Even at night I remember your name in observance of your law, LORD...How I love your law, Lord! I study it all day long.
-Psalm 119:55, 97
This post is an abridged version of "Your Progress in Mental Prayer." Below are just a few basic principles of mental prayer or meditation.
Three Important Principles:
Meditation is nothing other than thinking about Christ, an aspect of his life or some spiritual truth. When a diamond specialist examines a diamond, he looks at all of its facets and sides. Shimmering different colors from each angle, the diamond reveals something new about itself as it is manually rotated under the light. Mental prayer essentially does the same thing. It considers some aspect of Christ's life or spiritual truth by looking at it and studying it. It then submits the many aspects of our life as we know it- with all of its disappointments and promises –to the Light of Christ so that the good and the bad may be seen for what they really are.
Nevertheless, the starting point or even the primary reason to meditate is not focus on the self but rather to immerse oneself in the life of Christ. It is only after his words and actions are considered do I move on to the contents of my own life. As such, the Christian who meditates accordingly has, within his possession, an unshakable standard by which to measure his life by. Incidentally, this leads us to the three principles or signposts of mental prayer:
a) Considerations: A consideration is a mental act in which the subject matter is “considered,” thought about or meditated on. The subject matter can be any part of Christ’s life, a Scripture passage or a spiritual truth taken up by a Saint. Of course, the most common expression of these spiritual considerations is when the rosary is prayed or when one reads Scripture. Again, like a diamond specialist, the one who meditates on the life of Christ should use the imagination by placing oneself in the scene or by asking questions or by drawing parallels to previously read Scripture passages. Don't just think about it and move on. Study the mystery or spiritual truth at hand. Probe it! Delve into it! Ask God questions! Whatever you do, do not be passive.
As it pertains to spiritual reading, the content should be relatively short. One reads not only to learn but to assimilate and retain the truths at hand.
b) Admiration: Meditation or spiritual reading has love for its purpose; not just knowledge. This is why it is important that the content of our meditation should lead us to admire Christ in a new and an inspiring way. This point cannot be overstated. Too many theologians or intellectual types within the Church become satisfied with mere knowledge. The more they know, the better off they are…so they think. No. As the spiritual classic. Imitation of Christ, reminds us: "It is better to love the Holy Trinity than to know how to define it." Although meditation is a vehicle of learning- aided by the Spirit’s gifts of knowledge, understanding and wisdom –still, the greatest of all virtues is love.
c) Resolution: The inspiration to love God and neighbor must have some concrete application or else it will not take hold in our lives. Resolutions must accompany my meditation or spiritual reading. The question we should ask ourselves is this: In practical terms, how can I act on these spiritual considerations today? Meditation without a resolution is like a soul without a body. It is nothing but a good thought or intention. Therefore, resolutions are the means through which spiritual truths become incarnate in our actions.
Personal Benefits of Meditation:
As stated previously, the goal of mental prayer is to think with the mind of Christ. Fr. Edward Leen wrote about this spiritual benefit by saying, "The final end of prayer, considered as a potent means for the development of God's life in the soul, is to emancipate us from natural habits or thought and affection and elevate us to a supernatural manner of thinking and willing, to change our natural outlook on life and things and to make it supernatural. The function of prayer aims at bridging over this infinite gulf; it aims at enabling us to enter into the mind of God and from that point of vantage to contemplate all created things and the mysteries of Faith."
With the mind of Christ, therefore, we can more easily detect our own sinfulness and the ulterior motives which often accompany our good deeds. Self-knowledge is intensified so that self-love can be brought to the fore. The words of Christ are then palpably felt: "Without me, you can do nothing." Far from feeling denigrated, the Christian, distrusting himself completely, is now in the position to put total trust in Christ. To be sure, a deep sense of peace and a feeling of liberation is but the happy result of acquiring this supernatural way of thinking. But first, the disease of self-love, as Fr. Leen puts it, needs to be weeded out of the garden. "Prayer," he continues, "properly carried out, will have as its effect the gradual revelation to the soul of this disease of self-love which so intimately penetrates the very fibers of its being as to pass unobserved by the person that does not lead an interior life."
One Benedictine said this about meditating on Scripture: "First comes the Word of God that addresses me, strikes me, challenges me, wounds me, and judges me, but also heals and frees me."
Seeing more imperfection within itself as the light of Christ increases, the soul seeks an antidote. And that antidote is meditation because it ushers in the spirit of sacrifice and the practice of self-denial which is but the substance of every virtue. It not only eradicates selfish motives but it increases our capacity to love. Again, to borrow from the wisdom of Fr. Edward Leen, an Irish priest whose writings flourished during the 1930's: "Prayer is a means to the acquisition and cultivation of the spirit of sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Now, when God finds this disposition in the soul, He hastens to communicate to it a participation more and more abundant of that Divine life of which the soul of Jesus is a limitless ocean."
All of the benefits of mental prayer lend themselves towards a greater awareness of God's presence in our daily lives. It enables us to live life to the full. And probably the most important fruit of mental prayer is that it prepares us, or should I say- "acclimates" us, to what we hope to enjoy as the beatific vision in heaven. As Fr. Leen said, "Anything 'unsaintly' is forever excluded from the presence of God, and it could no more exist there than could a dry twig in a blazing furnace." Hence, the life of glory in heaven is but the continuation of the life of grace on earth. Meditation is one very important instrument which secures this transition!