For some people, mental prayer is a breeze. For others, it is an overwhelming, mysterious prayer practice that is way out of their league. I fall into the second category. I pray my rosaries and recite my other vocal prayers with ease, but when I read about how important mental prayer, also called contemplative prayer is, I feel embarrassed. I have many books on my shelf detailing the process, but I feel so mechanical when doing the prescribed 3-5 step process they suggest.
Then I would beat myself up and tell myself that I will just never be a good enough Catholic. I would tell myself lies like, “So and so prays like this, and look how holy they are! You could never be like that.” Or “So and so does this, what is wrong with you that you can’t be more like that?”
But here’s a little secret, it isn’t all about how perfectly you can pray, or the “holy” things that you do! Our spiritual journeys are very private and personal… there is NO room for comparison.
All that matters is how deeply you love Jesus. Our faith isn’t defined by how many “rules” we follow, or “things” that we do, but by how fully we love.
That’s the amazing thing about the Catholic church! In her 2000+ year history, there have been many brilliant teachers that have helped us determine the surest way of salvation. This isn’t some hack to “cheat” the heavenly system, but rather, determine ways that we can best grow in our faith to develop a love affair with Our Lord.
St. Teresa of Avila is one such teacher and so brilliant of one that she was proclaimed to be a Doctor of the Church! I am going to offer you her formula. I am spelling this out, not as something to wrestle with, but as a guide for you to use in your own faith life. This isn’t something to be intimidated by, but a helpful, handy tool to help you enter into a conversation with Christ.
Step 1- Preparation
Simply place yourself before Our Lord. Put aside all distractions and maybe take a few deep breaths to become aware of His presence.
Step 2- Selection of Material
St. Teresa of Avila believed that no one should enter prayer without good spiritual reading. But it isn’t limited to just a book. A few ideas would be, the daily gospel reading, a beautiful religious picture, a crucifix, or any scene from the life of Christ, especially the decades of the rosary.
Step 3- Consideration
Consider the scene of meditation. Who was in the scene? What is Jesus doing? Why is He doing it? What does it mean to me?
Step 4- The Conversation
This is the “meat and potatoes” of personal prayer. This is where you begin to talk to Christ. Inspired by your choice of meditation you can tell Him how much you love Him, thank Him for suffering so much for you, tell Him of your desire to serve Him, and that you are willing to do anything for Him. We also adore Christ in the scene of the meditation. When our conversation begins to falter, we can return to whatever we were reading, to stimulate new thoughts for additional conversation, returning again to speak to Jesus. Depending on how long we have, this could take 2 minutes, or 2 hours!
Step 5- Conclusion
Thank Our Lord for the graces received during prayer time. We can examine our shortcomings and promise to eradicate them so as to have a better conversation in the future.
That’s all there is to it. It might feel funny at first, and even mechanical, but the point isn’t to stress someone out by following all the steps to the T! It’s a general guideline for someone who wants to get to know Jesus better and has no clue where to start.
This Lent, I encourage you to take up the daily habit of mental prayer, even if it is only a 5-minute meditation! This is a surefire way to fall deeper in love with Jesus.
Until next time, your sister in Christ,