Part II: Mental Prayer

Part II - Chapter I
Mental Prayer is Morally
Necessary for Salvation


Saint Francis of Assisi at Prayer - by MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban - from O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp

 

The eternal truths are all spiritual things that are seen,
not with
eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the mind;
that is, by reflection and consideration. Now, they who do
not make mental prayer do not see these
truths, and are lost.

 

Chapter I
Mental Prayer is Morally
Necessary for Salvation

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Doctor of the Church
1759

It Enlightens the Mind

In the first place, without mental prayer the soul is without light. They, says Saint Augustine, who keep their eyes shut cannot see the way to their country. The eternal truths are all spiritual things that are seen, not with eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the mind; that is, by reflection and consideration. Now, they who do not make mental prayer do not see these truths, neither do they see the importance of eternal salvation, and the means which they can adopt in order to obtain it. The loss of so many souls arises from the neglect of considering the great affair of our salvation, and what we must do in order to be saved. "With desolation," says the prophet Jeremiah, "is all the land made desolate: because there is none that considereth in the heart" - Jeremiah 12:11. On the other hand, the Lord says that he who keeps before his eyes the truths of faith------that is, death, judgment, and the happy or unhappy eternity that awaits us------shall never fall into sin. "In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin" - Ecclesiasticus 7:40.

Saint Bonaventure also says that mental prayer is, as it were, a mirror, in which we see all the stains of the soul. In a letter to the Bishop of Osma, Saint Teresa says, "Although it appears to us that we have no imperfections, still when God opens the eyes of the soul, as He usually does in prayer, our imperfections are then clearly seen". He who does not make mental prayer does not even know his defects, and therefore, as Saint Bernard says, he does not abhor them. He does not even know the dangers to which his eternal salvation is exposed, and, therefore, he does not even think of avoiding them. But he who applies himself to meditation instantly sees his faults, and the dangers of perdition, and, seeing them, he will reflect on the remedies for them. By meditating on eternity, David was excited to the practice of virtue, and to sorrow and works of penance for his sins. "I thought upon the days of old, and I had in my mind the eternal years. And I meditated in the night with my own heart: and I was exercised and I swept my spirit" - Psalm 76:6. When the soul, like the solitary turtle, retires and recollects itself in meditation to converse with God, then the flowers-----that is, good desires-----appear: then comes the time of pruning, that is, the correction of faults which are discovered in mental prayer. "Consider", says Saint Bernard, "that the time of pruning is at hand, if the time of meditation has gone before". For [says the Saint in another place] meditation regulates the affections, directs the actions, and corrects defects.

 

It Disposes the Heart to the Practice of Virtues

Moreover, without meditation there is not strength to resist the temptations of our enemies, and to practice the virtues of the Gospel.

Meditation is like fire with regard to iron, which, when cold, is hard, and can be wrought only with difficulty. But placed in the fire it becomes soft, and the workman gives it any form he wishes, says the venerable Bartholomew a Martyribus. To observe the Divine precepts and counsels, it is necessary to have a tender heart, that is, a heart docile and prepared to receive the impressions of celestial inspirations, and ready to obey them. It was this that Solomon asked of God: "Give, therefore, to thy servant an understanding heart" - 3Kings 3:9. Sin has made our heart hard and indocile; for, being altogether inclined to sensual pleasure, it resists, as the Apostle complained, the laws of the spirit: "But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind" - Romans 7:23.

But man becomes docile and tender to the influence of grace which is communicated in mental prayer. By the contemplation of the Divine goodness, the great love which God has borne him, and the immense benefits which God has bestowed upon him, man is inflamed with love, his heart is softened, and made obedient to the Divine inspirations. But without mental prayer his heart will remain hard and restive and disobedient, and thus he will be lost: "A hard heart shall fare evil at the last" - Ecclesiasticus 3:27. Hence, Saint Bernard exhorted Pope Eugene never to omit meditations on account of external occupations. "I fear for you, O Eugene, lest the multitude of affairs [prayer and consideration being intermitted] may bring you to a hard heart, which abhors not itself, because it perceives not".

Some may imagine that the long time which devout souls give to prayer, and which they could spend in useful works, is unprofitable and lost time. But such persons know not that in mental prayer souls acquire strength to conquer enemies and to practice virtue. "From this leisure", says Saint Bernard, "strength comes forth". Hence, the Lord commanded that his spouse should not be disturbed. "I adjure you . . . that you stir not up, nor awake my beloved till she please" - Canticles 3:5. He says, "until she please"; for the sleep or repose which the soul takes in mental prayer is perfectly voluntary, but is, at the same time, necessary for its spiritual life. He who does not sleep has not strength to work nor to walk, but goes tottering along the way. The soul that does not repose and acquire strength in meditation is not able to resist temptations, and totters on the road. In the life of the Venerable Sister Mary Crucified, we read that, while at prayer, she heard a devil boasting that he had made a nun omit the common meditation, and that afterwards, because he continued to tempt to her, she was in danger of consenting to mortal sin. The servant of God ran to the nun, and, with the Divine aid, rescued her from the criminal suggestion. Behold the danger to which one who omits meditation exposes his soul! Saint Teresa used to say that he who neglects mental prayer, needs not a devil to carry him to Hell, but that he brings himself there with his own hands. And the Abbot Diocles says that "the man who omits mental prayer soon becomes either a beast or a devil".

 

It Helps Us to Pray as We Should

Without petitions on our part, God does not grant the Divine helps; and without aid from God, we cannot observe the Commandments. From the absolute necessity of the prayer of petition arises the moral necessity of mental prayer; for he who neglects meditation, and is distracted with worldly affairs, will not know his spiritual wants, the dangers to which his salvation is exposed, the means which he must adopt in order to conquer temptations, or ever, the necessity of the prayer of petition for all men; thus, he will give up the practice of prayer, and by neglecting to ask God's graces he will certainly be lost. The great Bishop Palafox in his Annotations to the letters of Saint Teresa, says: "How can charity last, unless God gives perseverance? How will the Lord give us perseverance, if we neglect to ask Him for it? And how shall we ask Him without mental prayer? Without mental prayer, there is not the communication with God which is necessary for the preservation of virtue". And Cardinal Bellarmine says, that for him who neglects meditation, it is morally impossible to live without sin.

Some one may say, I do not make mental prayer, but I say many vocal prayers. But is necessary to know, as Saint Augustine remarks, that to obtain the Divine grace it is not enough to pray with the tongue, it is necessary also to pray with the heart. On the words of David, "I cried to the Lord with my voice" - Psalm 141:2, the holy Doctor says, "Many cry not with their own voice [that is, not with the interior voice of the soul], but with that of the body. Your thoughts are a cry to the Lord. Cry within, where God hears". This is what the Apostle inculcates: "Praying at all times in the spirit" - Ephesians 6:18. In general, vocal prayers are said distractedly with the voice of the body, but not of the heart, especially when they are long, and still more especially when said by a person who does not make mental prayer; and, therefore, God seldom hears them, and seldom grants the graces asked. Many say the Rosary, the Office of the Blessed Virgin, and perform other works of devotion; but they still continue in sin. But it is impossible for him who perseveres in mental prayer to continue in sin: he will either give up meditation or renounce sin. A great servant of God used to say that mental prayer and sin cannot exist together. And this we see by experience; they who make mental prayer rarely incur the enmity of God; and should they ever have the misfortune of falling into sin, by persevering in mental prayer they see their misery and return to God. Let a soul, says Saint Teresa, be ever so negligent, if it persevere in meditation, the Lord will bring it back to the haven of salvation.