Means of Salvation and of Perfection
Chapter 5. The Place and the Time Suitable for Meditation
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 St. 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 form 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. St. 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
meditation. Our Lord has said, "When thou shalt pray, enter thy
chamber, and, having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret."
[Matt. 6: 6] St.
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,
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.
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 St. Bonaventure, the morning and the evening are the
two parts of the day which, ordinarily speaking, are the fittest for
meditation. But, according to St. 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 St. 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
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. St. 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." St. Philip Neri was
accustomed to spend the entire night in prayer. St. 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
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 necessaty to attend to what St.
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
Mental prayer is tedious to those who are attached to the world,
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 St. John Climacus is nothing else than
a familiar conversation and union with God. In prayer, as St.
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." [Ps. 33: 9] Try it, and you
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 St. 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.
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