• Fr. van Zee

Prayer and Meditation

The following is an expanded version of a sermon I gave a while ago. I thought to include this expansion because today is a rogation day[1] and it goes along with silence and being open to hearing the voice of God.

St. Augustine emphasized the great importance of prayer by his famous phrase, “if you do not pray you won’t be saved.” Similarly, St Aloysius Gonzaga justly said that “without a great zeal for mental prayer a soul will never attain great virtue.”

St. Laurence Justinian emphasized the rewards of prayer: “By prayer, fervor is renewed, and the fire of divine love is increased.”[2] In the same vein, St. Francis de Sales writes in his famous book on Catholic devotion, Introduction to the Devout Life: “prayer opens the understanding to the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly Love—nothing can so effectually purify the mind from its ignorance, or the will from its perverse affections. It is as a healing water which causes the roots of our good desires to send forth fresh shoots, which washes away the soul’s imperfections, and allays the thirst of passion.”

The great mystic and doctor of the Church, St. Theresa of Avila explained the nature of it, “Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” By prayer we mean the lifting of the mind and heart to God. Heart is not to be understood as feelings, but, rather, the will.

Heaven is the immediate vision of God and a concomitant movement of the will to perfect union with God. Thus, by repeatedly lifting mind and will we become more united to God, we become more heavenly. Prayer is practicing for heaven, a moment of union with God here and now helps us to be better prepared for an eternity perfectly united to Him.

People often ask how much a person must pray each day. At least 15 minutes would fulfill the requirements of strict justice. However, the more you love someone the more you want to be around them and talk to them. It should not be hard to go past the minimum, at least from time to time.

If you find it hard to begin, start with spiritual reading. Pick up the life of a saint or a devotional. You will want to avoid any work that is more academic than devotional. There is a big difference between prayer and study; with study the end is knowledge while with prayer the end is union.

There are distinct kinds of prayer. We all know the various vocal prayers that we were taught like the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be. As wonderful as these prayers are, and we should pray them every day, there are other kinds of prayer. Discursive Meditation, for example, is a reasoned application of the mind to some supernatural truth in order to penetrate its meaning, to love it, and to carry it into practice with the assistance of grace

“Children learn to speak by hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation; and so if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act and will like Himself.”[3]

I strongly recommend that you read and practice one form of meditation or another. St. Francis de Sales in his book, the Introduction to the Devout Life, has an excellent explanation with many useful tips. Another I recommend is the way traced by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. He also gives the subject for many different meditations.

Meditation is picking a doctrine of the Church, a perfection of God, some aspect of Christ, e.g. the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, virtues of human nature—burning charity) a perfection of our Lady, etc.

Go through a Litany until you find something that particularly appeals to you.

Look at a doctrine, aspect of God’s nature, etc. from a variety of different points of view. E.g. God’s goodness—look at all the good things God has done for you, the beauty of creation, that He became Man, that He died on the Cross to save sinners, that He gave us His own Mother; this would be working on gratitude.

St. Ignatius outlines a kind of hybrid mental-vocal prayer form. He suggests meditating on slowly on the different phrases of well-known vocal prayers. St. Theresa of Avila spent an hour just meditating on the words “Our Father.”

How does one spend so much time on one phrase? Think about the positive aspects of good fathers; kindness, strength, guidance, self-sacrificing and how God has all these qualities in an infinite way. As good as some fathers are who I have known, God is infinitely better.

You can meditate on the presence of the Trinity in your soul if you are in the state of grace; that God, who created the heavens and the earth, the Redeemer of the human race, the One before whom Angels tremble lives in your soul. Other possible subjects include: the good received from the sacraments, the prayers of the Mass, Psalms, passages in scripture.

Prayer is an act of a habit. It is most efficacious for keeping custody of the mind—keeping it under our control. It further aids in acquiring a discipline of life and the strength to practice mortification.

In order to acquire a virtue like love of God, attention is indispensable. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas emphasized that without proper intellectual attention we cannot acquire any virtue. St. Louis de Montfort, in his book the Secret of the Rosary, said that if we do not pay attention to our prayers, neither will God. It may seem like trifling details but it you should try to arrange all the circumstances as best as possible to be able to pay attention. Get to quiet place. Get up early or do it after kids go to bed. Your husband or wife can watch the kids while you pray and vice versa. Play tag team.

Happiness is directly proportionate to prayer. Thus, if you are not happy it is because you are not praying or not praying well.

The consolations we sometimes experience in prayer are helpful, but they are not the end or goal of prayer. In other words, consolations are to bring you closer to God, but they are not God. St John of the Cross said that we should seek the God of consolations and not the consolations of God. Furthermore, we know that demons can give sensible consolations. “Satan himself can pass for an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

After having meditated, we should make practical applications, a resolution to do something about it. For example, after having meditated on the Passion of Our Lord, I might make the resolution to offer five kisses of a crucifix, one for each of His sacred wounds or after meditating on Christ’s words “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” I decide to pray for the people who have hurt me in imitation of Christ.

Meditation should be regulated, consistently done at specific times. St. Francis de Sales recommends the morning: “let it be early in the morning, when your mind will be less cumbered, and fresh after the night’s rest. Do not spend more than an hour thus, unless specially advised to do so by your spiritual father.”

To this last point St Thomas Aquinas adds: Prayer should last as long as soul in fervor and devotion, should continue as long as it can continue without tedium and continual distractions.

Start with 15 minutes of meditation. Break it up if necessary. Try to get up to 30 minutes a day by increasing the time slowly.

We should try to have regularity in life, otherwise there will be irregularity in our prayer life.

Spiritual Reading is most helpful before meditation to get our minds focused on good and holy things and is an excellent primer or starter because the zeal of the saints rubs off on us. We see their love of God and what the same for ourselves.

If distractions come and go, push past it. Do not get discouraged because you are distracted. St. Francis de Sales says, “That if in their meditations they do nothing else than banish distractions and temptations, the meditation is well made, provided the distraction is not voluntary. The Lord is pleased with a good intention, with a patient endurance, during the whole time prescribed for meditation, and with the pain arising from distractions, and will bestow many graces in return.”

As far as your posture, do what maintains attention; sitting is fine. However, one should avoid extremes; overly painful or excessively comfortable can lead to distractions.

By prayer and meditation, we grow closer to God. We will become more united to Him. Since Heaven is being perfectly united to God, the more we are united in this life through prayer, the more heavenly we will become. Gifts of the HS will come more apparent. The faith will be more convincing. He wants to be with us. He wants us to be saved. Remember the Scriptures, “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph 6:18). “Pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:17-18).

[1] For a thorough explanation of the Litanies prescribed for today and the history of this practice, see Dom Gueranger’s work: The Liturgical Year Vol. VIII. Paschal Time—Book Two under the section for April 25th. [2] Dignity and Duties of the Priest by St. Alphonsus, 293. [3] St. Francis de Sales. Introduction to the Devout Life. The Necessity of Prayer

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