“Knowing how much is at stake, the devil wants at all costs to keep us from being faithful to mental prayer.” (Father Jacques Philippe)
“Mary treasured all these things [about Jesus], pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
The great Catholic spiritual writers agree that regular meditation is a crucial component of the spiritual life and of growth in holiness. Meditation is important because it helps us focus with intensity and depth on what is of utmost importance to our lives – the reign of Jesus Christ in our hearts. The focal point for our meditations should, in fact, be the life of Jesus Christ – he who came into the world to enlighten all men (see John 1:9 ). Admittedly, some of the books and manuals on meditation propose long and complex methods of meditation that may be more advisable for professional religious than busy lay men and women. Here is a very simple way to meditate which I am formulating from good books I have read.
Begin your meditation by placing yourself mentally – recollected – in the presence of God and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to guide you through the meditation and make it profitable for you. The heart of the meditation will then be:
1. Read over slowly and carefully and with deep attention the written material (text) you have chosen to meditate on (for example: the Parable of the Prodigal Son or a few paragraphs from The Imitation of Christ or any suitable, doctrinally sound book).
2. When the meditation strikes at your heart, and you are moved, make acts of love, praise and thanksgiving to God. These “acts” are the beginning of prayer. The ultimate purpose of the meditation is to produce these acts of affection – to ignite the flame of love in our hearts for God and His truths, etc.
3. Full of love for God, enter into conversation with Him in a deeply personal manner. Converse with God. Talk to Him. Share your heart with Him. Listen. Rest in Him. Saint Teresa of Avila is very adamant that this conversing with the Lord through meditation is the fuel which propels the spiritual life to much greater growth! If helpful to your conversation, you can use your imagination to enter into a Bible scene to talk to Jesus or Mary (for example, kneeling before the Lord during his Agony in the Garden and talking to him and consoling him, and letting him console you).
When the meditation is over, you can then thank the Lord for the graces and love you have received through the meditation, and perhaps make a line or verse from the meditation into your “go-to” prayer for the day! Finally, to conclude the meditation, you might consider making a resolution. Thus, if your meditation was on the Holy Eucharist, you might make a resolution to spend more time in preparing to receive that sacrament, or, if your meditation was on the power of forgiveness, you might make a resolution to truly forgive someone who has hurt or offended you.
That’s it! The length of the meditation depends upon the amount of time you have and your preference. However, even a fifteen minute meditation can be quite profitable. With practice you will develop your own style and method of meditating which need only incorporate acts of worship towards God and personal conversation with Him. The point to remember is that the written text of the meditation (which constitutes a profound reflection on a matter pertaining to the faith) serves as a means or as a platform to lift your heart to praise God and to enter into intimate conversation with Him.
PERSONAL NOTE: I normally meditate in my car. I get up early in the morning when the world is quiet, drive to a nearby bagel establishment, buy a raisin bagel and a large coffee, and then go to my special place in the parking lot. I then eat my bagel, grab my current book on the back seat, say a short preparatory prayer placing myself in the presence of God, and then begin reading my book slowly and with careful attention to what is being said. I occasionally reach for my coffee, and frankly the caffeine enhances concentration! When I get to the point where the written material stokes the fire in my heart (so to speak), I then go to God in affective praise and silent mental prayer. If I’m experiencing dryness in my meditation, I may turn on a Christian music CD to provide an emotional lift. Many of the books I reference in these notes have been the starting point for my meditations, and the notes which I write.
Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.
P.S. Whatever the goal of other types of meditation may be, the goal of Christian meditation is to increase our closeness (union) to God through love.
References: I am relying completely on four excellent books by four priests. The key point from these books is that meditation should lead to acts of love and worship to our God, and also to deep and intimate conversation with Him (telling Him, as well, our needs and difficulties). Here are the books:
1. Conversation with Christ by Thomas Rohrbach
2. Time for God by Jacques Phillippe
3. Progress through Mental Prayer by Edward Leen
4. Difficulties in Mental Prayer by Eugene Boylan
Two books I recommend for meditation: The Creator and the Creature by F.W. Faber and Consoling the Heart of Jesus by Father Michael E. Gaitley (but that’s me and other solid Catholic authors may appeal to you).
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