Small Catechism on the Spiritual Life – Part 3

Small Catechism on the Spiritual Life – Part 3

  by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D

  (text in French published by Le Sel de La Terre)

(continued)

Chapter V The Difficulties of Mental Prayer

1. What are the principal difficulties encountered in mental prayer?

As mental prayer consists in lifting the soul to God, in other words occupying oneself with Him by thought and affection, the difficulties arise in mental prayer from all which hinders or makes more difficult this double application of our soul. With regards to thoughts, there are distractions, with regards to affections there is dryness.

2. What is meant by distraction?

We mean by distraction the intrusion into prayer of thoughts incompatible with the exercise that we are doing. They push us so that we occupy ourselves with something else. This assault of foreign and even contrary thoughts to the recollection of the intelligence with God can take place in two ways willingly or unwillingly. There is a great difference between the two ways

3. What do willful distractions consist of?

Willful distractions consist in the willful introduction or consented acceptance of thoughts which deviate our intelligence from the Divine Object of which it was occupied. In becoming distracted willingly, the soul either stops or interrupts mental prayer. If it is done without a sufficient reason, it is culpable of irreverence towards God. More so than a difficulty, the willful distraction in mental prayer makes it an infidelity. If on the other hand a wondering thought comes and is not accepted, the distraction is said to be involuntary.

4. What are the causes of involuntary thoughts?

We must accept two causes, the first occasional the second natural. The first is made by the impressions of the senses, the second by the intimate tendencies of our nature which engender spontaneously in us images and thoughts. We must distinguish, according to their origin, exterior or interior distractions.

5. Can we avoid distractions in mental prayer?

The exterior distractions can be avoided in a large part by the close watch on our senses and especially in choosing to pray in a surer place, as Our Lord suggests in the Gospel. We will avoid many distractions caused by the eyes in closing them or in fixing them on a religious object or a book of meditation. It is much more difficult to avoid interior distractions.

6. Where does this particular difficulty come from?

The particular difficulty of avoiding interior distractions comes from the spontaneity of the natural tendencies which are at the bottom of our being. They are manifested by the easy apparition of images and thoughts which relate to things we either like or fear. When our attention is fixed on an object of our consideration this interior world bound to these spontaneous tendencies remains more or less in obscurity, but as soon as our attention diminishes they are noticed. Then thoughts and memories appear in our mind which can contrast greatly with the mental prayer that we are doing.

7. Can one avoid interior distractions?

Yes, there is a way, at least in a certain measure, to avoid them either directly or indirectly:

* The direct way to resist the distractions consists in bringing back our attention to the religious topic that we are meditating on, or simply on God making an act of faith or love.

* The indirect way consists in intensifying our spiritual life. In becoming more profound one gains new energy which will reinforce the tendency of our soul towards God counter the natural tendencies which distract us. It should be noted that such a result will not be gained very quickly, but will be the fruit of a long application to the interior life.

8. Are the interior distractions sometimes unavoidable?

Yes, because they are spontaneous. Especially when the soul suffers from the difficulty in fixing its attention interior distractions can be very invading, insistent, and annoying. This difficulty in fixing the attention can come from an accidental cause. It can also come from a habitual disposition, as in the case of certain temperaments, very mobile. If the soul continues to suffer seeing itself distracted, and doing its best to remain attentive to God, these sorrowful distractions far from hurting it, transform it into an instrument of moral perfection and are an occasion of supernatural merit.

9. What is meant by dryness?

Dryness is the suppression of comfort that the soul feels often in the spiritual life, especially in the beginning which follows its conversion to a better life. The soul which recognizes that it possesses a more intense spiritual life has a certain joy because it is a psychological law that one is happy when he knows he possesses a great good. The intense spiritual life does not however consist in this comfort nor receive it. Also it can exist and develop outside all consolation, only because true devotion consists only in promptitude of the will to do the service of God.

10. Is dryness an evil?

The moral quality of dryness depends on the cause which produced it:

* If comfort disappears in the soul but if the resolution to give oneself completely to God remains in the will, far from being an evil, the dryness will be an occasion for good.

* If on the other hand the dryness comes from the weakness of the will it lacks recollection in the spiritual life.

11. Is there blameworthy dryness?

Of course, when they have their source in our infidelity. It can be greater or lesser. The soul called by God to a generous and mortified life who, after corresponding some time to grace, gives itself to look for small human satisfactions is no longer faithful to the invitation of God, and loses its original fervor, and remains weak in the will.

But more unfaithful still is the soul who falls into luke-warmness in committing deliberate venial sins. It is natural that such a soul can no longer forcefully express its love to God, precisely because it is no longer strong. It falls into dryness. The only way to cure the problem is to correct oneself returning to the original generosity.

12. Is there dryness which does not depend on the will?

Without doubt there are. Even the circumstances in which we live in are often occasions of dryness. They can provoke in us a sentiment of discomfort which deprives us of any consolation in the spiritual exercises, physical tiredness, physical problems, worries, small injuries, incomprehensions. All of that signifies for us causes of weight, annoyance, and overwhelming emotions and thoughts, which puts the soul in a sorrowful state where all joy and peace disappear. In this form of dryness the soul must arm itself with patience knowing that in supporting it for the love of God, the soul offers to Him a very agreeable sacrifice which proves its love for Him.

13. Can the dryness come from God?

Definitively, and even in the mentioned ones, we must affirm that it is caused by God since all circumstances in life are arranged by Providence. But sometimes the suppression of comfort that the soul feels in mental prayer is more directly the work of God, and precisely when He makes it impossible for the soul to meditate with the help of the imagination, and to make acts of love as beforehand. It is a common phenomenon to souls after some time of fervent application to mental prayer. St. John of the Cross teaches that by this type of dryness God invites souls to a more simple form of mental prayer that is called an initial contemplation.

14. How must the soul comport itself in this dryness?

The soul must not persist in wanting to continue the meditation as it is often obliged to do. It must, on the contrary, omit it simply and apply itself to remain tranquil in the presence of God looking at Him with a simple regard of faith and wanting to please Him at every moment. Little by little this regard of faith will become easier and more loving and the soul will pass gradually from a painful state of dryness to a peaceful rest in God.

15. How can the soul know that the dryness comes from God?

A sign that the dryness comes from God is that the soul perseveres in the exercise of virtues and prayer although it only feels dryness. As the application to virtues is more difficult in these circumstances the soul will find less success, but its repeated efforts show that its will remains strong. Such dryness cannot come from a culpable weakness of the will, but is the work of God.

16. What aim does God have in sending dryness to the soul?

By this trial God foresees to deliver the soul from the childlike sensitivity, to carry it to a more solid and hard ground of the will. Not finding sweetness for the spiritual life in the representations and sweet emotions as just a little time ago, when all went well, the soul sees itself constrained to hold on with the will to the exercises of faith and love. As this state comes from the Divine Will, the work of grace joins with the effort of the soul. Undoubtedly it will make great progress in the spiritual life. The dryness sent by God, besides the trial, is a great precious grace which the soul, far from being discouraged, will look to correspond generously.

Chapter VI The Presence of God

1. What is the presence of God?

The presence of God is an exercise of the spiritual life destined to maintain us in contact with God in our diverse daily occupations. It is in some way mental prayer which is prolonged during the whole day. As mental prayer it is composed of two elements – thought and affection. It is, in effect to think of God and to turn one’s heart towards Him.

2. What is the principal element of the presence of God?

The principle element is not the thought as most of people believe, but the affection. As in mental prayer, the thought serves to orient the heart or will towards God, and directs towards Him all its actions. It is easier to remain for a while in contact with God by means of the will than by the intelligence.

3. From where does the difference come?

The difference between the ease of application of the intelligence and of the will comes from the fact that it is not practically possible to think of God in an uninterrupted way, given that many times our occupations take all our attention, and that we do not have the possibility to think at the same time about two different things. On the contrary when the intelligence is occupied with work that we are doing, the heart can remain turned towards God because even if the work is distracting in its nature, we can do it for God, meaning in order to fulfil His Will and to glorify Him.

4. How can we more easily hold our heart oriented towards God?

We can do it in nourishing the attention by small affective exercises as short prayers, pious invocations, the offering of our actions, asking God’s help, or short conversations with God in which we manifest to Him our love and our confidence. This will not however be possible for us if thoughts of God are not often present.

5. Is there a way to frequently recall the presence of God?

There are many diverse ways. We distinguish ordinarily the forms of the exercise of the presence of God using the means to recall this thought to our souls; so we speak of the presence of God external, imaginative, and intellectual.

6. In what does the practice of the thoughts of God external consist?

It consists in using an exterior object to often think of God. A crucifix that we always carry with us putting it before us during work, kissing it, venerating it, will maintain living in us the memory of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and will give us the occasion to speak affectionately to Him. Even the thought of the Eucharistic Presence which we come back to without stopping, can help hold us in contact with God and incite us to speak with Him. It is the same for pious images, etc.

7. In what does the practice of the presence of God imaginative consist?

This practice consists in representing to us by the imagination that God, Our Lady or some Saints are close to us, near us, and accompany us everywhere. We look to address ourselves to them by short spontaneous words or by diverse affectionate exercises to which we have already alluded to. Everybody however cannot practice this type of the presence of God which requires a lively imagination and a complete mastery of this faculty.

8. Does such a representation lack truth?

Not in any way because if the humanity of Our Lord or Our Lady or the Saints are not present to us physically, they are morally present in the fact that the Saints and Our Lady see us in the Divine Essence that they contemplate, and are in relation with us, and because the humanity of Our Lord exercises on us a physical influence in the communication of grace. This spiritual relation we can easily represent to us in putting ourselves in the company of God and the Saints.

9. Can we make the exercise of the presence of God in turning ourselves towards the Saints?

Evidently, because the thoughts of Our Lady and the Saints help orient our heart and our actions towards God. And in this orientation of the will is found the most necessary element of the presence of God.

10. What is the practice of the presence of God intellectual?

The practice of the presence of God intellectual is that by which we recall to our mind the memory of God by means of a thought of faith. The soul remembers, for example, of the continual presence of the Most Holy Trinity in it, and looks to please its Divine Guests, or it considers that its duties are the manifestation of the Divine Will, and the soul unites itself constantly to the Divine Will. With the supernatural light, it sees that all the circumstances of life are dispensed by Providence, and the soul tells its Heavenly Father “I am happy with all”, or knowing that God looks after it always, the soul looks to do something to make it agreeable in the eyes of God.

11. What is the best way to make the exercise of the presence of God?

The best way to do this exercise is the one which fits best our mentality, and it is not determined by reasons but by experience. It is to be remarked that we must not attach ourselves to an exclusive way or a determined formula, but we can very well vary them according to the circumstances. Ordinarily we will prefer a particular form of this exercise, and we will choose the one which is most useful for us. It is praiseworthy to use a holy freedom.

12. Can the exercise of the presence of God be united to the natural ordinary actions and even those of recreation?

Undoubtedly, we will find in this exercise the most practical way to sanctify these actions. Even in eating we can elevate our heart towards God, and in place of looking for satisfactions we eat food with a holy indifference with the goal of restoring our strength to serve God with more energy. St. Paul taught us “Whether you eat or drink, do all for the glory of God”. It must be the same for our recreations. We must offer them to God having in view to obtain new force to give in His honor. We must even put our sleep to this end. We will prepare it making an explicit offering to God. So the exercise of the presence of God will allow us to live the whole day and our life of love.

The End.

Small Catechism on the Spiritual Life – Part 2

Small Catechism on the Spiritual Life – Part 2

  by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.

  (text in French published by Le Sel de La Terre)

(continued)

Chapter III. Preparation and Reading

1. Are there different kinds of preparation for mental prayer?

The Carmelite authors distinguish often a double preparation:

* The near preparation by which the soul puts itself in the presence of God to start the intimate conversation with Him;

* The distant preparation by which the soul uses its powers to gather one’s thoughts before praying.

2. What is necessary for the soul to be disposed for prayer?

It is necessary for one not be absorbed excessively by creatures, and have a tendency to occupy oneself with God. To favor these dispositions there are two parts which constitute the distant preparation:

* The first is to remove obstacles: it’s “negative”;

* The second is destined to produce a quality: it’s “positive”.

3. What is the “negative” element of the distant preparation?

One must absolutely avoid the distractions and [disordered] attachments of the heart. In order to practice the love of God easily, a free heart is necessary. This means one must have a great detachment from creatures. Who wants to love much, must reserve for God the strength and tenderness of his affection, and not spread it to people and things who easily draw a heart which is not protected.

On the other hand, the freedom of spirit is not attained without great mortification of the senses which are open windows to terrestrial things, and the control of the memory which brings us into the world by the memories we have. So, the soul must avoid the useless thoughts. The heart and soul must be watched.

4. What is the positive element of the distant preparation?

It is the exercise of the presence of God that we will look for and to make it continuous as much as possible. By this holy exercise our thoughts and will are recollected in God, and we keep a certain contact with God, even in the middle of the most material occupations; and we converse with Him often in the day. Faithfulness to this practice creates in us a certain facility to speak with God as well as a certain ease to put us in a more intimate contact with Him: this is the near preparation.

5. What spiritual attitude helps the soul the most for this contact with God?

It is the attitude of humble confidence which puts us before God in the position which fits us best. God, in effect is our Father, and He wants that we act towards Him as destitute children. We will anchor in us the sentiment of our poverty by the memory of our numerous faults which bring to light our misery. Far from folding in on ourselves or becoming discouraged at the sight of our nothingness, we will look for refuge in the arms of Our Lord who said to us “Without Me you can do nothing” That’s why saint Teresa of Avila invites us to examine our conscience at the start of the mental prayer, to say the Confiteor, and then to look for the company of Jesus.

6. What is the most practical manner to put the soul in the presence of God?

Any manner to put oneself in the presence of God is useful for this aim, provided that a large application and intensity is used. There are however two manners especially indicated for mental prayer: 1) put oneself in the presence of Most Holy Eucharist (if we do mental prayer before the Blessed Sacrament) and, 2) recollect in one’s soul, keeping in mind the Three Divine Persons who live in the soul that is in the state of grace and offer themselves to the soul to be known and loved. To start this colloquia with (God present) we will remind the subject chosen in the reading.

7. At what moment must the reading be done?

Preferably, before going to mental prayer, meaning during the fifteen minutes granted for the preparation. If we cannot do it at that time, we could do it in the beginning. In some religious communities it is the custom to do a short reading out loud at the beginning of mental prayer.

8. Why is there common reading?

It has as its aim to offer a subject of meditation to those who do not have one. There is no obligation to use what is read. Ordinarily those who meditate come with a prepared subject by the private reading. But if at this moment that which is read draws us more than the chosen subject, we can change it with great liberty.

9. Must the reading serve to prepare a subject of meditation?

Such is the original destination, and it is that which has a larger goal — to instruct us in the spiritual things. The reading we speak about serves to supply us immediately with a Truth that we will penetrate by reflection, to draw a more profound conviction of the love of God for us. For those who no longer do mental prayer in the meditation form, but reach the level that St. Theresa calls “recollection” or to a way even higher, the reading no longer serves to choose a subject, but to recollect the soul in disposing it to sweetly taste to rest in God.

10. What books must we prefer to choose to do this reading?

It depends on the aim of the reading. When it concerns finding a subject of meditation, besides the books for meditation, all those that enlighten the many manifestations of the love of God for us, will be able to serve this aim. It will be, however, good to use books already known. When the aim is to recollect oneself only, any writing which inspires an intense love of God will be useful. The works of the Saints belong to this category. The choice of the book is determined by the immediate aim of the reading, but the culture and spiritual age of the person will have to be considered in this choice. Books too intellectual or spiritual will not be well understood, and necessarily cause dryness.

11. Can the lives of the Saints be read?

These lives are not excluded, especially because many souls are touched by the example of the Saints who have lived the spiritual doctrine, than by explaining it speculatively. However, we must not read them to satisfy our curiosity and not to prolong unnecessarily our reading. Also, it is fitting to not read them as preparation for meditation, a “new” life, because it greatly excites the imagination. It would be better to read a summary of a saint already known.

12. How must we read?

We must read with attention, since the aim of the reading is to find a subject of conversation with God. It is necessary to read it carefully, to not let any light escape us. It will be read with devotion and recollection because this good disposition of the heart favors in us the seeking of something useful for the soul, making us attentive and sensible to good ideas. We will be able to foresee more easily and prepare in some way the affections that we want to express and the resolution to be taken. All of it without binding us too much, because the aim of the reading is simply to help us according to our needs. Let us add a last remark: if it is done in common before the mental prayer, the reading must be short so as not to annoy those who do not use it ‑ and they are many.

13. Can we take again our book during mental prayer?

It is not excluded and can even be indicated in particular occasions. St. Theresa never went to mental prayer without a book with her. It will happen sometimes that we will find ourselves so distracted that the most practical manner to return to God will be to gain another good thought by reading again. Also, when in mental prayer and in the company of God, our affection becomes difficult by tiredness. It is often good to read again our theme of mental prayer. It is an exterior aid for our attention. One must be careful not to turn it into a simple reading. It must remain at least a meditative reading in which we stop to allow affections and resolutions to enter. So, the reading itself becomes an instrument of our conversation with God.

Chapter IV. Meditation and Colloquia

1. Is the meditation always explained in the same way by the Carmelite authors?

The Carmelite authors have some differences in their explanation of the meditation, but all are in agreement on the essential. Some do not explain the different parts; some others make a distinction between the meditative reflection and the affectionate colloquia which is the aim of the reflection, which they call contemplation. Others separate in the meditative part the representation and the reflection. Those who do not classify explicitly these diverse elements refer more or less to them.

Most of the Carmelite authors distinguish three elements in the meditation:

* The representation as an act of the imagination,

* The reflection as an act of the intelligence,

* And the colloquia as an act of the will.

2. What is the representation?

It is an activity of the imagination by which we form: 1) an image or representation of the mystery we want to meditate on, or 2) sensible objects which lift our thoughts to God.

3. What is the usefulness of the representation?

The aim is to render easier the work of reflection which leans on natural representations of the imagination. It is easy to think of the scourging [of Our Lord] before an image. It offers the advantage to fix in some way our thoughts which, without an object to look at, easily digresses. A certain stability of imaginative knowledge helps our intellectual knowledge to have fewer distractions.

4. Is the representation always necessary?

The same authors do not insist on its necessity in mental prayer, but they explain to us in what way it can be useful. Its usefulness is evident when we consider the life of Jesus Christ or of the Saints. Even in the consideration of the most abstract mysteries, for example the Divine attributes, the intelligence can start by thinking of sensible things represented by the imagination. It is also praiseworthy to elevate ourselves from the beauty of nature to God, Supreme Beauty. The Carmelite Theologians distinguish different cases one can find himself in, when he meditates. Some have a lively imagination easily able to represent the mystery, others are almost unable to do it. The former should use their faculty of representation, the others should know that it is not an exercise at all cost. To be useful, the imaginative representations must not be very perfect, a vague representation is enough.

5. In what way must the representation be formed?

1) One must apply oneself to it, otherwise nothing serious will be done. But it is not fitting to excite the imagination too much in order to see what we are meditating on too quickly. Those who have an especially lively imagination will try to proceed with a great simplicity because, otherwise, the imagination would be led to illusion and make them believe that they are having visions.

2). As to those who look at the perfection of the representation, the details should not be too precise. The Carmelite authors have equally said that a representation schema can be enough for someone with little imagination. A representation that is more precise is more useful because it fixes more easily our thoughts. The Carmelite authors never speak of the application of the senses.

3) It is not necessary to consecrate much time to form the representation. Some instants are enough, but it is necessary that we have it present during the whole time of meditation. If we can do it, we will find it easier to avoid distractions.

Let us conclude in saying that, without being absolutely necessary, the representation is often useful and those who succeed, must not deprive themselves of this help. Those who, on the other hand, find it difficult, can omit it, and start directly the reflection.

6. Is the reflection or consideration more important?

Reflection is the first of the elements that directly make the meditation, which consists in a certain work of the intelligence. This must remain secondary in comparison with the affectionate conversation with God, which must find in the meditation the stimulating base.

7. Must this work of the intelligence remain a long time?

Its subordination to the affectionate conversation indicates that it must only last as long as necessary to lead the soul to this conversation, meaning until it produces in the soul a profound conviction that it is loved by God and invited to love Him in return. We would however be in error if we believed that we had to interrupt or put to the side the reflection as soon as we feel some pious affection which would suddenly vanish leaving us empty. We must on the contrary insist and continue until the will is completely stable and can remain at least some time in the affectionate attitude.

8. Must the reflection be done methodically?

It can be. St. Theresa following in it other contemporary authors, advices, in the meditation of the Passion of Our Lord, to consider who suffers, what does He suffer, why, with which dispositions? It is not however necessary that there is such a rigorous order in the order of the arguments and one can think without harm to go freely from one thought to the next, provided that it leads to the goal proposed to better understand the love of God for us which is manifested in the mystery meditated on.

9. What will the souls who “cannot meditate” do?

For souls who, because of a certain mobility of the imagination and of thought, have great difficulty stopping at a determined idea to go deeper by deep reflections, St. Theresa teaches another way to excite thoughts which excite love. This method consists in reciting slowly a vocal prayer full of substance stopping to consider with attention the sense of the words and taking the opportunity to form some reflections and express affections.

10. When does the affectionate colloquia start?

It starts when the soul has the strong conviction that it must answer wilt love for the love God gives to it. It all depends on how easy it is for the soul to put itself in this necessary disposition. It is acquired by practice.

11. What is said in the colloquia?

The soul expresses especially to God its will to love Him and show Him its love, taking the motive of its purpose in a particular mystery. It can be done in many different ways and the colloquia will be done in many ways as well. The soul can express its love not only to the Holy Trinity, but also to Jesus. It is also praiseworthy to speak affectionately to the Saints.

12. In what way is the colloquia done?

It can be done in many different ways. We can express our affection with words pronounced vocally, but we can also do it with interior expressions of the heart or will. These expressions can be short and happen with a certain frequency, or be prolonged for some time, saying them at longer intervals. The soul also can be happy only keeping company with God [without any expression].

13. Must the conversation be continuous?

We can answer yes in the way that the soul must remain in conversation with God, but no in the manner of “speaking” continuously. Also the Carmelite authors teach expressly that the conversation done by the soul must not be too long or agitated, but peaceful and many times interrupted, as to permit the soul to listen to God’s answer.

14. Does God speak in the colloquia?

If we were the only one to speak, it would not be a colloquia. On the other hand St. Theresa taught that God speaks to the soul when it prays with all its heart. One must not believe that God is heard in a material way. He answers the soul in sending it graces of light and love by which the soul understands better the ways of God and feels greatly inflamed to follow them with generosity. Listening consists in, for the soul, to accept these graces, and thinking how to look for profit.

15. Why is the colloquia called “contemplation”?

Because, when the soul speaks with God and listens, the soul stops reasoning as it did in meditation and now is happy to pay attention in a general way to the mystery better understood because of the meditation. Or even the soul looks simply at God the Father, or Son with Whom it speaks. In this simple look is realized the traditional notion of contemplation ( a simple look which penetrates the Truth). And as in the colloquia, God communicates to the soul His light. Under this aspect is realized in some way which is more fully the essence of the true contemplation: an infusion of heavenly light.

16. How long can this colloquia last?

There is no limit. It can occupy the whole time of mental prayer. Even more, the simplification of mental prayer consists to make the reflections shorter, to give more time to affections and to give them, little by little, a calmer form by prolonged acts. It is not easy for the soul in the beginning to stop from time to time to express its love. This is why we can have recourse to the last acts of mental prayer: thanksgiving, offering and asking.

17. Why do we need to thank God?

Many reasons push the soul to express its gratitude to God. We have received much from Him either in the natural or supernatural order: to be born of Catholic parents and to have been baptized without delay, to have been raised in the True Religion, and especially to have been given a vocation; so many free gifts from God for which we cannot thank Him enough. And also how many graces God surrounds us with, without stopping. Even the exercise of mental prayer is a call to Him to penetrate further into us. We must show ourselves grateful to these favors. Let us add to that the goodness of God towards those for whom we show an interest for: our friends, benefactors, those confided to our care. We can thank not only God but also the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints for their intercession in our favor.

18. What can we offer to God?

Having received all from God, it is praiseworthy on our part to offer ourselves to Him, wanting to use all our strength for His service. As our holy profession is a consecration of our whole life to God 1, we will be able to renew it. We should not be satisfied with general offerings which, because of their vagueness, do not exercise a large influence on our way of acting. It is good to take a particular resolution and to offer to God our will to practice such a virtue or to fight generously against a temptation or to willingly accept a trail of suffering. By these firm resolutions we put our mental prayer in contact with our daily life; this is why it is good for all to finish with a particular resolution even if an offering has not been done.

19. Whom must we pray for?

Our large spiritual destitution forces us to have recourse continually to prayer. After having told that “without Me you can do nothing”, Our Lord added, “ask and you shall receive, knock and it shall be opened to you.” Our spiritual progress depends extremely on the prayers that we will say with confidence and insistence.

We must pray for others: for their temporal and spiritual needs and especially for their sanctification and salvation.

We will have an interest in not only souls in particular but also our country, Religious Orders, our Spiritual Family, and Holy Church.

Knowing that the souls dear to Our Lord are more powerful on His Heart, desirous to obtain much from Him, we will try to make ourselves agreeable to His Majesty by a life detached from the world and oriented only to the research of intimateness with Him. In this way one will realize the ideal proposed by St. Theresa to her daughters: to become an intimate friend of God who uses this intimateness to make His Divine Graces overflow on this world.

(To be continued)

1 ‑ He is speaking here to religious.

Small Catechism on the Spiritual Life

Small Catechism on the Spiritual Life

  by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D.

  (text in French published by Le Sel de la terre)

Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D (1890-1953) was a consultant for the Congregation of Rites and professor of Spiritual Theology at the at the Discalced Carmelites School of Theology in Rome

He is also the author of the book Divine Intimacy: Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Year that appeared in editions of “The Carmel” in 1955.

Preface

This small catechism, first published in the magazine Vitae Carmelitana, was welcomed with joy by pious people who found in it peace and comfort. It could not be otherwise because it contains the substance of teachings with which for four centuries the Order of the reformed Carmel directs souls in the spiritual life.

The author, a specialist in this domain, has wanted to bring the faithful to the schools of St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. He exposes in clear pages their method of mental prayer with developments received by their spiritual sons, being careful to keep themselves in line with Tradition. The readers of the Vitae Carmelitana, had many times expressed the desire to see gathered in one volume the lessons from which they drew the greatest advantages. So, in 1943 Fr. Gabriel prepared this catechism. He believed it good to change the original text a little, to render it more adapted to the conditions of those living in the world without changing the essential.

May the Seraphic Mother St. Theresa, the great mistress of the spiritual life, obtain the abundance of benedictions from on high for all those who will use this work where one of her children proposed to nourish the hearts of bread of the celestial doctrine. (Collect of the Saint)

Fr. Eugene of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus

Chapter 1: Mental Prayer in the Contemplative Life

1. What is the Catholic Life?

The Catholic life is the life lived in conformity with the teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to which we must direct all our actions to the glory of God in loving Him and in observing His holy laws. The Catholic soul lives for God.

2. What is the Contemplative Life?

The Contemplative Life is a form of Catholic life in which one tries to live not only for God but also with God. It is not only for Religious but can be lived perfectly in the world. It is concentrated completely in the research of the Divine Intimacy, and in this goal during the day practices that which we call Spiritual Exercises. These are special exercises of prayer which must be accompanied by exercises of mortification because, as St. Theresa the great mistress of the contemplative life said, mental prayer and comforts do not go together.

3. What is the place of mental prayer in the Contemplative Life?

In the Contemplative Life, mental prayer takes the first place. Practically, the Contemplative Life is a life of mental prayer. For this reason the Contemplative Orders dedicate much time to prayer. In the Carmelite order, which is eminently contemplative, the central precept is one of continual mental prayer: that each one stays firm in his cell meditating day and night on the law of God and watching in prayer. The Carmelites perform many exercises of piety. They do mental prayer twice a day [one hour each time], assist at Mass, recite the Divine Office, put themselves in the presence of God during the day; without speaking of personal exercises of devotion.

4. What is prayer?

Prayer is a conversation with God in which we manifest to Him the desires of our heart. Prayer can be either vocal or mental.

5. What is vocal prayer?

Vocal prayer consists in the recitation of a formula which expresses our desires. For example, the Our Father, taught to man by Our Lord Himself, and in which we ask God seven things. We recite this formula with the intention to honor God. Often we do not think of, in a distinct way, the sense of the words that we pronounce. But that does not stop our prayer from being a true prayer provided that our soul remains turned to God with the desire to honor Him. This prayer can be recited to the Saints with the same desire to honor them.

6. What is mental prayer?

This consists in speaking to God with the heart, not with prepared formulas of learned by heart, but in a spontaneous manner.

7. What do we say to God in mental prayer?

In this form of prayer, we are able to show God all desires that we have in our heart. But following the teachings of St. Theresa, a contemplative soul will prefer to say that we love Him or want to love Him.

8. Why is the love of God often spoken about?

Because this love is the substance of the contemplative life. The contemplative souls must become intimate friends of God and love precisely makes flower the friendship and introduces intimacy. St. Theresa wants us, in going to prayer, that we be convinced that God invites us to love Him in doing it and that we do it to answer His call.

9. Is it necessary to think in prayer?

It is not possible to love without having some thought on the loved object. To move God, one must think about Him. This thought can vary much according to who it is. It could consist of a prolonged reflection on the love of God for us, or could be a simple souvenir of God: His Goodness and love of us. In Consequence, in prayer we think only to love and nourish love. St. Theresa said in effect that prayer consists not in thinking much but in loving much.

10. What is love?

There is sensible love, and there is love of the will. Sensible love consists in a sentiment which carries us with affection towards a person; makes us feel pleasure in his presence or a souvenir of it. Love of the will consists in wanting the good for a person by free choice and determination of the will. Then when this love takes all our soul, one wants to be with the person loved, and consecrate to him one’s proper life.

11. Which of the two is better?

The love of the will is better because the will is, in us, that which is most personal. In the will resides our liberty, and it is precisely with it that we give ourselves to God. For this reason, God asks from man the gift of his will. The full consecration of man to God consists in this gift.

The sensible love is something complementary, of secondary importance. It does not depend on us to feel it while it depends on us to love with the will.

12. Why do we naturally desire the sensible love?

We desire it for its sweetness, and because it gives us comfort and consolation. But because of that, in the sensible love we often seek ourselves, while with the love of the will we seek God. God often suppress in us the sensible love, so that we will love more firmly with only the will.

13. With which love must we love God in prayer?

Certainly the love of the will is the most important. If the sensible love is there too, instead of seeking our own pleasure, we profit by its help to strengthen our will in its act to give itself to God. The sensible love lacking, we will follow the path with the will alone.

14. How can I occupy myself during an hour in this conversation of love with God?

In the beginning of the life of prayer many souls encounter great difficulties. They are bored and feel dissipated. One must remember that to pray is something that needs to be learnt. To teach it, the Carmel Theologians given to the study of prayer life have constructed a method of mental prayer.

Chapter II: The Method of Mental Prayer

1. What is meant by the method of mental prayer?

The method of mental prayer is the teaching which explains to us the way to pray with ease. We will indicate here the diverse acts to do one after another, in order to better do this holy exercise.

2. Is there a method of mental prayer in the Carmelite Order?

Yes, in the Carmelite Order we find a method of prayer from the beginning of the reform of St. Theresa. It was exposed in our two oldest “Instructions of novices” in Spanish (1591) and Italian (1605).

3. What is the origin of this method?

This method has its origin in the teachings of St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross. The definitive and concrete form was elaborated on by their disciples. We will give firstly a general explanation of this method, and then explain the various parts after.

4. Into how many parts is this method of mental prayer divided?

Normally we distinguish 6 or 7 parts or acts in this exercise of mental prayer: preparation, reading, meditation, (with the affectionate colloquia) thanksgiving, offering, and petition.

5. Do so many distinctions lead to a complication?

This distinction of parts does not complicate the practice of mental prayer. In effect, the two first are not mental prayer, but they make the beginning. The three last parts are purely complimentary and optional; we will omit them when we will no longer need them. It is reduced to the essential, the meditation accompanied with an intimate conversation with God (affectionate colloquia)

6. What must one consider to do the mental prayer well?

To understand the Carmelite method of prayer well, the conception of mental prayer exposed by St. Theresa must be present. In the eyes of the seraphic Virgin, mental prayer is an intimate conversation with God, in which we speak to Him especially of love, in answering His call to Love. The different parts of prayer have the aim of leading us easily to this loving conversation with Him.

7. How does the preparation serve this aim?

The preparation helps to put us in the Presence of God. It is not possible to speak intimately with someone if one is not close to Him. We must put ourselves in the Presence of God with a living Faith and in the humble attitude of a soul which recognizes itself as a soul of God.

8. What does reading do?

Reading supplies us with a subject for the loving conversation with God; conversation which can nourish itself in the consideration of the mysteries of Faith, and the gifts and graces received from God for us. In that, the love of God is manifested for us. But since it is not possible to speak of each of these things together, we can choose by the book the subject of which we want to occupy ourselves for the moment, and make it easier for our consideration in following the explanations and reflections of the book.

9. Why meditate?

The meditation or personal reflection that we do on the divine gifts or on the mystery that we have chosen in the lecture serves a double aim, one intellectual, and the other affective. The intellectual aim is to better understand the Love of God for us, love which accomplishes itself in the mystery of the divine gifts that we consider and so convince us more of the call to love made by God to our soul. The affective aim consists to move the will to the exercise of love and to its manifestation in responding to the Divine Invitation. The meditation so appears as an immediate preparation to the affective conversation with God.

10. In what way does one go from the meditation to the affectionate colloquia?

This passage must not be done at a precise moment mathematically determined, but in a spontaneous manner. In making personal reflections in the presence of God, and in seeing more closely by them how God loves us, the soul feels itself easily pushed to say the words of love. It happens often that the reflections that the soul made in itself continues them for some time in addressing words to God, and it serves to understand better His Love for us. Finally, the soul leaves all consideration to abandon itself fully to the exercise of love and its manifestation. In other terms, it passes to an affectionate colloquia. In this colloquia the soul says and repeats in a thousand ways to God that it loves Him, and that it wants to love Him, that it desires to prove Him its love.

11. Is there importance in the colloquia?

The colloquia has a very great importance, and it is the essential part of mental prayer. In it is realized directly the concept that St. Theresa had of mental prayer which consists in an intimate conversation with God to respond to His love for us. Also, the soul will be better able to occupy itself during so much time in prayer and even during an hour.

12. What is the aim of the three last parts of the mental prayer?

The three last parts or acts of mental prayer are: thanksgiving, offering and petition which aim at prolonging more easily our loving conversation with God. They are nothing else than affectionate acts more determined, of various manners, to manifest our love.

13. What is our attitude in these parts?

In the Thanksgiving we manifest to God our humble gratitude for His extreme love for us and for the lessons received from him.

In the offering, drawn by loving recognition, we want to give something to God.

In the petition, humbly convinced of our lowliness and weakness and desire to truly love God, we implore His help to succeed and be faithful to the resolutions formed in the offering.

These acts are, in the strict sense, a prolongation of the affectionate colloquia issued spontaneously from the meditation.

14. Must a determined order be used in the order of the parts of mental prayer?

The order indicated above is the most logical, but great liberty is allowed. We are free to change around these parts as we please. We can even repeat the same parts many times. It goes also for the meditation and the affectionate colloquia that we are able to alternate as we please in the same mental prayer.

15. Are the last parts necessary?

No. These acts are optional. One who can sufficiently occupy himself in the loving colloquia without recourse to these acts can skip them. But in the beginning of the life of prayer the attention of the soul is often helped by a variety of these actions. In this case the soul should have recourse to them.

(To be continued)

Little catechism of the Second Vatican Council (Part One)

Little catechism of the Second Vatican Council (Part One)

by Fr. Pierre-Marie, O.P.

Dominican in Avrillé

From Le Sel de la terre 93, Summer 2015

Preface

Vatican II is not a council like the others. This council, which was held in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican in four sessions from 1962 until 1965 under the pontificates of Popes John XIII (1958-1963) and Paul VI (1963-1978), was the occasion, if not the principal cause, of the gravest crisis the Church has known in its history.

The studies concerning this council are numerous, but often voluminous and very technical.  We have thought that it would be useful to provide for Catholics of good will a relatively short text, explaining what Vatican II declared and what is unacceptable for Catholics who want to remain faithful to the traditional infallible teaching of the Church.

After a brief introduction on the authority of the council, we will briefly analyze each of the 16 documents, presenting them in a thematic order.

Introduction

The authority of the Second Vatican Council

What is an ecumenical council?

An ecumenical council is an assembly of bishops of the entire world convoked by the pope, who conducts its meetings (called “sessions”), whether directly or via legates, and who approves the texts, so that they have a binding value for the whole Church. There have been in the history of the Church twenty ecumenical councils since the Council of Nicaea in 325 until the First Vatican Council in 1870.

Is Vatican II a council like the others?

Vatican II is an atypical council because the popes who convoked and conducted it, John XXIII and Paul VI, declared that it was not a dogmatic council, like all the preceding councils, but a pastoral council.  In other words, its aim was not to define doctrine against errors, but to perform an updating (aggiornamento) of this doctrine to adapt it to the thinking of our contemporaries.

Does Vatican II contain infallible teachings?

Here again, differently than all the preceding ecumenical councils, the Second Vatican Council does not contain any infallible teaching.  For a council to be infallible, it must pronounce solemn judgments, which this council refused to do.

Even if it is not infallible, can it not be admitted that Vatican II was assisted by the Holy Ghost?

Our Lord Jesus Christ promised the assistance of the Holy Ghost for the transmission of Revelation: “the Paraclete the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and suggest unto you all things whatsoever I shall say to you.” (Jn 14:26) [Rheims version].

But, without renouncing the transmission of Revelation, the Council proposed the aggiornamento of the Church, i.e., its adaptation to the modern world, notably by introducing into the Church “the best expressed values of two centuries of ‘liberal’ culture”1, and by working to “smooth the way toward unity of mankind.”2.

Why cannot the Holy Ghost aid the Church in acquiring the values of liberal culture, once purified and corrected3?

Liberalism is an error condemned by two centuries of teaching from the Magisterium of the Church.  Such a condemnation is infallible in virtue of the Universal Ordinary Magisterium of the Church.

As the Holy Ghost cannot contradict Himself, He cannot assist the council fathers in making these values of liberalism enter into the Church.

Why cannot the Holy Ghost aid the Church in working toward the unity of mankind?

The Church was founded to save souls and unite them to Our Lord Jesus Christ.  In so doing, the Church works indirectly for peace, propagating charity in souls: “Seek therefore first the Kingdom of God, and the justice of him [the union to Our Lord Jesus Christ by grace]: and all these things [including peace] shall be given you besides.” (Mt. 6:33) [Rheims version].

But today Freemasonry seeks to reshape the unity of mankind (“globalism”) by human means and by positively excluding Our Lord Jesus Christ in virtue of “secularism”.

As was especially seen after the Council (with the secularization of the States and inter-religious meetings), the men of the Church collaborate in this work by means of religious liberty, ecumenism, and inter-religious dialogue. The Holy Ghost cannot assist the Church in working toward an end that is not Her own.

(To be continued)