August 26, 2019 | Fr. Patrick Wainwright, MC
There is no question that spending time in daily prayer or reflection will help you find true interior freedom—but how can we go about doing this?
As you grow from childhood into adulthood, you may start to feel that using the well known common prayers that you have been taught becomes a bit stale. It’s not that those prayers are not good—many of them are based on the words of our Lord and other saints. Those “formulas” are indeed very good, but in your heart you probably begin to desire something more, something deeper, something more personal—a greater relationship with God through prayer. This is where mental prayer or meditation starts to play a key role in your life.
To meditate is to speak with God in a friendly way.
It is a way of speaking with God with your own words, while reflecting on the Gospels or some other spiritual book. It will definitely help you to grow spiritually. I am not afraid to say that it is essential if you want to grow in holiness.
This way of prayer has been constantly recommended by the tradition of the Church and the saints—St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Francis de Sales, among many others.
In particular, St. Teresa describes it in the book of her life:
“Mental prayer is no other thing but to talk about friendship, spending time conversing personally with whom we know loves us.”
Through mental prayer (also called meditation), the saints were able to live a life of love and great intimacy with God. I hope this brief explanation will help you to learn how to pray in your own words.
While there are different methods of meditation, I will outline here some principles and a very simple, basic way to pray according to the powers of our soul. It is important to highlight, however, that the methods are only our human part of the equation. Being successful both in prayer, and in your spiritual life in general, will depend first and foremost on the action of God in your soul. This is why, at all times, your trust must be placed more in the action of our Lord in you, than in your human means and effort.
First of all, you want to consider where and when to do your meditation. Try to find a place where you can be in silence, and find an adequate moment of your day (generally speaking, morning seems better so as to start your day in God’s presence). Once you have found the when and where, it may be better to try to keep these consistent. That way you will have the peace of mind to pray with a certain level of recollection. Doing your time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament will inspire you more but it is not strictly necessary. While the bodily posture is not an essential element to prayer, you may notice that kneeling before the tabernacle, a crucifix, or some other devotional element may be more helpful.
As far as how much time of meditation is sufficient, I would recommend that you start with 10 or 15 minutes, and gradually increase the time according to your abilities. Try your best to spend your time of prayer without interruption. And try to avoid distractions to the best of your ability.
If you are trying to learn how to pray (mental prayer) I would highly recommend that you use some kind of text or book with reflections or meditations based on our Catholic faith or the Gospels. Maybe you could use the same Gospels with some commentaries. Having a text that is suited for meditation will help you get into your “prayer mode” more quickly. If you try to pray without any text or meditation material, you may find yourself turning too frequently to your own feelings and speaking with God about what you need here and now—and this will not help you grow spiritually. If you have a spiritual director, you may want to ask what they recommend to use for your mediation.
A golden rule regarding meditation is that the simplest path to master it is to do it. Do not stop doing it whether you understand it or not, whether you feel like it or not—even if you have moments of desolation. There are days on which it will be difficult to concentrate and it will seem as though you are wasting your time. Don’t get discouraged! God always listens to you and waits for you—He is always there. Those difficult days are a true test of your love for God. Besides, often times a prayer made with commitment—even in the midst of distractions and lack of feeling—is more virtuous and pleasing to our Lord!
Once you find a suitable place to pray, and after recollecting your senses and placing yourself in the presence of God, say a prayer before personal meditation. For example:
My Lord and my God, I believe that Thou art everywhere, that Thou art within me, that Thou seest me, that Thou hearest me. I adore Thee with profound humility and reverence. I ask Thy pardon for my sins. And, though I am unworthy to come before Thee, trusting in Thine infinite mercy, I ask for Thy help to make fruitful this time of prayer, which I offer to Thy greater glory. Amen.
Then try to follow these three steps:
– read slowly a few ideas from the text you are using. Pause and spend more time on an idea that you find more meaningful, one that touches you the most.
– reflect on the text, trying to understand it better. Re-read it if necessary, trying to engrave that idea in your mind and especially in your heart, considering how you can apply it to your life.
– speak with God, just as a friend would speak to another, and with the proper respect due to our Lord. Tell Him what you think about this or that idea. Ask Him for graces (for you and for others); thank Him for the many gifts He has given you; praise Him for the great things He has done; adore Him; tell Him that you love Him; and so on. Listen to what He tells you about the topic you are meditating on—for example, if you are meditating on how He appeared to Mary Magdalen after His Resurrection, you could ask for a stronger faith, that you may love Him and believe in Him as she did. Or you could ask Him to help you convert from sin and become a saint, etc. The more personal and affectionate the dialogue with God, the better!
When you feel that you have no more to reflect and pray in regards to what you have just read, take up the text once again and continue reading the next idea, repeating the three steps—read, reflect, and speak with God. Doing this will help you lay the foundations for a sound prayer life.
Close your time of meditation by drawing a simple resolution to practice on that same day. The meditation will be good if it truly helps you to grow in virtue.
To finish, you can do a prayer after personal meditation, such as:
My Lord and my God, I thank Thee for all the good thoughts, affections and resolutions that Thou hast inspired in me during this time of prayer. I offer them to Thy greater glory, and I ask for Thy grace to put them into practice. Help me fulfill Thy holy Will in all things. Amen.
Remember… even if it may not seem like it to you, your effort in daily meditation and your perseverance in this determination will help you grow in your love for our Lord!
St. Teresa of Jesus, true teacher of prayer, said, “Promise me fifteen minutes of meditation and I will promise you Heaven.”
Take advantage of this easy way to find peace and freedom in your life!
 “No es otra cosa oración mental, sino tratar de amistad, estando muchas veces tratando a solas con quien sabemos nos ama.” St. Teresa of Jesus, Life, Ch. 8, 5.