Thursday, 18 August 2011


11. Preparation for Mass and the Sacraments.
It may sometimes happen that people have to go to Mass in a hurry, and come away in a hurry. They have little time to recollect themselves beforehand, or to dwell afterwards on the significance of what they have been doing. The same may be true of Holy Communion. They may feel that they have not the time they would like to prepare their souls for the coming of Our Lord. We know that when we receive the sacrament of Penance, or any other sacrament, the grace we receive is proportionate to our dispositions. But our preparation for confession may sometimes be hurried, and we may lose much grace that we might receive if we made more careful preparation. One remedy for this state of affairs is not to leave off our preparation till the time immediately before Mass or the reception of the sacraments. We can make it the subject of our prayer at other times. We can, for example, think and talk to Our Lord about the next Mass we are to hear, and try to realise what an important work it is, what a privilege it is to take part in it, and what we have to do as our share. Or we can think of our next Holy Communion, and make those acts of faith, humility, confidence, and desire, which will enable us to receive Our Lord with so much more fruit. We may even prepare for Last Anointing, and make it a preparation for death.
12. Contemplation.
One of the greatest needs of a Christian is to know his leader and model, Jesus Christ. We are good Christians in so far as we are like Christ. We are like branches grafted on to Him, the true Vine, and we are expected to bring forth in Him. It is, therefore, necessary for us to know Him. If we really know Him we shall love Him; and if our love is genuine, we shall become like Him. Now, we cannot know Christ unless we know the Gospels. We are well aware of the untruth of the Protestant charge that the Church discourages the reading of the Scriptures. But we must admit that we are not as diligent in reading them as the Church would wish. Nor is it sufficient merely to read the Gospels. We must live in its scenes and spend much time in company with Our Lord. Our object is to form His likeness in our souls. When a photograph is taken, there must be a sensitive film, other light must be excluded apart from that which comes from the object to be photographed, the object must be focussed, an exposure must be made, and afterwards the image must be developed. In the same way must we focus our gaze on Our Lord, exclude the sight of other things from our mind, spend some time in contemplation of Him, and by reflection try to develop His image in our souls. An old writer (Rudolph of Saxony), whose book played a part in the conversion of St. Ignatius, writes: ―Always and everywhere have Him devoutly before the eyes of your mind, in His behaviour and in His ways; as when He is with His disciples and when He is with sinners; when He speaks and when He preaches; when He goes forth and when He sits down; when He sleeps and when He wakes; when He eats and when He serves others; when He heals the sick and when He does His other miracles; setting forth to thyself in thy heart His ways and His doings; how humbly He bore Himself among men, how tenderly among His disciples, how pitiful He was to the poor, to whom He made Himself like in all things, and who seemed to be His own special family; how He despised none nor shrunk from them, not even from the leper; how He paid no court to the rich; how far He was from the cares of the world, and from trouble about the needs of the body; how patient under insult and how gentle in answering, for He sought not to maintain His cause by keen and bitter words, but with gentle and humble answer to cure another‘s malice; what composure in all His behaviour, what anxiety for the salvation of souls, for the love of whom He also deigned to die; how He offered Himself as the pattern of all that is good; how compassionate He was to the afflicted, how He condescended to the imperfection of the weak, how He despised not. sinners; how mercifully He received the penitent, how dutiful He was to His parents, how ready in serving all, according to His own words, ―I am among you as one that serveth; how He shunned all display and show of singularity; how He avoided all occasions of offence; how temperate in eating and drinking, how modest in appearance, how earnest in prayer, how sober in His watching, how patient of toil and want, how peaceful and calm in all things. (Introduction to his Life of Christ). We must, therefore, in our prayer go to Bethlehem, and to Nazareth, and to the shores of the Sea of Galilee; to the hillsides where Our Lord prayed, and to the fields where He walked with His disciples; we must be with Him when He is preaching and working miracles, and when He is suffering and dying; we must share with the Apostles in the experiences of the forty days of the Risen Life. Our lives are wasted if we do not know and love Jesus Christ; but we cannot know Him if we do not study Him in the only authentic and inspired records of His earthly life, the Gospels. Here, then, is matter for prayer, to take the scenes in the Gospels one by one and enter into them; watch Our Lord, hear Him speak, note what He does; talk to Him, ask Him questions, and take His lessons to heart. We are already doing this when we say the Rosary or make the Stations of the Cross. We only need to extend the method further.
13. Meditation.
We remember Our Lord‘s parable of the seed that fell on the hard ground and was picked up by the birds of the air, and the seed that had not the depth of soil necessary in order to push its roots down deep, and so quickly withered when the drought came. There are many truths of faith which we say we believe, but these truths have not entered very deeply into our minds, nor do they influence very strongly our lives. There is a great difference between superficial knowledge and a profound knowledge. Meditation, or reflection, on God‘s truth is, therefore, of great profit to us. The great truths of our religion have a wonderful power of inflaming our minds and inspiring us to action, provided we can bring them home to ourselves. God and His rights over us, His plan for us in time and eternity, what we owe to Jesus Christ, the closeness of the union between Him and us, our supernatural life, death, the shortness of time, heaven, various points of the teaching of Our Lord—these are examples of subjects which we can take for the kind of prayer which contains a large element of reflection in it. It is not meant to be mere abstract reflection, but such as will inspire us with love of God and desire to do His will, and bring us into loser touch with Him. It will be well to map out our matter and have it in order. This will help to prevent aimless wandering of the mind. Thus, if we want to meditate upon humility, for example, we might divide the matter in this way: (1) what humility is and what it is not; (2) the importance of humility as seen from its own nature and from the teaching of Christ; (3), the application of the virtue in my life. It will probably be helpful to have notes or a book, in order to keep our minds on the subject in hand. We should begin by placing ourselves in the presence of God and asking Him to enlighten us and help us to understand His truth; then, using our imagination as well as our reason, we should try to learn something that will be for our good and enable us to serve God better. Some of the subjects which have been touched in these talks on the sacraments may serve as an introduction to this form of prayer; as, for example, the supernatural life (no. I), the Mystical Body (no. II), the Blessed Trinity (no. III), the value of the Blessed Eucharist (no. VII), the Sacrifice of the Mass (no. VIII), the value of the Sacrament of Penance (no. X), the qualities of true sorrow for sin (no. XI), death (no. XV), vocation to the priesthood (no. XVI), the dignity of marriage (no. XVII), mixed marriages (no. XVIII), and the importance of prayer, as set forth at the beginning of this talk. The truths of faith will influence our lives in the proportion in which we have pondered on them and tried to bring them home to ourselves. The list of different ways of praying which has been suggested in the preceding pages could, of course, be extended. It makes no reference to higher forms of prayer to which God may lead the soul that is prepared for them. The methods here enumerated are not all separate and distinct methods, and they can be combined or varied in practice as may be found helpful. It must be remembered that the best method of prayer is the method that brings me closest to God, and sends me away more in earnest about loving and serving Him. Each one must, therefore, find out by practice and experience the kind of prayer that is most suitable, and be prepared to use different methods in different circumstances and in different needs of the soul. It is a wise thing to prepare for prayer, and to have some definite plan in mind, as a general rule, but if God takes possession of us during prayer and leads us by a way different from the one we had intended going ourselves, we must follow God‘s way and abandon our own. If we find that in our prayer we are in touch with God, loving Him, adoring Him, surrendering ourselves to Him, we  must not let ourselves be drawn away from Him in order to pursue some line of thought we had prepared, or some subject we had intended to deal with. That can wait for some other time when it is wanted. The object of all our prayer is to lead us to God; when we get there (no matter what road we travel by) let us be content.
Difficulties will be met with in prayer, but most of them can be overcome through the experience born of continued effort and the help which can be confidently looked for from God. But some elementary advice may be given which will make the path of the beginner easier.
1. I cannot pray.
Ask me to do anything else, but do not expect me to be a success at prayer. That is a sentiment which is often expressed. We must be quite clear, to begin with, that it is utterly wrong to say that we cannot pray. Prayer is necessary for our spiritual welfare, and is it likely that God will expect us to do what is impossible? We can all pray, because we can all try to pray. If we are making a real effort to pray, and to pray well, that will count for success in God‘s estimation. Therefore it is that we certainly can pray, because we can try to pray.
2. Persevere.
The secret of success in prayer, as in so many other things, is to persevere. To keep on trying, no matter whether we seem to be making progress or not, is what is chiefly necessary. No one expects to be an expert pianist without years of steady practice. It is a great art to converse with God, and we must not expect to learn it all at once. Those who are keen on tennis will practice diligently, watch other players, read books on the subject, discuss the method of producing strokes, and perhaps get lessons from a coach. We must be prepared to take pains if we wish to become proficient at prayer. And it is worth the effort.
3. I get no consolation from prayer. I am always cold and dry.
That is another objection that is made. Now, in the first place, what we seek in prayer is spiritual strength rather than spiritual comfort; we pray in order that we may please God, and not that we may please ourselves. We can take consolation from the fact that even very good people often find prayer hard. Alas, daughter, wrote St. Jane Frances de Chantal once in a letter, my prayer is ordinarily but distraction and a little suffering. Suffering endured in prayer is often better than pleasure enjoyed in prayer. In dryness and in barrenness, in sickness and in feebleness, then is thy prayer full pleasing to Me, said Our Lord once to Blessed Juliana of Norwich. When we pray in spite of dryness, we are proving that we are praying for God‘s sake, and not for our own pleasure. Dryness and coldness keep us humble, purify our love, make us strive more earnestly, increase our sense of dependence on God, and bring us greater merit. Consolation, on the other hand, is often dangerous. We can accept consolation when God gives it, humbly and thankfully, but we must not allow ourselves to become too attached to it. In this life we must be prepared for suffering; in eternity there will be undiluted happiness.
4. I cannot keep away distractions.
We shall not be blamed for distractions unless they are voluntary. If we fight against distractions, and keep doing our best to prevent our mind wandering, we are pleasing God, because we are taking trouble for His sake. Sometimes we can make the distractions the subject of our prayer. If there is something that is worrying us, for instance, and we cannot keep our mind off it, let us talk to Our Lord about it, and get light and comfort from Him.
5. Begin well.
This itself is, to some extent, a protection against distractions. I want to bring my mind with me to prayer. Therefore, at the beginning I should be careful to collect my thoughts and think of what I am going to do. I should remember that I am in the presence of God, and make an act of faith in this. Then I should, very humbly, adore Him. Many people would find their prayer at once improved if they took pains in this way to make a good beginning.

Nihil Obstat:
Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur :
Archiepiscopus Melbournensis.