Sunday, September 5, 2010

A contemplative life means a life of close union with Him

"A contemplative life means a life of constant recollection of the presence of God and a life of close union with Him. The best way to foster this life is to acquire a habit of mental prayer. It is for this reason that Carmelites are commanded to live in retirement, 'meditating day and night on the law of the Lord and watching in prayers, unless otherwise suitably employed' (Primitive Rule).

In order, then, to live up to the Carmelite spirit, it is necessary to aim at the acquisition of the habit of mental prayer. It is, therefore, very necessary to consider in some detail the subject of mental prayer.

Mental prayer is usually called 'meditation' and it is thus named in the next number of the Rule. But meditation strictly is but the first stage of mental prayer.

It is difficult to draw a hard and fast line between vocal and mental prayer. For the present it is sufficient to say that vocal prayer is the union of our hearts with God by the use of formulae ordinarily ready-made which are recited with a pause not sufficient for more than a passing attention to the words. Mental prayer is the union of hearts with God brought about by making formulae, if they are used at all, the product of our own minds, or by a loving intercourse between God and the soul.

We have stated that meditation is the first stage of mental prayer. Meditation is a deep, loving consideration of the truths of our holy faith leading us to appreciate them as we ought, with a determination to regulate our lives accordingly. The word thus means more than it would seem to imply at first. Bare consideration would be study, not prayer, but in the statement just made the three essential elements of the prayer are contained. There are thus required an act of the intellect or intelligence in the deep consideration of these truths and two acts of the will by which we are urged to a love of them and to an earnest resolve to prove our appreciation of them. Those who wish to make a genuine start in the art of prayer must undertake this work. We shall deal later with those who are apparently incapable of doing this. We must do our best according to the powers or opportunities we have, to penetrate into the truths of our holy faith, to realize their import and significance and bring them home clearly and intimately to ourselves. That is, we must consider these truths as being our very own and realize what practical consequences result therefrom for us, and this consideration must lead us to the deep, earnest conviction that our faith is grand beyond all we can conceive or hope for, that in it and in the consolations it affords is the true happiness only to be found, that our greatest advantage is to live according to its highest maxims. This consideration must lead us to the fixed resolve that we will follow out these maxims whatever the cost. The truths to which we refer embrace also all the virtues as they are taught in sound asceticism.

Bare considerations will not do the work we have described. The discipline of our own will is the chief point, to bring it to the fixed determination to do in all things the Holy Will of God. The prayer, as far as it is prayer, consists in those acts of the will of love and resolution which are the result of our considerations. It will be of great advantage if even from the beginning these considerations are made in a loving manner. According to the  different mystery or truth or virtue we are considering the acts of the will vary, and embrace eventually acts of the love of God in all its forms or acts of all the virtues, theological and moral. To mention but a few, there are the acts of faith, hope, charity, praise, thanksgiving, reverence, honour, adoration, glorification, obedience, humility, contrition, compunction, satisfaction, sympathy, resignation, patience, prudence, fortitude, temperance, love of our neighbour, petition, forgiveness of injuries. We have purposely mentioned many between which there is but a shade of difference because every shade is of consequence.

We have indicated the work that has to be done. The next point is how to do it. Is method necessary? Has any method among the many proposed a special advantage over the others? These questions cannot be answered because it depends entirely on the individual. If method proves useful, it should be employed. If a special method serves the purpose better than others, it ought to be used. In most cases, especially when persons are beginning to acquire the art of prayer, system in making meditation in a manner suited to their dispositions is very necessary.


The work we have described cannot be neglected by anyone who has any anxiety for an interior life, but it need not necessarily be done through methodic meditation. Those who are capable of making meditation should not neglect it and should continue it as long as they can use it with profit."

-- Way of Perfection for the Laity by Fr Kevin, ocd

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