selected from the annals of history unto our current day
Meditation is one of the most essential and important duties of the spiritual life.
It is absolutely necessary for religious, it is almost necessary for seculars; but many persons who would profit exceedingly by this holy exercise, are deterred from practising it by imaginary difficulties, by supposing that it is only intended for those who have attained a high degree of perfection, or who are aiming at great sanctity; others, who really wish to practise meditation, because they think it pleasing to God, and who love Him too much to be afraid of any pains and trouble to themselves when there is a hope of doing His will more perfectly, are often in great difficulties, from not knowing how to commence the good work.
Unfortunately, many of the instructions and directions for meditation are far more suited to the comprehension of those who have made it for years, than of those who need to be taught in the simplest manner. We do not offer the following advice to those who have already made meditation for years, and from whom we would be only too glad to learn higher things; but for those who are beginning to practise meditation, either in the world or in the cloister.
And, first, let us consider what meditation is. To meditate means to think about anything. We are meditating all day long, for all day long we are thinking more or less intently on some subject.
If we are going on a journey, we meditate or think about it: (1) how we shall travel; (2) about the place we are going to; (3) about the friends we expect to meet when we arrive at our journey's end. Now, if we want to think about spiritual things, that is, to "make a meditation," we must just act in the same way.
For example, if we wish to make a meditation on heaven, we shall think: (1) how we can get there most surely and safely; (2) we shall try to recollect all that we have heard about it; (3) we shall think of the friends we expect to meet there. Ah! those are our best friends; for who was ever greeted at the end of the longest journey with one-half the love with which Jesus and Mary will greet us, when we reach our heavenly home?
Now, in the ordinary affairs of life, the more important the subject is about which we are thinking, the more carefully we employ those three powers of our mind - our memory, our understanding, and our will. If we are thinking or meditating about a journey (to continue the illustration already used), we shall use our memory, to recall what we have read, or known from experience, about a similar undertaking; we shall use our understanding, to find out how far these recollections will help us in our present purpose; and we shall use our will, to will or determine what we intend to do.
We use these powers of soul constantly, and in the very order above-mentioned, every day of our lives; yet, when we are told to use them in meditation, we fancy it is something very difficult, simply because the terms are new to us by which what we have done and are doing every day is described.
See how we may use our memory, understanding, and will, when we meditate or think about heaven. We use our memory by remembering some text of Scripture, such as, "In my Father's house there are many mansions;" or some subject, such as our Lord Jesus sitting at the right hand of God the Father; and we try to picture to ourselves, i.e., to remember, or call to mind, all we have heard about heaven, its joys, its peace, its beauty, its everlastingness; then we use our understanding, by trying to understand or learn what may be profitable to us from this meditation.
We learn or understand from it, that what happens in time is of little consequence, because time is so short, and eternity so long; we learn that God has prepared such joys for us as no human heart can imagine, and that our one great object in life should be to prepare ourselves for these eternal joys.
Then we use our will, to will or resolve, with our whole hearts, to prepare for heaven, to live for heaven, to remove every obstacle, however great, which might prevent us from getting to heaven; and this brings us to the great end of meditation, mental prayer.
To many persons mental prayer sounds as terrible and difficult an undertaking as meditation; but as we trust meditation will no longer appear difficult, even to the most simple and unlearned, so we hope mental prayer will also appear easy and attractive. Mental prayer simply means praying in our minds. When we pray with our lips, so that a sound can be heard, we are using vocal prayer; when we pray in our hearts, so that no one but God can hear us, we are using mental prayer; and those very persons who are frightened at the idea of mental prayer, nevertheless often make it unconsciously.
Mental prayer is the end of meditation, because prayer is that which unites us most closely to God. We meditate or think about holy things, in order that our thinking may end in praying; even as we meditate or think about what we are going to do, that our thinking may end in doing.
All the planning and thinking about a journey would never take us a step on the road, unless we acted on what we thought; and all the acting might end very badly, if we acted without thinking or meditating beforehand. And if we should consider a person very foolish who undertook any important duty or occupation - who began to build a house, or set out on a journey, without having thought of what they were going to do - how much more foolish should we consider those who never think about those duties which are of the greatest importance - about that journey which cannot be performed a second time, to repair the errors of the first!
We cannot over-estimate the importance of daily meditation.
There are few persons in the world so occupied that they could not give ten minutes every day to this duty. Ten minutes for God, leaves twenty-three hours and three-quarters for the world and self. But some may object that they hear Mass daily, and hence really cannot give more time to devotion. Why not make a little meditation at the commencement of Mass?
No one knows what the soul gains in stability of purpose and in help for daily needs, until they have tried giving even ten minutes a day regularly to meditation.
It would be impossible here to enter into all the reasons for this assertion, but two may be briefly mentioned: first, it forms a habit of leading the mind to think of God; and second, the daily consideration of the various circumstances in our divine Lord's life, even for a few moments, leads the soul on insensibly to love Him more and more.
But the more beneficial meditation is to us, the more the devil will try to prevent us from attempting it; and if we do attempt it, to prevent us from continuing it steadily. He will persuade us to omit it on any possible excuse, but we must be prepared for this, and determine not to allow excuses. He will try to distract us, to make us feel weary; nay, even to inspire us with an utter disgust for it; so that we shall be almost amazed ourselves at our dislike, and at finding that we would rather do anything in the world than think of God for a few minutes.
Further, he will allow us to enjoy devotion at other times; but at the precise time when we ought to make our meditation, it will seem actually distasteful. Souls have been tried thus for years, even in the cloister, even at the times appointed for devotion to the most holy Sacrament. For this trial there is only one remedy: a firm determination to make our meditation, or our visit to the blessed Sacrament, at the time appointed, and for the time appointed. Happy they who persevere until death in resisting this temptation! Even if the whole time of meditation is spent in dryness and distraction, there is a grace, above all, there is a strength, which may be felt, and is felt, by the faithful soul; and even one omission, one meditation yielded to the tempter, leaves a weakness of soul that may not be recovered for many days.
We shall conclude with what we hope may be useful to beginners.
SIMPLE DIRECTIONS FOR MEDITATION
1. Read over a part of the meditation you intend to make at night, and try to think of it when you awake in the morning. This is called remote preparation.
2. Fix a time for your meditation as early in the morning as possible; commence it by trying to recollect yourself, and by saying the Veni Creator, or, if your time for meditation is very short, say only one verse of that hymn. Remember that the Holy Spirit alone can teach you to pray, so you should be very earnest in invoking His help.
3. Then read over the meditation carefully; when you have done so, exercise your memory by thinking of the subject, your understanding by trying to enter into it, and your will by making acts of faith, hope, charity, etc. Remember, however, that mental prayer is the great end of meditation; and if the Holy Spirit helps you to pray at once, do not wait to think, but begin to pray. For example, if your meditation is on heaven, when you have read it over, or even a few lines of it, if you feel inclined to rest, quietly, as it were, thinking how happy it will be, how blessed it will be to see Jesus, etc., do so as long as you feel inclined; but if the first thought makes you wish to pray that you may love God more, who has loved you so much as to prepare such great things for you, then pray during the whole time.
4. When the time is nearly ended, try to form a good resolution, and put it in the Heart of Jesus or Mary.
5. Then thank God for the graces He has given you, by saying some little vocal prayer, and conclude all with a very brief examination of conscience about the meditation only; asking yourself, first, if you tried to be faithful to the time appointed; and secondly, if you did your best to make a good use of it. It is very advisable, also, at the commencement of a meditation, particularly where twenty minutes or half an hour can be devoted to it, to offer it for some special purpose, and to request some special grace by it; such as to offer it to our Lord to obtain the grace of patience, resignation, meekness, obedience, recollection, etc., and to ask Him to give us an increase of this grace by the meditation. But the great thing is earnestness; to commence with fervently imploring the help of the Holy Spirit, and with a firm purpose to resist all distractions, and not to let the time slip over us idly.
Alas! what do we not lose every day in our devotions by want of earnestness! If ten minutes or half an hour were given us every day to collect gold-dust, how hard we should labour for the time appointed! Shall we not also labour as fervently for a heavenly treasure?
Do not let us make a scruple of omitting the time of meditation, and no scruple at all of wasting it. Even in sickness, and in very severe sickness, we might gain incalculable benefit by a few moments' thought of God, at or near the time when we usually made our meditation.
If we cannot think, we might say one Hail Mary, or one verse of a hymn; and when our illness is not so severe as to prevent us from exerting our minds a little, even though from weakness we may be unable to meditate, we might find great help and comfort in reading a few words of a spiritual book; nor should those who are really and constantly suffering, make any scruple of substituting spiritual reading, which generally ends in meditation, for the more exact meditation which should be made under ordinary circumstances.
To love God more is the end of our life; and how shall we love Him if we do not think of Him, and converse with Him, so as to know Him more and more?
Convent Of Poor Clares,
Kenmare, Co. Kerry,
Feast of the Patronage of our Lady, 1865.