The Hidden Treasures of Mental Prayer
Prayer is the gateway to all graces, Heavenly consolation, and perfection itself. But what happens when our prayer lives become dry and we find ourselves mumbling our usual prayers while our minds are wandering elsewhere? And what if, when this happens, we put down our prayer books and sit in the silence of God’s presence? Before speaking of the gifts of mental prayer, let it be said that your usual vocal prayers – such as morning and evening prayers, along with the Rosary – are very important and should not be substituted. But if we desire a deeper prayer life and a want for spiritual company, meditation is key.
Many Catholics think mental prayer simply means picking up a specific book about how to meditate, and following step by step different thoughts to ponder on. But mental prayer is far deeper than that. It is the opening of one’s heart to the presence of Our Blessed Lord, and in His presence being open to His inspirations for self-reflection, prayers of petition, and time in silence as an act of love, and the like.
St. Padre Pio says: “He who does not meditate acts as one who never looks into the mirror and so does not bother to put himself in order, since he can be dirty without knowing it. The person who meditates and turns his thoughts to God who is the mirror of the soul, seeks to know his defects and tries to correct them, moderates himself in his impulses and puts his conscience in order.”
Vocal prayer is extremely important, and is the gateway to discovering the beautiful world that is the spiritual realm. If we find ourselves struggling with a particular cross, we can place ourselves trustingly in the presence of God as an act of confidence and love. In this way we will deepen our awareness to the spiritual when we pray, and strengthen our love for God. Meditation is a vast topic, so let us then begin this journey with simple ways to begin meditating.
The Silence of God
As mentioned above, praying in the silence of God can often inspire us far more than if we are praying from one prayer book after another. Imagine having a very close friend, and instead of spending quality time with them, all we talk about are our worries and troubles. Even though we know our friend can help us, we talk and talk, and soon leave without the answers we need. So it is with God also. We are so anxious to have our prayers answered, that we sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament trying to list every problem we have, often forgetting before Whom we are sitting.
As St. Francis of Assisi said: “What wonderful majesty! What stupendous condescension! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble Himself like this under the form of a little bread, for our salvation.”
It is easy to imagine Our Lord sweetly smiling at us under the veil of the Holy Eucharist, as He holds all the graces we are asking for while we whisper our prayers quickly. But do we truly believe that God will give us what we ask of Him? This is why, to deepen your prayer life it is very important to spend time in silence with Our Lord. In this way we can pray for each of our intentions simply with the act of being in God’s presence. In this silence, we can grow in our confidence of His existence, trust in His power to assist us, and foster our love of His sublime goodness. Our Father doesn’t always want us to be mumbling to Him, sometimes He just wants to look in our eyes and prove to us how much He loves us.
Placing Ourselves in the Life of Christ
A second way we can meditate is by placing ourselves in scenes taken from the lives of Our Lord, Our Lady, or the Saints. What we do not realize is that because Jesus is God and can always see past, present, and future, when we place ourselves in His life on earth and meditate as if we were there, He can see our prayers and presence in the past, just as if we were standing beside Him. How beautiful our prayer life can be when we say our usual prayers and place ourselves in every scene on which that they reflect. These meditations can be not only on the scenes we know, like the Christmas scene at Bethlehem or the Crucifixion on Calvary, but parts of Our Lord’s Life we forget even happened.
When Jesus came back with Mary and Joseph after He was lost for three days, we are told that He went back and was obedient to them. How inspiring and humbling it is to reflect on what this entailed. God Himself, Who came down to earth and took a human body for His own, spent between His 12th and 30th years (when His public life began), being obedient to His parents down to the last detail, like sweeping floors and helping Our Lady set the table for the love of us. What if we imagined sitting at the table the little Jesus just set, observing all the perfect acts of love He did for His blessed Parents? This way of meditating brings the Faith to life, and helps us reflect on what we need to work on ourselves, in order to become saints.
Speaking to God
Finally when we build our prayer life around the presence of God and reflect on the truths of our Faith, it is important to be able to speak to God just as we would a friend. This does not mean speaking without respect or without thinking, but having that familiarity where we can open up and ask for assistance from Him all throughout our day. If we build up this kind of reverential familiarity with the Divine, the modern idea that God does not exist will be far from our hearts. We can take this form of praying and incorporate it into the method of submerging ourselves in the Life of Christ.
Going back to sitting at table with the Holy Family, perhaps we could imagine what we would ask Them, if something is on our mind. Maybe we are struggling with an occasion of sin, or are worrying about events in the future, we can pray in this way and perhaps imagine what They would say. Through this, we will be able to think clearly and build our desire for perfection as our prayer lives grow.
St. Teresa of Avila says: “Mental prayer is nothing else but being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him.” St. Teresa was sure to use the word conversing, since that is what prayer really is. The closer and more familiar we get to the truths of the Faith, the less the devil can tempt us to drop or even lose our Faith for the frivolous pleasures of the world.
In making time to meditate on the presence of God in silence, submerging ourselves in the scenes and realities of Our Lord and Our Lady’s Lives, as well as praying and conversing with our Divine Lord, our prayer life will no longer seem like a boring cross, but rather a beautiful journey of discovery.
As St. Ignatius Loyola said, especially concerning the devil: “After you have made a decision that is pleasing to God, the devil may try to make you have second thoughts. Intensify your prayer time, meditation, and good deeds. For if satan's temptations merely cause you to increase your efforts to grow in holiness, he'll have an incentive to leave you alone.”
It is very true that if we use every temptation and every moment of suffering for the benefit of our souls and the souls of those around us, the consolations we will receive in Heaven will begin here on earth. Those of the earth will try to find peace and happiness in the pleasures of the world, but will never find it since they were made to love the infinite and eternal Heart of God. Prayer is essential, but meditation and growing in a love for prayer and being in the presence of God is just as essential. Let us then pray for the grace for God to take our hand and lead us to the sweetness of His presence.