ON MENTAL PRAYER.
The holy patriarch Jacob, flying from his brother Esau through a desert land, laid himself down to rest; and, whilst he was sleeping, he saw in a vision a ladder that reached from earth to heaven. On this ladder he beheld a multitude of angels constantly ascending and descending; and upon the summit of the ladder he saw Almighty God Himself, who looked down upon him, and renewed to him the promises He had formerly made to Abraham and Isaac, that their children should possess the Land of Promise, and he multiplied like the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea-shore. This mystical ladder which was shewn to the holy patriarch during his journey through the desert, is a symbol—an image of mental prayer or holy meditation. As the ladder reached from earth to heaven, so mental prayer, which is performed here upon earth, reaches to the throne of God, and unites as it were heaven and earth. The angels whom Jacob saw ascending and descending represent those pious souls who exercise themselves in the practice of meditation; for they ascend into heaven by the consideration of the eternal truths, and descend to the earth again by fulfilling their duties amongst men. Almighty God, who was sitting at the top of the ladder, looking down upon Jacob, and renewing to him His gracious promises, represents the same omnipotent and bountiful Lord, who, from the throne of His glory, looks down with merciful eyes upon those who practise holy meditation, and promises to watch over them in all their ways, to guide them in the path of perfection, to enrich them with the treasures of His grace, and finally to grant to them the possession of the true land of promise—the heavenly Jerusalem.
On the necessity of meditation for the purification of the soul and the advancement in perfection.
When treating of the necessity of meditation, I do not intend to speak of any particular form or method in which it may be performed; but I take the subject of meditation, in its substance, in the sense of its being the devout consideration of the truths and mysteries of our holy religion, whatever may be the form and manner in which it is done. Thus taken, I say that meditation is necessary, 1st, for sinners, in order that they may rise from the state of sin, and attain the state of grace; 2dly, for the just, in order to preserve themselves from falling into sin, and to enable themselves to advance in perfection.
That meditation is necessary for sinners, in order to rise from the state of sin and attain the state of grace, is clearly proved by what follows. In order that a sinner may be converted from the state of sin, regain the friendship of his offended Maker, and be restored to the state of justice, it is absolutely necessary that his heart should be changed. It is requisite that he should conceive a deep horror and contempt of what he has hitherto esteemed and loved, and be possessed of a sincere esteem and love of what he has formerly hated and despised; that he should feel a lively and bitter sorrow of his sinful life, and be resolved to die a thousand times rather than return to it again; that he should purpose to abandon for ever the ways of sin, and apply himself to the love and service of God with all his heart and soul. But how shall he be able to do this without the help of meditation? how shall he be able to effect this complete change—this total conversion of heart—unless he perceives on the one hand the hatefulness of his crimes, and discovers on the other the treasures of the riches of the mercy and goodness of God? And how shall he be able to see these things unless he enters into himself, and turns his mind to what concerns eternal life?
Contemplate, O Christian soul, the prodigal son, who is proposed to us by our Saviour as a living picture of repenting sinners, and see in what manner does he rise from his wretched state, and resolve to return to his loving father? The Gospel relates that, having abandoned his father's house, he departed to a distant land, sought the company of the wicked, gave loose rein to his unruly passions, and plunged himself into every sin and misery. Now, how did he succeed to deliver himself from so awful, so wretched a state? By what means did he return, from the degraded and miserable condition into which he had fallen, to the embraces of his loving father? He enters into himself, says the Scripture; he begins to meditate upon his miserable lot. He calls to mind the kindness and affection of his loving and tender father; he reflects that even the hired servants in his father's house are living in happiness, in want of nothing; he compares their happy state with his own misery; he thinks on the peace and joy he once experienced in his father's house ; and he resolves to arise and to return to his father's bosom; and he is received with the tenderest embraces, and has the kiss of peace and forgiveness bestowed on him. Thus it is also in the case of the repenting sinner. By reflecting on the enormity of his sins, and on the wretchedness of his state; by calling to mind the goodness and mercy of that infinitely loving Father whom he has abandoned, he is excited to return to Him, and he is received by Him with open arms, and has the most brilliant marks of grace granted to him, whilst His angels look on him with delight, rejoicing at his conversion.
If meditation is necessary to enable sinners to rise from the state of sin, it is no less necessary to the just, in order to their persevering in justice and advancing in perfection. First, it is necessary to them in order to persevere in the path of justice. The prophet Jeremias attributes the awful desolation which filled the whole earth in his times to the want of proper consideration on the part of men. "The earth," says he, "is made desolate, because there is no one that thinketh in his heart." [Jerem. xii.] And the holy David attributes his fidelity to God to meditation on His holy law: "Unless Thy law had been my meditation," says he, " I should have perished in my abjection." [Ps. cxviii. 92.] If, then, the want of consideration be the principal cause of the manifold crimes of men, whilst the practice of meditation is so powerful a preservative against sin, it clearly follows that meditation is necessary to the just, in order that they may preserve the treasure of Divine grace and persevere in justice. It is for this reason that the Wise Man says: "In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin." [Ecclus. vii. 40.] But meditation is necessary to the just, not only in order to persevere in the path of justice, but also in order to improve ever more and more in virtue, and to advance in perfection. The great St. Thomas teaches that, in order to advance in perfection it is requisite first to acquire a clear knowledge of ourselves, of our own baseness and misery, and of the vanity of all worldly things; secondly, to attain a profound knowledge of the excellence and goodness of God; for the more lowly we think of ourselves, the less we esteem the alluring objects of this world; and the more we reflect upon the perfections of God, the more we shall be enabled to despise ourselves, to trample under foot the vanities of this earth, to raise our heart to the perfect love of God, and to attain a strict union with His Divine Majesty. But how shall we acquire this knowledge, so necessary for the advancement in perfection, without the help of meditation? how shall we be able to penetrate deeply into the abyss of our own unworthiness, and attain to a sublime and exalted idea of the goodness and greatness of God, unless we apply ourselves to think seriously upon these things?
The necessity of meditation for advancing in perfection is also evinced, first, from the holy Scripture, which represents meditation as a most efficacious means for enkindling the fire of Divine love in our heart. Hence holy David exclaims, "In my meditation a flame shall be enkindled ;"' secondly, from the authority of the Saints, who, by unanimous consent, have ever regarded the practice of meditation as necessary for the attainment of perfection, and accordingly applied themselves to it with great fervour and devotion, and recommended it most earnestly to the persons entrusted to their care.
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.