A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." ~~ Mark 1:40
Today I finally—and somewhat reluctantly—finished Dom Chautard’s, The Soul of the Apostolate. I’m also almost finished with Pope Benedict’s The Spirit of the Liturgy. Both books have been long, slow, meditative reads—unlike what I usually do, which is to “gobble” my books.
It’s interesting when you read two classic works simultaneously; you get to see how the thoughts of Great Minds—separated by time, space and even death—can sometimes synchronize. The Scripture above, interestingly enough comes from a selection I was reading in the Pope’s book and not Chautard’s, but it seemed a very appropriate lead in to what will be the last post in this particular series, and hopefully just the beginning of something even bigger.
In his book, Chautard recommends daily Mass; in his book, the Holy Father shows us why participation in the Liturgy is essential to our ‘transformation by it into the Logos (logisiert), conformed to Him and made the true Body of Christ.’ (page 174)
Making time for Mass is one thing, participating is another. For a fuller appreciation of our Catholic Liturgy, I cannot recommend a better guide than this incredible book by Pope Benedict, for all it is not the easiest text by him, nor is he writing at the usual 8th grade level of most popular Christian books today.
However, this series being about mental prayer, I want to leave you with what I have learned—thus far—from my repeated efforts to persist in fidelity to mental prayer. Some of these “lessons” are practical and some philosophical. I debated dividing them up but found that impossible, so here they are. The list is in no way authoritative, nor definitive, nor do I claim originality. Most likely everything I write has been recorded before by those much holier, wiser and more experienced than me. That’s just fine. This is my list and my experiences. If they are helpful to anyone, I am most humbly grateful; if not, it has still helped me to compile this list. Mostly I'm just deeply humbled and grateful for all I've learned. What I share below is just a fraction of it.
1. Schedule time for mental prayer every day-no matter what! Some sources recommend thirty minutes; others say we should give a minimum of an hour to our mental prayer each day. Seek the counsel of your spiritual director and/or confessor based on your particular vocation and current life requirements. But whatever, you decide, be faithful to daily mental prayer. If you know you will not be able to accomplish your prayer first thing in the morning, make sure you do it as soon as possible.
2. Prepare for the next morning’s mental prayer by thinking and praying about it the night before. Lay out your materials: breviary, rosary, Bible, prayer books, cards, icons, notes, lists, etc. Decide (if possible) what will be the focus of your prayer time. I found this to be a vital first step as I often wasn’t sufficiently awake first thing in the morning to make important decisions. However, if everything was organized and ready, things went much more smoothly.
3. Begin by asking the Holy Spirit for the Grace to pray well. Invoke your Guardian Angel’s protection. Often formal prayers are/were a good way to start, especially if I was tired. Many days I read from the Daily Readings and used those as ‘launching pad’ for discussion. However, it wasn’t long before, I found my own faults and failings provided plenty of material! This brings me to the opening quote from the leper—when I read that today it jumped out at me because it reminded me of something God and I had been talking about earlier today. Since I’ve begun mental prayer, the daily readings at Mass have come ALIVE! They breathe with the fire of the Holy Spirit, like they never did before.
4. Invite Jesus to sit down next to you or across from you. Find or place a favorite chair near yours so that you may talk to Him one-on-one. Or, if you prefer, kneel down in front of Him. Sitting or kneeling, you are in His Presence and He is in yours. Be with Him. He is with you. Close your eyes if you want. See Him in your mind. Talk to Him ... silently or aloud. Begin by telling Him how much you love Him and need Him. Know He loves you as well!
5. Accept that you are with Jesus . . . wherever your mind goes. This is NOT to say we shouldn't bring our attention back to Our Lord each and every time we become aware it has wandered off; it is only recognition and acceptance that, in His eyes, we are but spiritual children and He knows our weaknesses and understands our struggles. I will write more about this later when I begin a new series on the Interior Life, delving into Santa Teresa’s beautiful book, Interior Castle, but for now, think of Jesus as you would a benevolent parent or trusted spouse. Even when you are with your beloved, you have your moments of time where each of you think your own thoughts. This is understood and accepted by married couples and loving families everywhere. Why should Our Lord, who made you, knows and loves you better even than your own mother, expect what is impossible from His children? The answer is, He doesn’t. He wants us to strive and keep striving for perfection. With His Grace, may we always do as much. There is much more to be said on this particular point. However, in the meantime, let no one be unduly harsh with him/herself in this matter, nor set unreasonably high expectations.
6. Use holy objects which help you begin or refocus your prayer. These items may include, but are not limited to: candles, icons, prayer cards, rosaries/chaplets, statues, spiritual reading(s), and lists of things to talk about and/or people to pray for. If such aids will or might help you, consider keeping them near your prayer chair for those particularly dry times; it’s comforting to have something to fall back on.
7. And last but not least, what about Interruptions? Interruptions used to throw me into a positive tizzy! I tried turning off the phone, locking myself in my room, putting signs on the front door, wearing ear plugs, etc., all in an effort to get myself some quiet in a noisy home with children. Sooner or later, all my efforts backfired. Finally I settled on a simple rule of thumb: all interruptions come from God to further test my patience. I can either accept them gracefully or what is the point of my prayer time? However, accepting them, doesn’t mean I have to respond to them all equally. Now I start my prayer time before anyone else (except my dear hubby) is awake so the kids, phone and doorbell usually aren’t the problems they once were. Still, if the phone or cat or child(ren) do happen to enter during prayer time, I deal with it/him/her/them accordingly. Then, if the prayer session is less than ½ over, I go back and finish it; if the interruption occurs after the midway point, I call it a day.
‘Mental prayer is a furnace, in which the watch-fires of vigilance are constantly rekindled. Fidelity to mental prayer gives life to all our other pious exercises. By it, the soul will gradually acquire vigilance and a spirit of prayer, that is, a habit of ever more frequent recourse to God. Union with God in mental prayer will lead to intimate union with Him, even in the midst of our most absorbing occupations.
The soul, thus living in union with God, by custody of the heart, will draw down into itself, more and more, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the infused virtues, and perhaps God will call it to a higher degree of prayer.’ ~~ Dom Chautard, page 292, "The Soul of the Apostolate"
This is my closing prayer for this series . . . and the promise of more to come!