The Four Foundations
of Sanctity: Page 7
by SAINT JOHN EUDES
THE FOURTH FOUNDATION OF SANCTITY: PRAYER
VARIOUS KINDS OF PRAYER
There are several ways of praying and I shall here set down the five most important methods of prayer.
1. Mental Prayer
Nature of Mental Prayer
The first is called mental or interior prayer, in which the soul communes with God, taking as the subject of conversation one of His Divine perfections, or some mystery, virtue or word of His Divine Son, whether something He accomplished in the past, or is doing now, in the order of glory, grace or nature, in His Mother, His Saints, His Church or in the world.
You apply your understanding
You begin the conversation of prayer by applying your understanding to consider with a determined, yet unstrained, attention and effort the truths to be found in the subjects chosen, truths which can arouse the soul to love God and hate sin.
Then make your heart and will
Then make your heart and will produce a few fervent acts of adoration, praise, love, humility, contrition and oblation, with the resolution to avoid evil and do good, according to the prompting of the Spirit of God.
A very great gift
This kind of prayer is more holy, more useful and more filled with blessings than words can convey. For this reason, if God draws you to mental prayer and gives you the grace to practise it, you should indeed thank Him for this very great gift.
If He has not yet given you this grace, pray that He may do so, and for your own part exert all your efforts to correspond with His grace and cultivate this holy practice. God Himself will instruct you in the ways of this prayer better than all the books and all the teachers in the world, if you cast yourself down at His feet with humility, confidence and purity of heart, in the way I am about to explain.
2. Vocal Prayer
What it consists in
The second method of prayer is called vocal prayer. It consists in speaking to God, either by the recitation of the Divine Office, or the Rosary or any other vocal prayer.
This is almost as valuable as mental prayer, provided that when you speak to God with your lips you also speak to Him with your heart and with an attentive mind. In this way your prayer will be both vocal and mental.
If, however, you get into the habit of reciting many vocal prayers mechanically and inattentively, you will leave God's presence more distracted, colder and less generous in His love than you were when you entered. For this reason I advise you to confine yourself to relatively few vocal prayers, apart from those you are obliged to say, and to develop the habit of saying them devoutly, with great attention and application of the mind to God. During vocal prayers you should occupy your mind and heart with holy thoughts while your tongue is uttering the words, remembering constantly that you are supposed to continue the prayers which Christ said on earth.
Give yourself to Him for this purpose. Unite yourself with the love, humility, purity, holiness and most perfect attention characteristic of His prayers, and beg Him to impress upon your soul the holy and Divine dispositions and intentions with which He used to pray.
Offer your prayers in union . . .
You may also offer your prayers in union with all the holy prayers and Divine supplications that have ever been, in Heaven and on earth, by the most Holy Virgin, the Angels and the Saints, uniting yourself with the love and devotion and attention with which they perform this holy function.
3. Spirit of Prayer
. . . in a Christian and holy spirit
The third method of prayer is to perform all your acts, even the smallest, in a Christian and holy spirit, offering them to Our Lord as you begin, and then, from time to time, lifting up your heart to Him while you perform them. To do your actions thus is to perform them with a spirit of prayer and to practice prayer continually, in accordance with the commandment of Our Lord, Who desires that you should always pray without ceasing.
This prayer by action is a most excellent, as well as a very easy way to remain in the presence of God.
4. Spiritual Reading
The reading of spiritual matter and the applying of your mind
The fourth method of prayer is to read good books, reading them, however, not in haste, but taking your time, and applying your mind to what you are reading, stopping to consider and turning over in your thoughts the truths that strike you most forcefully, in order to impress them on your mind so as to derive specific acts of virtue and profitable resolutions.
Therefore, one thing I recommend to you with singular insistence is that you never let a day go by without reading some spiritual book for half an hour.
Books well suited
The books best suited for spiritual reading are the New Testament, the Imitation of Christ, the Lives of the Saints, the works of Luis de Granada, especially his great Guide for Sinners and the Memorial of the Christian Life, the writings of St. Francis de Sales and of Cardinal de Bérulle, founder of the Oratory of France, and Father Quarré's Spiritual Treasure.
But remember, at the beginning of your reading, to give your mind and heart to Our Lord and to beg Him to give you the grace to derive the fruit He chooses for you, and that by this He may work His holy will in your soul for His glory.
5. Conversing About God
Conversing about God and holy things
It is also a most useful and devout practice, which usually enflames hearts with Divine love, to speak and converse with one another about God and holy things. Christians should indeed spend part of their time this way. God should be the principal subject of their conversation, and it is in this that they ought to seek their recreation and their delight.
You are encouraged to do this by the Apostle St. Peter saying, "If any man speak, let him speak as the words of God" (1 Pet. 4, 11).
Enjoy speaking the language of your Father God
After all, you are God's children, so you ought to enjoy speaking the language of your Father, a language that is all holy, celestial and Divine.
And since you are made for Heaven, you ought to begin, even on earth, to speak a heavenly language.
Oh, how sweet it is, to a soul who loves God above all things, to speak of what is most lovable in the world and to hear sweet words about Him!
Jesus in the midst of you
How pleasing are these holy conversations to the One Who has said: "Where there are two or three gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18, 20). Oh, how different are such precious words from the ordinary chatter of this world! What a holy and profitable way to spend your time, provided you do it in the proper dispositions!
The rule laid down by St. Paul
For this end you should follow the rule laid down by St. Paul on this subject: Sicut ex Deo, coram Deo, in Christo loquimur. "From God, before God, in Christ we speak" (2 Cor. 2, 17). These words indicate the three things you must observe, if you are to speak of God devoutly and inspiringly.
First, you must speak from God, that is, you must draw upon God for your topics and your words, offering yourself to the Son of God at the beginning of your spiritual conversation, in order that He may inspire your mind and place on your lips the words and things you are to say, and that you may thus say what He said to His Father: "These words which Thou gavest me, I have given to them" (John 17, 8).
In the Presence of God
Secondly, you must speak in the presence of God, in a spirit of prayer and recollection, remembering attentively that God is everywhere present, and giving yourself to God, so that He may cause to fructify in you the things that you may say or hear said, and that you may make use of them according to His holy will.
In Jesus Christ
Thirdly, you must speak in Jesus Christ, that is, with the intentions and dispositions of Christ, even as He spoke so nobly and beautifully on earth, or else as He would speak if He were in your place.
To do this, you should give yourself to Him, uniting yourself with His intentions as He discoursed in the world, having no other aim but the glory of His Father alone. You should also share His dispositions of humility, of gentleness and charity towards those to whom He spoke, and of love and attention towards His Father.
If you do this, your conversations will be most pleasing to Him. He will be in the midst of you, to take His delight among you and the time spent in these spiritual conversations will be time spent in prayer.