you are girded; breathe nothing but in and from its spirit; see nothing but with its eyes; hear nothing but with its ears. And then, whether you are in the church or out of the church, hearing the praises of God or receiving wrongs from men and the world, all will be edification, and everything will help promote your growth in the life of God.
I will here give you an infallible touchstone that will test all to the truth: retire from the world and all conversation for one month. Neither write, nor read, nor debate anything with yourself; stop all the former workings of your heart and mind, and with all the strength of your heart stand as continually as you can in the following form of prayer to God. Offer it frequently on your knees; but whether sitting, walking, or standing, be always inwardly longing and earnestly praying this one prayer to God: that of his great goodness he would make known to you, and take from your heart every kind and form and degree of pride, whether it be from evil spirits or your own corrupt nature; and that he would awaken in you the deepest depth and truth of that humility which can make you capable of his light and Holy Spirit. Reject every thought but that of waiting and praying in this manner from the bottom of your heart with such truth and earnestness as people in agony pray and be delivered from their torment. In this spirit of prayer, I will venture to affirm that if you had twice as many evil spirits in you as Mary Magdalene had, they would all be cast out of you, and you would be forced with her to weep tears of love at the feet of the holy Jesus.