THE MEDITATIONMeditation, as we understand it here, is not just to recall the Last Things or the will of God as a rule of life. It is the elevation and application of our mind to God, as practiced by Jesus Christ and, following his example, by the Saints.
The time given to meditation is not stolen from active works since prayer is more necessary than action. Indeed apostles are productive to the degree they are animated by their interior life, which is nourished, precisely, by meditation.
Various methods of meditation
The saints searched constantly and in various ways to achieve success in this difficult art. So much so that
as a result of their study, prayer and personal experience, we can say that all of them left their particular mark.
We find excellent methods in Cassian, Saint John Climacus and in other spiritual writers. It was not, however, until the 16th century that methods properly so-called were worked out; these have, since then, guided people in the ways of mental prayer. We can recall, for example, those of Saint Ignatius, Saint Francis de Sales, the Oratorians and Saint Sulpice.
All the methods proposed by the saints and spiritual teachers have certain points in common, which constitute the basics of meditation. These are the preparation, the body of the meditation, the conclusion.
Preparation is threefold: remote, proximate and immediate.
The remote preparation is the effort to bring one's daily life into harmony with the meditation. Thus the preparation of the mind which needs to know the truths of dogma from which it can deduce moral, ascetical and mystical principles; preparation of the will so as to incline a person to the practice of God's law and the duties of one's state; preparation of the heart which consists in the desire to improve oneself and inclines the soul to prayer.
The proximate preparation includes such
preparatory acts as to read the subject of meditation on the previous evening; to revolve it in the mind in the morning on awakening; to direct one's mind, will and heart to it so as to achieve greater results.
The immediate preparation, the beginning of meditation itself, consists in placing ourselves in God's presence, acknowledging that we are unworthy and incapable of meditating, and imploring the help of God's grace.
It is the body of the meditation that presents more variety in the different methods. Nonetheless here too all are agreed on the fundamentals, which are, to render to God the religious homage due to him; to reflect on the topic of the meditation; to see our failings and to survey the progress to be made by way of self-examination; to make practical resolutions for the day; to pray for the graces we need.
The conclusion, which brings the meditation to an end, includes thanksgiving to God for the grace of meditation, a brief review of how we have made it and the choice of a spiritual bouquet.
The publishing apostle's method
It goes without saying that the apostle has to aim for unitive1 meditation. Here the soul is in intimate and habitual union with God through charity. Since this depends, however, on God and is, ordinarily, the outcome of purgative and illuminative meditation, the apostle should be well versed in them. Let him follow one of the many methods available because, whereas in the unitive the predominant factor is grace, in the other two personal application is of great benefit.
In practice, he can follow any good method that he judges useful for his soul. Preference should, however, tend towards the "way, truth and life" method.
This method too, like the others, includes the preparation, the body and the conclusion.
The remote preparation is the study of religion in its three parts: faith, morals, worship; the proximate (as with the other methods) is the evening and morning preview of the subject for meditation; the immediate includes the preparatory acts which are a prelude and prayer, that is, evoking the truth to be meditated on, setting the scene by means of the imagination, a general resolution to draw some benefit from,
request for a special grace in conformity with the topic.
The preparatory acts will prove very beneficial if recourse is had to gospel episodes that fit the subject. For example, if you call to mind the passage that depicts Mary Magdalene as a model of the meditative person, you can picture yourself being in her place and seeing Jesus the Teacher who knocks at the castle (symbol of the soul). You will then study how to imitate this holy woman: her attentiveness to the Teacher's words, her gratitude, her interest to question him, her suffering and her good will.
Other times you can picture yourself alone in intimate conversation with Jesus, entrusting your whole self to him, your mind, heart and will, so that he can use them as he wills. This will help you to remain with him in sweet conversation for the whole meditation. Helpful also can be examples from the life of Mary or of the Saints; or picturing yourself in some particular place or circumstance, as on your deathbed, at the cemetery gates, standing on the edge of hell, and so on.
The body of the meditation is divided into three parts: truth, way and life, or way, truth and life, the first two of which will each take up half the time of the third (for example, if the
third lasts 12 minutes, the first and the second will each last for six minutes).
PART I - Truth - Here the mind plays the main role.
After you read the passage that you wish to meditate on you have to convince yourself of what you have read until the truth glows in the eyes of understanding.
PART II - Way - This is where the will takes over. It comprises three parts. The first is a lively and detailed reflection on the words of the Divine Teacher regarding the truth meditated on.
You follow this by comparing your behavior with the example of Jesus. This, the examination of conscience, must be particular and sincere; it must examine the past, give hope for the present and make provision for the future.
Then the third part: the resolution for the day. Practical and personal, it ties in with the resolution of the previous spiritual exercises or monthly day of recollection, that is, with what forms the object of the particular examen.
PART III - Life - This is the longest part. The soul is in devout colloquy with God and Our Lady; the soul prays to be enlightened so as to deepen what it has meditated on in order
to be given the will-power and necessary supernatural help to put into practice the resolutions expressed.
This will be a free-flowing prayer and conform to the soul's particular disposition. In cases of aridity or distraction you can recite some ordinary prayers, a mystery or two of the Rosary, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, the Miserere, and so on.2
After the three parts of the body [of the meditation] comes the conclusion. This is a brief examination on the meditation and is followed by three acts. These are to ask God's forgiveness for the negligences committed during the meditation; to thank God for the graces and good inspirations received; to choose some spiritual thoughts to reflect on [at these times]: during the day, at the particular midday examen and during the Visit to the Blessed Sacrament.
1 In general there are three types of meditation: the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive, in keeping with the homonymous stages of the spiritual life.
2 If you wish to invert the order, that is, to have "way" precede "truth", and accord with the gospel expression "Way, Truth and Life", reflect first on the example of Jesus Christ and the Saints vis-à-vis the truth proposed for the meditation. The example thus proposed appears as a way which is outside of us, placed before us so that we can follow it step by step.
The second exercise (called truth) which follows the first (way) is a consideration, an examination on the correlation between (good and bad) effects with respect to determined causes.
In the third exercise (life) we assimilate interiorly the truths we have followed and reflected on. We make them our own; they come to life in us. Such convictions grow as an assimilated reality and flower into individual acts, that is, into a fulfillment of resolutions.