Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer every day, except when we are busy—then we need an hour.
Attributed to St. Francis de Sales by (among others) the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (see the USCCB website); Scott Hahn gives a paraphrase in Signs of Life (p. 239); and I’m posting because there’s a FB picture going around right now with this quotation on it.
Setting aside the grammatical error (Grammarly quite properly points out to me that “every one” and “everyone” are not interchangeable, and it’s “every one” that’s meant here), I am still wondering if St. Francis de Sales actually wrote this. The paradoxical style of the quotation doesn’t sound like him to me, so I went looking.
His works are voluminous, and it would take someone braver than I to claim for certain that he didn’t say it, but:
- A Google search doesn’t turn up attributed sources. It does turn up variations using “meditation” instead of prayer, and that’s one thing that makes me think that it might be a real quotation. Another variant says “Every Christian” instead of “every one/everyone.”
- It’s not on his Wikiquote page.
- Searching Google Books turned up the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults and Scott Hahn, as mentioned above. (I start out searching for snippets rather than a full phrase so I can catch variant forms; I think I started out with busy hour prayer francis de sales as the search terms for this one.) Dr. Hahn usually doesn’t use footnote markers–he just puts notes in the back by page–so I can’t tell if he has a primary source or not since the Google Books snippet doesn’t go that far.
- I searched the CCEL copies of Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God for the words “busy” and “hour” (one search on each book for each word) and didn’t find anything resembling the alleged quotation.
- Back to Google Books: I searched for needs half an hour of every day, except when we are busy francis de sales (omitting the words that change in variants) and sorted by date. The earliest hit is from 1996, in Meditations for People Who Worry, which gives no source. I did get a match from a book of St. Francis’s letters, but it wasn’t this quotation. That match does give me confidence that, if the saying were in his letter, it would have turned up in the search.
I did find the following snippet on Google Books (I can’t remember exactly what search terms I was using by that point), from An Anglo-Catholic’s Thoughts on Religion:
I’m sure that St. Francis’s name was part of the search terms, the quotation sounds like him, and the fact that it comes from a letter makes it even more likely that it’s from him. Unfortunately I can’t find the original on this one either.
I did find a searchable copy of his Letters to Persons in the World at the Internet Archive. Searching for meditation turned up several examples of advice to start out with a half an hour daily, moving up to an hour as the person gained in experience with meditation. The word hour gave no search results at all.
Given the volume of St. Francis’s work, I am very reluctant to claim that he never wrote the quotation in question, but it makes me nervous that I can’t find a reference to it before 1996 and that I can’t find it in the most obvious places to look.