Brookline Carmel Bulletin
June 25, 1961
Mental Prayer is a spontaneous, informal, loving conversation with God whom we know loves us. For those still new to the way of the spirit, Mental Prayer does not come easy. A rigid training program must be followed if one is to form the habit of falling easily and sweetly into the loving encounter with God. We call that training program a method.
Prayer is spontaneous and informal when it resembles the loving conversations of two young people who are espoused. Such being the case, it is logical to expect that a method of making Mental Prayer should take on some of the characteristics of a courtship. When two young people decide to enter into courtship, that is, to consider the other seriously as a possible future spouse, each sets about in a systematic way to discover more and better reasons for falling deeply in love with the other (i.e., the goodness and virtue of one another), and of convincing the other of one’s own profound, exclusive and permanent affection. The courtship ends when they agree to dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to one another for life.
In the beginning of a courtship then, a certain amount of protocol is necessary. As it nears completion the relationship between the two becomes free of all formality. In like manner, in training himself to be a man of prayer, one has to rely upon a well-defined pattern of behavior. When the habit is formed, then he can discard the formal procedure and trust in his newly formed, love-inspired instincts. It we examine the manner in which a courtship is conducted, we will therefore discover a method that we can use at prayer. We will see it to be the method taught by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.
First of all, the young couple must find one another attractive and inclined toward one another with basic good will. Then there is an attempt to discover, from those who know, the good (and bad) qualities of the other. This information is pondered and considered in the light of one’s knowledge of self. Then, in their conversations they both reveal themselves – attitudes, tastes, desires, objectives, ideals – and try to draw out the other. If it should happen that they unearth an unexpected wealth of goodness and nobility of soul they become grateful for the love and affection such a one bestows upon them. For a man truly in love sees himself to be vile and unworthy in comparison to the object of his affections, and considers the beloved’s return of love as a gratuitous gift. Gratitude normally engenders the offering of one’s entire being to the service of the other, the dedication of oneself and all in his possession to the work of making the beloved happy. Finally each begins to desire the ultimate mutual commitment to each other for life and they are emboldened to ask for those things that will help them to exclude the possibility of giving affection to anyone else, such as ‘going steady’, exchange of physical affection, etc.
We have, now, our method. All we have to do is assign technical terms to the various aspects of the courtship described above. There is Preparation (remote and proximate), Reflection, Colloquy, Thanksgiving, Oblation and Petition. Remote preparation is of a volitional nature. It is the basic, elementary love for God that is manifested by a sincere desire to be faithful to His Commandments. Proximate preparation consists of reading. We have to learn from the men who know and have experienced it how sweet is the Lord. This whets our appetite for God and helps us to love Him more. We then reflect and meditate upon what we have learned in order to deepen our understanding and appreciation. Besides, our own personal deductions and insights are more capable of moving us – though they be objectively not as beautiful – than the deductions of another’s. Then we enter into conversation. We reveal our love for God and all our aspirations. To share with Him our every thought and desire. In this way we satisfy the psychological need to be loved ‘as we are’ and not under false pretenses. True, God knows us thoroughly, but He expects us to go to Him as human beings. Realizing, then, that He loves us in spite of our misery we are filled with grateful confusion. We offer Him thanks with all the ardor we can manage. Little remains, then, except to offer Him our entire selves, all the faculties of soul and body, our entire substance. We offer Him our humanity in which He can again walk upon the earth and work and suffer in order to draw all men to Himself. We don’t hesitate to ask of Him great favors, either. In particular, that every hindrance to union with Himself be taken from our path, that everything that befalls us be turned to help us love Him even more. Neither do we hesitate to ask great blessings for those souls who are dear to us, for when He answers our petitions on their behalf the bonds attaching us to Him are more tightly drawn.
At first it is necessary to make these various acts dutifully for a stated period of time and in the sequence given. With time, liberty in the choice of acts and in the sequence is in good order, following the mood of the moment. Eventually the system is abandoned altogether.
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