Sunday, January 17, 2010
From Spencer’s “The Little Grain of Wheat”
"IN the first place, we will speak of the ways of making vocal prayer. Besides the ordinary way we have of reciting our vocal prayers, i.e., a simple repetition oj the words, with a general attention to God and to the intention for which we are reciting them there are two other ways, highly recommended by the saints.
One is to recite the words of the prayer, say, of the Our Father, very slowly and thoughtfully, attending to the sense of the words, and pausing an instant after each sentence or clause, in order to make the meaning of the prayer our own. It is well to get into the habit, in fact, when we are alone and have enough leisure, of saying our prayers slowly and thoughtfully, and with great exterior and interior reverence, even though at times we may find no devotion in considering the meaning of every sentence, but only have in our souls a sense of the presence of God. In that case it will be better simply to recite the prayer slowly, and with quiet recollection of the divine presence.
The other way of reciting vocal prayers, particularly the Our Father and the Hail Mary, is, in fact, a method of turning vocal into mental prayer. It consists in not merely reciting the prayer slowly, but resting at each sentence or petition, and meditating upon what is there said, or asked of God. It is the method St. Teresa taught her nuns, and is a most profitable as well as an easy way of meditating. Some people find it very difficult to make use of mental prayer by the ordinary methods. They will not, perhaps, find this method so difficult. We will give a rapid sketch of the manner of meditating on the Our Father, and of some of the subjects of meditation to be found in it. Those who are not able to meditate by reasoning upon points, may find in this method great help and encouragement.
Upon the very first words of this divine prayer of Our Lord the soul may rest and find nourishment. It is not necessary, having begun the first words of the prayer, to go on and finish it; but if, during the whole time of prayer, the soul rests upon these or any other words, there let her stay as long as she is inclined. Afterwards, if there is any more time, let her go on to the next sentence or petition.
On the words, "Our Father," the soul may consider what a great thing it is to be the son or daughter of such a great Lord and Sovereign, and what it is to have such a Father, Who is almighty, all-loving, all-good, able and desirous to help and benefit His child to the uttermost. Again, having such a Father in God, His only-begotten Son is become our brother, in Whom we are all brethren, coheirs with Him, and brethren and fellow-citizens with the saints and angels in heaven. And having such a Father and such brethren, we should have very great confidence that, if we are faithful children, all things will cooperate together for our good, and heaven will be ours hereafter; and any other such like thoughts that may present themselves to our minds. Then we can raise our souls to God in acts of love, thanksgiving, filial fear, confidence, and joy, and spend thus as long a time as we desire before going on. And all this and much more on the first simple words, "Our Father."
Next come the words "Who art in heaven." Our Father is in heaven therefore heaven is our country; and the devout soul may make acts of desire and longing for her heavenly home. Again, wherever God is, by His grace and love, there is heaven. His presence makes heaven. Now we know by divine faith that God is every where, and intimately present in all things and in all places; therefore, He is present in our own souls; and in a special manner, as He is more particularly present to spiritual substances than to other things. He is present there really and actually, at every moment, by His essence and His power, and, let us humbly and confidently trust, also by His grace and love. Therefore, heaven is in our souls. Every time we say: "Our Father, Who art in heaven," we can look at God continually abiding in the very centre and essence of our souls, so that He is not far off from us, nor must we go to the heavens above to find Him, as St. Teresa says, but He is very near to us, as near as our own souls to our own bodies. And this all the time, at any and every moment; and with the Father we have the Son and the Holy Ghost. So there are the Three Persons of the Trinity, enacting their wonderful relations one with another, working Their mighty works, upholding the entire universe, all within our own soul wondrous thought! And since Jesus Christ our Lord is God the Son, then Jesus our Lord is present in our souls, making heaven there; and, by a sort of spiritual concomitance, we can represent to ourselves His sacred humanity as present also, and His blessed Mother, too, who is not separated from Him, and the saints and angels who constitute His court; these also we can represent to ourselves as present, though in a spiritual sense and not with the same actuality that the Divinity is present. Since God then, and heaven, are present in our souls, at all times and in all places, we surely should have but little trouble in finding Him or in speaking with Him in our thoughts, or in making Him hear us: and this makes it very easy for us in time of prayer to form acts of love, etc., and to converse with Him. And not only in time of prayer, but at all times, all we have to do is to look within, and God is really and actually present. This should help us greatly to be recollected everywhere, and we should endeavor, little by little, to learn to keep up a continual conversation in our souls with God, Who is so much nearer to us than our dearest friend can ever be. In this way we would always be on our guard against offending one who in habits our very soul, and we would be habitually filled with a holy filial fear and love. The heaven that is within our souls by this divine presence will begin to project itself upon our surroundings, and we will be almost living in heaven, the world about us and our lives becoming tinged with its light. Behold all there is in the Our Father in this manner of prayer, before we come to the first petition. And many other holy thoughts with accompanying requests and acts of the will and aspirations will present themselves to your minds, as God the Holy Ghost within you may direct.
"Hallowed be Thy name." In this first petition we address God as our Father and Lord; and as His children we pray, and ought greatly to desire, that our lives may be sanctified, in order that we may live up to our holy vocation as children of such a Father. Let us, then, while meditating on this petition, greatly desire to become holy, to become saints, as children of God ought to be. Then we should make acts of self-contempt and indignation against ourselves, because we are so unworthy of such a high dignity, and are so full of sin and ingratitude to so good a Father; and make acts of contrition for our sins, by which we have offended Him, and do continually offend Him. We should not be content with this, but should grieve over all the sins, crimes, sacrileges, and other evils that are continually being committed by sinners, since by them God’s name is not hallowed, but dishonored and outraged. We should offer up the most precious blood in satisfaction for all these evils, together with the merits of the most blessed Mother of God and of all the saints. Then we should beg that God, for the honor of His holy name and for the salvation of souls, would raise up great saints on the earth, who are so much needed in these times of spiritual darkness, these last days of the world, as very likely they are. St. Teresa says that the petition "Thy kingdom come" follows very naturally from the preceding one, since a father’s kingdom belongs to his children. "Say, then," she continues, "to your heavenly Father: Since the world, the devil, and the flesh reign upon earth, do Thou reign over us as our King, and destroy in our souls these kingdoms of avarice, pride, and sensuality." In this petition we address Him as our King, and beg Him to reign over us, and set up His kingdom in our souls. How many aspirations may we not make to that effect, and how much time may we not spend upon this petition! But this is not all; for we beg and pray Him in this petition to establish His kingdom in other souls also, that all men may love Him. And we also pray that the kingdoms of the world may recognize the principles of religion and truth and justice, and the nations become truly Christian. Also that God s kingdom, which is the Catholic Church, may be triumphant in the world, the Vicar of Christ delivered from his enemies, and all people recognize the Catholic religion as the one true faith. Thus we may make this petition a prayer of intercession for the whole world. Again we pray in this place that God would give us His kingdom, that is, the kingdom of heaven thus praying for our everlasting salvation, and that of our neighbor. And finally we pray for His second coming, when "The kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever; " when all wrongs shall be righted, and all justice done, and the proud shall be cast down, and the meek shall inherit the kingdom, and Satan and his ministers shall be chained in everlasting darkness; "when God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor any more sorrow, for the former things are passed away." (Apoc. xxi. 4.) Behold all the matter of prayer contained in this one petition. Well might we spend upon it the whole time of our prayer.
Next follows the petition, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." And here we speak to Our Lord as to a spouse: for while respect and veneration are owed to the name of Father, and between a king and his subjects there is the interchange of commands and obedience, so, between two who are so closely united as two spouses, there is an interchange of wills, each being desirous to do the will of the other. For all that one has is the other s, and their affairs are in common. So Our Lord makes all He has ours and all He desires is that we should make all that is ours His; and when there are common interests, there should be one will. He desires us to give Him our will; and when we have done so, and sincerely desire and do His will, He, in return, does our will, and all that we ask of Him He grants us; so that, as St. Teresa says, Our Lord is pleased that thus He and the faithful soul should command by turns, as it were the soul doing His will, and He doing hers. In His kingdom in heaven His will is perfectly done; so it is no more than right, if we desire His kingdom to be on earth (as we have asked in the former petition), that His will should be done in this kingdom as in the other. Here, then, you can earnestly pray for this perfect conformity of your will with His will; in this conformity consists all perfection.
In the next petition we ask Him to "Give us this day our daily bread." Those who have given themselves up to God in an interior life, and have cast themselves upon His providence, have no need to importune their divine Master to give them their earthly bread for their bodily support, for as they have forsaken the love of the world for Him, He will provide for them, as He is in a manner bound to do. So, in this petition, we beg for our spiritual necessities.
Pray here for all the graces you need, for strength to support you in temptation, for light to know the will of Our Lord, since we can not do His will, as we have asked that it might be done, without the assistance and light of the Holy Ghost. Also, when you are overburdened with grief, or temptations, or other trials, it is right you should pray for relief, as far as relief is needful for you; and in times of long-continued dryness, it is not wrong for you humbly to ask a little of the bread of consolation, if it be Our Lord s will. But this petition may, in a special manner, be applied to the Blessed Sacrament, in which Our Lord Himself becomes our daily or super-substantial bread; and we can turn this clause into contemplation upon the real presence, and Holy Communion.
As to the rest of the petitions of the Lord s Prayer, what has already been said of the first four is sufficient to show how the devout soul may occupy her time with each of the others. It is enough to say that in the petition, "Forgive us our trespasses," special consideration should be given to the second clause "As we forgive those who trespass against us." For here we can make acts of patience under annoyances, of ready forgiveness of all injuries, offer ourselves to be ill-treated, humiliated, and insulted, and pray for the spirit of meekness. Here, also, in this connection, we can bring in the sacred Passion of Our Lord, and consider the meekness and patient love with which He endured so many outrages; and so, thinking upon this petition can set us to meditating or the Passion of Christ. The next petition, "Lead us not into temptation," refers especially to the temptations, wiles, and machinations of the devil; and the last petition refers, not only to temporal and spiritual evils, from which we ask to be delivered, but also to this life of exile, from which the devout soul may beg to be set free, if it be God s will, in order to enter upon the possession of her heavenly kingdom, which is the kingdom of her Spouse.
This method of prayer may be applied to the Hail Mary, and, indeed, to any other prayer, though no prayer will be found to contain so much as this divine prayer of Our Lord. The Lord s Prayer, used in this manner, may also be applied to any subject that you may take up for meditation; as, if the meditation is on any particular virtue, this prayer may be made to refer to that virtue; if on the nativity, our Father, King, and Spouse may be represented as present in our souls as an infant, while we use the different petitions, as above pointed out. If the subject be the Passion, then we may represent Our Lord present to our souls as suffering and abandoned by all, and so on.
A few words about the ordinary method of meditation. Though it is best for those who are accustomed to meditate according to the usual formal method to stick to the subject they have chosen, yet great latitude should be allowed one s self as to the way of developing the points, and full liberty also to stop upon any point, or to dwell upon any affection that may arise, as long as the soul is drawn to do so, or finds any satisfaction in it, so that, if, during the whole time of meditation, you do not advance beyond the first point, the object of the meditation will be gained; for the consideration of the subject and the reasoning over the points are designed to rouse affections and movements of the will towards God, and when that happens, it would be a mistake to smother these ascensions of the heart and will toward God, in order to go on and begin to reason upon another point. Indeed, if the soul is thus roused at the commencement, when the picture of the mystery is proposed to the imagination, she should stop there, until her affections begin to flag, when she can go on further. You need have no fear of being unfaithful by following this rule.
Another thing. Sometimes it so happens that both the imagination and reason seem to be paralyzed, so that after faithfully trying to begin and go on with the meditation for a little while, the soul finds itself so stupid and dull, as to be able to imagine or reason upon nothing. Let her not be discouraged. Let her make simple acts of the will, however hard and dry they may seem to be. Let her spend the time saying to God such things as, "O my God, I love you. O my God, I offer my mind and body to you; take me. O my God, I give my will up to your will I submit to this dryness and dullness "and other such simple, dry acts. There may be no sensible fervor in them, they may seem to the soul perfectly stupid: yet such acts of the will, done, at the same time, with great calmness and interior stillness, without hurry or anxiety, will be of the greatest value to the soul in the eyes of God. You will make more progress during that hour, than in many others when the reason was bright and the affections came gushing forth like a fountain. But perhaps the heart may be so dull that even these simple acts can not be made without turmoil and disturbance of mind. In that case, remain quietly before God in perfect calmness, submitting yourself to His will in this. Occupy yourself simply in keeping peace.
Another thing is, to make all your spiritual exercises daily or otherwise, whatever manner of prayer you may be using, with the greatest peace, calmness, and stillness of heart. There is nothing worse in prayer than anxiety, fear, fretfulness, hurry, over-eagerness to do it right, or any overstraining of the soul. All should be done with the greatest calmness, stillness, peace, and tranquility possible. The loss of that interior calmness disturbs recollection, distracts the attention, and hinders the workings of the Holy Spirit. So that, if your tranquility is disturbed, you must endeavor by all means to restore it before you go further, even though the whole time of your prayer be occupied in doing this.
Another way of practicing interior prayer is to take some devout book, read a little in it, and then reflect upon what has been read, and make acts of the will and affections upon it. When the mind grows a little weary take the book up again, and read a little more, and so on, the same can be done with any vocal prayer, as explained above. In this way we turn vocal prayer into mental.
When the time for ending the meditation is come, it should not be prolonged because the soul is dissatisfied with its success. That would bring on weariness and scruples. W r hen something happens that the prayer must be curtailed or even omitted let it be done with liberty and without scruple; only not out of a spirit of sloth or disgust. For the rest of your time endeavor to keep quietly and gently recollected in God.