October 27, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prayer: The practice of discursive meditation

John F. Fink(Third in a series)

Meditation can engage our thoughts, imagination, emotions and desires, all in the act of praying.

St. Francis de Sales preferred meditation to vocal prayer. He acknowledged that “it is a good thing” to say vocal prayers, but “if you have the gift of mental prayer, you should always give it first place.”

It’s good that he wrote “if you have the gift of mental prayer” because not everyone has that gift. It requires a good bit of attentiveness that is sometimes difficult to achieve. Fortunately, we Christians have plenty of things to help us: the Bible, spiritual books, paintings or statues, the liturgical texts for the day, the wonders of God’s creation, even the events of the day.

St. Francis promoted what is known as discursive meditation, a method of prayer that involves three basic steps: thinking of some religious truth, consideration of its application to one’s life, and a resolution to put it into practice.

But first we must prepare for meditation. The first step is to place yourself in the presence of God. This is easiest to do in a church, of course, where Jesus is truly present in the tabernacle. However, God is everywhere, and we can enter into his presence anywhere.

Secondly, we should ask for God’s help in making our meditation.

We are then ready to picture in imagination the mystery we wish to meditate on as if it really took place before us. We can picture in our minds the scene of the Annunciation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection or any other scene in the life of Christ. We can put ourselves in the picture and imagine ourselves as careful observers.

That’s not always possible, though. How do we form a picture with our imaginations when meditating about God’s will for us or about some of God’s awesome attributes—his omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, eternal existence, etc.? In those cases, we need to use comparisons to assist us.

After the imagination has done its part, there follows the act of the intellect—considering how it applies to our life. This should include ways that will encourage a greater love of God or an increase in virtue. When meditating on the Passion and death of Jesus, for example, it certainly should not be difficult to elicit a reciprocal love for Jesus who loved us so much he died for us.

Meditation is meant to produce such sentiments as love of God and neighbor, desire for heaven, zeal for the salvation of souls, imitation of the life of our Lord, compassion, awe, joy, fear of God’s displeasure, hatred of sin, confidence in God’s goodness and mercy, and deep sorrow for the sins of our past life.

From these sentiments should flow resolutions, the third part of meditation. This is where so many of us slip up. We might find it easy to imagine a scene, consider various aspects of it and feel compassion, but we’re rather slow at the business of making resolutions to correct a fault. †

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