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Thursday, February 09, 2006

"Those who trust in the Lord will not be put to shame."(Daniel 3)

To begin any new prayer routine, you need to begin by praying. You need to pray for the desire, pray for the ability, pray to be able to learn the prayers. Whenever you have the inspiration to pray more, it is a grace from God. The Carmelites say "Everything is a grace." The desire to do good, the longing for prayer is a grace. Man is basically good with a flaw. The flaw is original sin, it gives us a leaning toward evil (concupiscence). (Original sin has left us with a darkened intellect and a weakened will.) If God is leading you towards good, if you have the desire to pray, continue to let Him lead you. Be the "docile instrument" in His hands. I think when a discussion of prayer comes up, most people think of vocal prayer. Vocal prayer is basically formula prayers: the Rosary, Angelus, even the Breviary. The goal, however, is to make all prayer, mental prayer. Prayer in which we place ourselves in the presence of God, we meditate, we incorporate some supernatural truth into our lives -the prayer goes passed our lips and enters our heart. A lot of times, we intellectually know what we should do. Mental prayer is the means by which our hearts learn what to do.

I don't know is this is helpful, but for the longest time, I didn't know what mental prayer was. When I would go for spiritual advice and explain that I have no patience and no peace, I would be asked,
"Do you pray?"
"Sure, angelus, rosary, breviary, loads of prayer.
"The next question would invariably be,
"Well, do you practice mental prayer?"
"What is that?"
"Of course, when I pray my prayers my mind is always full of thoughts: Who's going to start the next fight?Let me call the electrician, somebody put a wind up toy in the light socket. The kitchen sink isn't working Who knows a plumber who will fix it? I need to make some doctor appointments."

It just seemed that when the demands of many children descended upon me, my vocal prayer was no longer mental prayer. Before children, if my peace was disturbed I'd make a point of spending more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I would stay until the discord in my soul melted. But, this is no longer an option. A new solution needed to be found. A solution that fit my vocation. I see now that it was my daily Marian meditation that caused a change. (See the link on the side for Mary Vitamin.) Sometimes, by the time we realize we need to be more prayerful, our peace has already been shattered. We are in a state of great anxiety or we've developed a habit of giving into our passions. St. Francis deSales teaches us not to add to any of the anxiety, broken peace or passion when trying to overcome these obstacles in our interior life.Don't fret, if this is your state. Don't add any more anxiety. Don't apply any more passion in your pursuit of prayerful peace and meditation. Let God do the work and promise to God, you will do your part.Pray to pray, pray for desire, pray for ability, pray to learn, trying to cultivate peace interiorly. Begin with the lowest form of mental prayer: spiritual reading. Turn off the TV, put away any form of modern music, put down the newspapers and magazines, make sure your clothing is not revealing, stay in your home and go on retreat. Read an excellent biography of a saint throughout the day, in between your work, and try to make some free time in the night to read.(Books which I found helpful in making a "home retreat" were: St. Catherine Laboure, Mrs. Seton(Dirvin), Joan of Arc (Twain), Bl. Damian of Molokai(Roos?), Song of Bernadette, Fatima from the Beginning, (Marchi)
St. Teresa of Avila teaches how to turn vocal prayer into mental prayer:

"Represent the Lord Himself as close to you and behold how lovingly and humbly He is teaching you…If you grow accustomed to having Him at your side and He sees you do so with love…He will never fail you." (Way of Perfection)

Try to make all vocal prayer mental prayer. Make the sign of the cross as though you are St. Bernadette of whom it was said, that no one made the sign more beautifully. Every time you pray, remember you are in the presence of God (St. Francis DeSales). Think of Him next to you. Pray the breviary as though your were talking to Jesus Himself. Imagine Him next to you and you are David, crying out your need for the Savior.Pray in the presence of God. I find this easiest in the Breviary. St. Teresa of Avila said she couldn't think of one person of the Blessed Trinity without thinking of all three. A very good book, I didn't read the whole thing, but it is good: The Soul of the Apostolate. The gist is, the active apostolate is built on mental prayer. Being a wife, mother, homeschooler etc... is definitely the active apostolate. We should try to cultivate mental prayer. (St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle is the definitive work on mental prayer. Her experiences are extraordinary.)

C.S. Lewis wrote something like this: Whenever I feel the flame of devotion wane, I pick up my pen, a piece of paper, and study my Faith. So, spiritual reading and study are essential in the adult Christian's prayer life.