by Saint Alphonsus Liguori


(Charitas non agit perperam.)

3. Mental Prayer.

The third means of becoming a Saint is mental prayer. John Gerson writes: "That he who does not meditate on the eternal truths cannot, without a miracle, lead the life of a Christian. The reason is, because without mental prayer light fails us, and we walk in the dark. The truths of faith are not seen by the eyes of the body, but by the eyes of the mind, when we meditate; he that fails to meditate on them, fails to see them, and therefore walks in the dark; and being in the dark, he easily grows attached to sensible things, for the sake of which he then comes to despise the eternal."
[De Med. cons. 7.] St. Teresa wrote as follows to the Bishop of Osma: "Although we seem to discover in ourselves no imperfections, yet, when God opens the eyes of the soul, which He is wont to do in prayer, then they plainly appear."  [Lettre 8.] And St. Bernard had before said, that he who does not meditate "does not abhor himself, merely because he does not know himself." [De Cons. l. 1, c. 2.] "Prayer," says the Saint, "regulates the affections, directs the actions,"  [Ibid. c. 7] keeps the affections of the soul in order, and directs all our actions to God; but without prayer the affections become attached to the earth, the actions conform themselves to the affections, and in this manner all runs into disorder.

We read of an awful example of this in the life of the Venerable Sister Mary Crucified of Sicily. Whilst this servant of God was praying, she heard a devil making a boast that he had succeeded in withdrawing a religious from the community-prayer; and she saw in spirit, that after this omission the devil tempted her to consent to a grievous sin, and that she was on the point of yielding. She forthwith accosted her, and by a timely admonition prevented her from falling. Abbe Diocles said; that whoever leaves off prayer "very shortly becomes either a beast or a devil."
[Pall. Hist. laus. c. 98.]

He therefore that leaves off prayer will leave off loving Jesus Christ. Prayer is the blessed furnace in which the fire of holy love is enkindled and kept alive: And in my meditation a fire shall flame out. [Ps. xxxviii. 4.] It was said by St. Catherine of Bologna: "The person that foregoes the practice of prayer cuts that string which binds the soul to God." It follows that the devil, finding the soul cold in Divine love, will have little difficulty in inducing her to partake of some poisonous fruit or other. St. Teresa said, on the contrary, "Whosoever perseveres in prayer, let him hold for a certainty, that with however many sins the devil may surround him, the Lord will eventually bring him into the haven of salvation." [Life, ch. 8.] In another place she says, "Whoever halts not in the way of prayer arrives sooner or later." [Ibid. ch. 19.] And elsewhere she writes, "that it is on this account that the devil labors so hard to withdraw souls from prayer, because he well knows that he has missed gaining those who faithfully persevere in prayer." Oh, how great are the benefits that flow from prayer! In prayer we conceive holy thoughts, we practice devout affections, we excite great desires, and form efficacious resolutions to give ourselves wholly to God; and thus the soul is led for his sake to sacrifice earthly pleasures and all disorderly appetites. It was said by St. Aloysius Gonzaga: "There will never be much perfection without much prayer." Let him who longs for perfection mark well this notable saying of the Saint.

We should not go to prayer in order to taste the sweetness of Divine love; whoever prays from such a motive will lose his time, or at least derive little advantage from it. A person should begin to pray solely to please God, that is, solely to learn what the will of God is in his regard, and to beg of Him the help to put it in practice. The Venerable Father Antony Torres said: "To carry the cross without consolation makes souls fly to perfection. Prayer unattended with sensible consolations confers greater fruit on the soul. But pitiable is the poor soul that leaves off prayer, because she finds no relish in it." St. Teresa said: "When a soul leaves off prayer, it is as if she cast herself into Hell without any need of devils."
[Life, ch. 19.]

It results, too, from the practice of prayer, that a person constantly thinks of God. "The true lover" (says St. Teresa) "is ever mindful of the beloved one. And hence it follows that persons of prayer are always speaking or God, knowing, as they do, how pleasing it is to God that His lovers should delight in conversing about Him, and on the love He bears them, and that thus they should endeavor to enkindle it in others." [Found. ch. 5.] The same Saint wrote: "Jesus Christ is always found present at the conversations of the servants of God, and He is very much gratified to be the subject of their delight." [Life, ch. 34.]

Prayer, again, creates that desire of retiring into solitude in order to converse alone with God, and to maintain interior recollection in the discharge of necessary external duties; I say necessary, such as the management of one's family, or of the performance of duties required of us by obedience; because a person of prayer must love solitude, and avoid dissipation in superfluous and useless affairs, otherwise he will lose the spirit of recollection, which is a great means of preserving union with God: My sister, my spouse is a garden enclosed.
[Cant. iv. 12.]  The soul espoused to Jesus Christ must be a garden closed against all creatures, and must not admit into her heart other thoughts, nor other business, but those of God or for God. Hearts thrown open never become Saints. The Saints, who have to labor in gaining souls to God, do not lose their recollection in the midst of all their labors, either of preaching, confessing, reconciling enemies, or assisting the sick. The same rule holds good with those who have to apply to study. How many from excessive study, and a desire to become learned, become neither holy nor learned, because true learning consists in the science of the Saints; that is to say, in knowing how to love Jesus Christ; whereas, on the contrary, Divine love brings with it knowledge and every good: All good things came to me together with her, [Wisd. vii. 11.] that is, with holy charity. Saint John Berchmans had an extraordinary love for study, but by his great virtue he never allowed study to interfere with his spiritual interests. The Apostle exhorts us: Not to be more Wise than it behooveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety. [Rom. xii. 3.] A priest especially must have knowledge; he must know things, because he has to instruct others in the Divine law: For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth. [Mal. ii. 7.] He must have knowledge, but unto sobriety. He that leaves prayer for study shows that in his study he seeks himself, and not God. He that seeks God leaves study (if it be not absolutely necessary), in order not to omit prayer.

Besides, the greatest evil is, that without mental prayer we do not pray at all. I have spoken frequently in my spiritual works of the necessity of prayer, and more especially in a little volume entitled, On Prayer, the great Means, etc.; and in the present chapter also I will briefly say a few other things. It will be sufficient then to quote here the opinion of the Venerable Palafox, Bishop of Osma, in his remarks on the letters of St. Teresa: "How can charity last, unless God grant us perseverance? How will the Lord grant us perseverance unless we ask it of Him? And how shall we ask it of Him except by prayer? Without prayer there is no communication with God for the preservation of virtue."
[Lettre 8.] And so it is, because he that neglects mental prayer sees very little into the wants of his soul, he knows little of the dangers of his salvation, of the means to be used in order to overcome temptations; and so, understanding little of the necessity of prayer, he leaves off praying, and will certainly be lost.

Then as regards subjects for meditation, nothing is more useful than to meditate on the Four Last Things
---death, judgment, Hell, and Heaven; but it is of especial advantage to meditate on death, and to imagine ourselves expiring on the bed of sickness, with the crucifix in our hands, and on the point of entering into eternity. But above all, to one that loves Jesus Christ, and is anxious always to increase in His love, no consideration is more efficacious than that of the Passion of the Redeemer. St. Francis de Sales calls "Mount Calvary the mountain of lovers." All the lovers of Jesus Christ love to abide on this mountain, where no air is breathed but the air of Divine love. When we see a God dying for our love, and dying in order to gain our love (He loved us, and delivered Himself up for us). [Eph. v. 2.] it is impossible not to love Him ardently. Such darts of love continually issue forth from the wounds of Christ crucified as pierce even hearts of stone. Oh, happy is he who is ever going during this life to the heights of Calvary! O blessed Mount! O lovely Mount! O beloved Mount! and who shall ever leave thee more! A Mount that sends forth flames to enkindle the souls that perseveringly abide upon thee!