Part III - Chapter V
The Place and the Time
Suitable for Meditation

 
The Prayer of the Spinner - by DOU, Gerrit - from Alte Pinakothek, Munich

 

We can meditate in every place,
at home or elsewhere,
even in walking, in working

 

Chapter V
The Place and the Time Suitable for Meditation

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Doctor of the Church
1759

The Place

We can meditate in every place, at home or elsewhere, even in walking, in working. How many are there who, not being able to do so otherwise, raise their hearts to God and apply their minds to mental prayer without leaving for this purpose their occupations, their work, or meditate even when traveling! He who seeks God will find Him everywhere at all times.

The essential condition to converse with God is the solitude of the heart, without which prayer would be worthless, and, as Saint Gregory says, it would profit us little or nothing to be with the body in a solitary place, while the heart is full of worldly thoughts and affections. But to enjoy the solitude of the heart, which consists in being disengaged from worldly thoughts and affections, deserts and caves are not absolutely necessary. Those who from necessity are obliged to converse with the world, whenever their hearts are free from worldly attachments, even in the public streets, in places of resort, and public assemblies, can possess a solitude of heart, and continue united with God. All those occupations that we undertake in order to fulfill the Divine will have no power to prevent the solitude of the heart. Saint Catharine of Siena truly found God in the midst of the household labors in which her parents kept her employed in order to draw her from devotional exercises; but in the midst of these affairs she preserved a retirement in her heart, which she called her cell, and there ceased-not to converse with God alone.

However, when we can, we should retire to a solitary place to make our meditation. Our Lord has said, "When thou shalt pray, enter thy chamber, and, having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret" - Matthew 6:6. Saint Bernard says that silence, and the absence of all noise, almost force the soul to think of the goods of Heaven.

But the best place for making mental prayer is the church; for Jesus Christ especially delights in the meditation that is made before the Blessed Sacrament, since there it appears that He bestows light and grace most abundantly upon those who visit Him. He has left Himself in this Sacrament, not only to be the food of souls that receive Him in Holy Communion, but also to be found at all times by every one who seeks Him. Devout pilgrims go to the holy House of Loreto, where Jesus Christ dwelt during His life; and to Jerusalem, where He died on the Cross; but how much greater ought to be our devotion when we find Him before us in the tabernacle, in which this Lord Himself now dwells in person, Who lived among us, and died for us on Calvary! It is not permitted in the world for persons of all ranks to speak alone with kings; but with Jesus Christ, the King of kings, both nobles and plebeians, rich and poor, can converse at their will, setting before Him their wants, and seeking His grace; and there Jesus gives audience to all, hears all, and comforts all.

 

The Time

We have here to consider two things-----namely, the time of the day most suitable for mental prayer, and the time to be spent in making it.

1. According to Saint Bonaventure, the morning and the evening are the two parts of the day which, ordinarily speaking, are the fittest for meditation. But, according to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, the morning is the most seasonable time for prayer, because says the Saint, when prayer precedes business, sin will not find entrance into the soul. And the Venerable Father Charles Carafa, founder of the Congregation of the Pious Workers, used to say that a fervent act of love, made in the morning during meditation, is sufficient to maintain the soul in fervor during the entire day. Prayer, as Saint Jerome has written, is also necessary in the evening. Let not the body go to rest before the soul is refreshed by mental prayer, which is the food of the soul. But at all times and in all places we can pray; it is enough for us to raise the mind to God, and to make good acts, for in this consists mental prayer.

2. With regard to the time to be spent in mental prayer, the rule of the Saints was, to devote to it all the hours that were not necessary for the occupations of human life. Saint Francis Borgia employed in meditation eight hours in the day, because his Superiors would not allow him a longer time; and when the eight hours had expired, he earnestly asked permission to remain a little longer at prayer, saying, "Ah! Give me another little quarter of an hour". Saint Philip Neri was accustomed to spend the entire night in prayer. Saint Anthony the Abbot remained the whole night in prayer; and when the sun appeared, which was the time assigned for terminating his prayer, he complained of it for having risen too soon.

Father Balthassar Alvarez used to say that a soul that loves God, when not in prayer, is like a stone out of its center, in a violent state 'for in this life we should, as much as possible' imitate the life of the Saints in bliss, who are constantly employed in the contemplation of God.

But let us come to the particular time which a religious who seeks perfection should devote to mental prayer. Father Torres prescribed an hour's meditation in the morning, another during the day, and a half-hour's meditation in the evening, when they should not be hindered by sickness, or by any duty of obedience. If to you this appears too much, I counsel you to give at least two hours to mental prayer. It is certain that a half-hour's meditation each day would not be sufficient to attain a high degree of perfection; for beginners, however, this would be sufficient.

Sometimes the Lord wishes you to omit prayer in order to perform some work of fraternal charity; but it is necessary to attend to what Saint Laurence Justinian says: "When charity requires it, the spouse of Jesus goes to serve her neighbor; but during that time she continually sighs to return to converse with her Spouse in the solitude of her cell". Father Vincent Carafa, General of the Society of Jesus, stole as many little moments of time as he could, and employed them in prayer.

Mental prayer is tedious to those who are attached to the world, but not to those who love God only. Ah! Conversation with God is not painful nor tedious to those who truly love Him. His conversation has no bitterness, His company produces not tediousness, but joy and gladness. Mental prayer, says Saint John Climacus is nothing else than a familiar conversation and union with God. In prayer, as Saint Chrysostom says, the soul converses with God, and God with the soul. No, the life of holy persons who love prayer, and fly from earthly amusements, is not a life of bitterness. If you do not believe me, "Taste and see that the Lord is sweet" - Psalm 33:9. Try it, and you shall see how sweet the Lord is to those who leave all things in order to converse with Him only. But the end which we ought to propose to ourselves in going to meditation should be, as has been said several times, not spiritual consolation, but to learn from Our Lord what He wishes from us, and to divest ourselves of all self-love. "To prepare yourself for prayer", says Saint John Climacus, "put off your own will". To prepare ourselves well for meditation, we must renounce self-will, and say to God, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth". Lord, tell me what Thou wishest me to do; I am willing to do it. And it is necessary to say this with a resolute will, for without this disposition the Lord will not speak to us.