Mary’s School of Sanctity
As Catholics we know that we need to pray. Our Lord tells us to “pray always.” Perhaps we take it for granted that we know how to pray. Yet, unfortunately, especially in these times of apostasy (since Vatican II), Catholics have not been taught how to pray. In particular we need to learn how to pray using mental prayer.
Some time ago the Catholic Candle ran an article about how to say the Rosary. This article explained about prayer and how to meditate. Let’s review the information given there.
Prayer is the lifting of the heart and mind to God. Meditation involves bringing some truth to mind and thinking about this truth, or one could call it pondering a truth. One considers the truth and draws what could be called some “profit, insight, or further conclusion” from “the considering” that one is presently doing. This process of considering might be called the preparation for mental prayer. The actual mental prayer is simply this, that one says something to God. This saying something to God is referred to as “an affection” or an “act of the will.” The consideration can be compared to the tilling of the soil, and the act of the will is like the harvest or fruit of the consideration. The goal of the consideration is the acts of the will. If one does not make acts of the will, then one is not lifting both the heart and the mind to God, and thus, one is not praying. When one is doing a good job making considerations, then the heart seems to overflow with things to say. This pouring out of the heart is what is also called the colloquy. These acts are typically of four kinds, namely, thanksgiving, contrition, petition, or adoration, which are the four types of prayer.
In meditation one considers some truth. One can think and consider about some topic, for example, the fall of the Angels. Then someone would ponder as many aspects of this topic as he wished, and this would produce many things to say to God, for instance, “Thank-you, Dear Lord, for revealing this truth to mankind”; or “Thank-You, Dear Lord, for saving me from falling into hell”; or “Thank-You for Your mercy to me, etc.”
One can also meditate on a standard Catholic prayer and think about the words of the prayer itself. This kind of meditation would involve thinking about the meaning of the words (singly, or perhaps, a couple at a time) and dwelling on them in order to appreciate them, and these thoughts would inspire acts of the will. This might go something like this, maybe taking the Hail Mary:
· One would say Hail (thinking inside himself – this is a greeting to Mary)
· Then, Mary (this name means “seas”)
· Then, Full of grace (this means that Mary is completely holy)
These are examples of the considerations one would make, and the following are possible “acts of the will” which the considerations might inspire:
· Thou are so fair, O sweet Mother, and so pure.
· I love you, Dear Mary, or, thy sweet name consoles me.
· Help me, Fair Lady of grace.
Now, in our daily Rosary we practice meditation as we consider the points of the mysteries and make acts of the will, namely, say something to Our Lord, Our Lady, or the saints. Yet, a separate daily meditation on a particular subject is very efficacious for our salvation and sanctification. Setting aside 25 minutes or a half hour per day for a meditation time is a way to make sure we actually do a meditation. It is very important to pick a time in which one will be able to actually get away for this precious quiet time with God.
But how does one do a meditation? First, select a topic or a book to read to get some food for thought. When beginning, we should imagine that we are in the Presence of God. We could think about how God will judge us when we die, and acknowledge how very sinful we are. We can make a preparatory prayer offering to God all our actions for His Glory and asking Him to help make our actions for His glory.
After our preparatory prayer, we should set forth our intentions for the meditation we are about to do. We should ask for what we need, most importantly, our spiritual needs.
When making the considerations described above, we use our intellect. We can use our imagination to make a mental picture, based on our topic, to construct a sort of backdrop to help us reflect. At this point, we can read a bit from a spiritual book to get ‘food’ for thought. We should read slowly and ponder the meaning of the words we are reading. We should ask ourselves often, “What is the good Lord teaching me in this passage? How does this apply to my soul?”
When we are struck by something in what we are reading, we should pause and let the Holy Ghost teach us what He wills. It is often at this point in the considerations that we get many insights. The insights we get usually inspire us to say something to God, the angels, Our Lady, or perhaps our patron saint. We should go ahead and say what we are inspired to say. When we are talking to God, even just inside our head, we are making affections or acts of our will. This is the praying part of the meditation and is also called the fruit of the meditation. Even if we use the rest of the time we have set aside for our meditation to continue saying acts of our will, we should not fret because God is allowing us to pray in a manner that pleases Him.
If the “juices” of our acts of the will “dry up”, then we should go back to where we left off in the book and/or topic we were using, continue to ponder and make considerations until we are inclined to say more to God.
When the time slot we have allotted is just about used up, we can wind down this precious time by saying a set prayer, e.g., The Anima Christi, Hail Mary, or a favorite Litany, etc., and close up our Meditation with a prayer of thanksgiving to Our Lord and Our Lady.
After the meditation, preferably directly after, we should take some notes on the insights we received. This is a good way to help us keep in mind the pearls we have received. Also, it is a good idea to examine how well we focused during our mental prayer.
Having a meditation schedule is very helpful. This means we have a plan of what we will meditate on for each day of the whole week. The plan might go something like this:
Mondays—I will meditate on my particular judgment. (Using such and such a book)
Tuesdays— I will meditate on the writings of my favorite Saint.
Wednesdays – I will meditate on some part of the Gospels.
Thursdays – I will meditate on one of the Psalms.
Fridays – I will meditate on Our Lord’s Passion.
Saturdays – I will meditate on Mary’s Sorrows.
Sundays – I will meditate on the Propers for the Mass of that Sunday.
Having such a plan keeps us looking forward to the topic of the day and keeps us focused on the material we are using for our meditation. Designing one’s own plan is very fruitful. It is a way to find the time to get in some spiritual reading—which is sometimes difficult to do in our busy lives.
Now that we have learned how to meditate, let us consider why we should do a daily meditation. The most important reason is because it gives God His just due. We owe it to Him to do a meditation. Also, it pleases God and it is the means that God wants us to take to progress to a higher state of perfection.
In the Objective Truth Series we discussed the importance of being objective and trying to learn to acquire more and more objectivity in order to make proper decisions, and to acquire humility, maintain humility, and increase in humility. A strong prayer life and depending on God are absolutely necessary to keep the proper perspective and for peace of soul. This is an important reason why a daily meditation is so helpful. It forces us to step back, reflect more, and seek the help of God. We need to feel our need for God, and daily meditation makes this really hit home. Thus, daily meditation helps foster the needed objectivity to acquire humility. “Unless you become humble like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
God is our heavenly Father and wants us to feel like the adopted children that we truly are. Daily meditation helps us recalibrate our soul and keep in touch with the eternal reality that we must save our souls, namely, be good clay that the Divine Sculptor can mold into the saints He desires us to be.
Daily meditation helps us take time out of our crazy-busy life for God. It is, as it were, putting ourselves on the operating table and “holding still” so the Divine Physician can take His Knife and work on our souls. Likewise, daily meditation is our medicine, our food, our lifeline, and our security which keeps us clear-headed and refreshes our poor, tired souls. Our daily meditation becomes our daily strengthening, which has a “healing” and “soothing” effect on our souls. Again, however, most importantly, we owe it to God to pray to Him in daily meditation.
God knows we need these things and Our Lord tells us to “pray always”. He also taught us the Our Father to help us understand our dependence on Him. Furthermore, we are called to the life of contemplation and mysticism. Daily meditation prepares us for this divine friendship. Daily meditation is the school of sanctity which we must and should desire to attend. Thus, we really become drawn to our daily meditation and find that we cannot get along without it.
The great medieval commentator, Fr. Cornelius de Lapide, in explaining Our Lord’s words to Mary Magdalene’s sister Martha, that Mary has chosen the better part, says the following things about meditation:
Figuratively, this “one thing” is to be acquired by meditation and prayer, for thus men are brought into communion with God. Hence, he who would lead a religious life should seek this one thing only, so as to be thereby drawn into union with the Almighty.
St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, also emphasizes how crucial a daily meditation is to spiritual advancement. Here are his words:
But you will ask what are you to do, that you too may be inflamed with the love of Jesus Christ. Imitate David: "In my meditation a fire shall flame out” (Ps. xxxviii). Meditation is the blessed furnace in which the holy fire of divine love is kindled. Make mental prayer every day, meditate on the passion of Jesus Christ, and doubt not but you too shall burn with this blessed flame.
In these words, Cornelius de Lapide and St. Alphonsus de Liguori are telling us how crucial it is to do meditations, showing us that meditation is how we keep our friendship with Christ going and our love of Christ growing. In fact, meditation is the foundation for the higher life of contemplation which we will study in our next class.
We bring Mary our gratitude poem now, thanking her for allowing us to learn about mental prayer and how it pleases her Son and brings our hearts closer to Him.
Mary, Our Meditation Teacher
O Mary, Mother of our school,
May we make it our daily rule,
To meditate a span of time,
In learning truths, which are sublime.
Mary, may this be our delight,
To draw closer to, Thy Son’s Light,
To please Him with our mental prayer,
And learning things which are so fair!
We thank thee, Mary for these gems,
From which our meditation stems,
Insights given, to help us through,
In trials of life, they are our dew.
Mental prayer is the foundation,
To prepare for contemplation,
Wonderful Mother, she invites,
To start the path up to the heights.
She wants to unite us this way,
With visits to her Son each day,
Thus, blessed union with her Son,
With meditation we’ve begun!