October 21, 2009

Mental Prayer

This has been a difficult series of posts to work on. My prayer life, too, is developing; indeed, it feels (and is) simply infantile at times. It takes time, patience, and, most of all, grace to build up your prayer life. And the building is never over. Through prayer we grow in our relationship with Christ and with members of God’s family (CCC 2663–2696), and there can be no end, in this life, to that growth. You can always strengthen the connection, always grow more in that relationship because the One on the other end is infinite.

I've also discovered that, strangely, we all seem to be different people. (Who'd have thought?) What works for you may not work for me, or, at least, may not be ideal for me. Thankfully, we have a long history of prayer to draw on, to find those methods and times and ways that best work for each of us. You don't have to pray just like St. Ignatius or St. Francis or St. Teresa. We love choice, and a society that can put a half dozen adjectives before the word "coffee" must be able to find joy in the wealth of different ways of prayer available!

When you have built your "mental muscle" and the habit of mental prayer, you can start to explore these different methods. There is no one set structure for mental prayer. According to St. Teresa of Avila, it is "nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us." (McClernon)

The first and most important tip, whatever approach you take, is to remember the end of prayer. The means may change - meditation on the rosary or on a Bible passage, a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, open dialogue - but the end, the goal, is always the same. At the other end of prayer, like the other end of a phone call, is a person. Every great saint's writing about prayer emphasizes this. You are communicating with a person.

That explains the great variety of prayer methods, doesn't it? Do we always communicate with a person in the same way? At home, I may sit and talk at my wife if I'm excited about something, never letting her get a word in. I may complain about my day. I may dialogue back and forth. I may sit and listen. (Don't forget that one!) At times, I just sit quietly in her presence; we're just quietly together without anything to say aloud, though our presence and silence can speak volumes.

So it is with God. God is a person and you can benefit by talking, by conversing, by listening, or simply by being.

Not sure which method to start with? Here are some choices:
  • Go to your church when its quiet and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. Ask God for help. As St. Josemaria Escriva said it, "as soon as you have said, 'Lord, I don't know how to pray!' you can be sure you've already begun. " (90)
  • Listen to other faithful Catholics discussing prayer. The first several podcasts of Into the Deep are a great discussion on methods of praying.
  • Experience Lectio Divina. There are several good introductions, including one by Fr. Luke Dysinger and another from the Jesuit offices in Toronto.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way. As cited by josemariaescriva.info. Online. Accessed 21 Oct 2009 from http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/speaking-with-god
Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life, Vol. 4 : St. Teresa of Avila
John McClernon (ed.)

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