The soul desirous of progress must aim then, not at destroying its natural affections, but rather at purifying them.
"If I have looked at iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."— Ps. lxv. 18.
# 1. Purity of Conscience.
Since prayer is a relation of intimate friendship with One Who is
infinitely holy, progress in it demands a great purity of conscience. The
soul must not be content with merely cleansing itself from grievous faults,
it must aim at preserving a deep aversion for every deliberate venial sin.
Faults of weakness it cannot escape, but everything willful should be
carefully avoided. When there is absent this delicacy in one's relations
with Almighty God, it is a sign that the exercise of prayer does not touch
the depths of the soul where contact with God is found; because where such
contact exists, it is impossible not to feel sharp stings of remorse for
every action which consciously deviates from the will of God, even though
it be but to the extent of not co-operating with it.
# 2. Purity of Heart.
It is our irregular and inordinate affections for persons or things that
alone lead us into deliberate faults. Hence it is that it becomes incumbent
on us to labor to purify our affections. It is most important to aim at
loving only God, and severing every tie of which the Divine Master is not
the beginning and the end. Our Lord Who has created our human hearts, does
not discountenance the natural affections of those hearts; on the contrary,
He consecrates and blesses all. It is only when they become disorderly and
usurp the place of God, in our souls, that they become displeasing to Him.
The soul desirous of progress must aim then, not at destroying its natural
affections, but rather at purifying them. It must make its object be to
love only according to God, and in the manner in which He approves. The
instant that it finds any attachment causing its relations with God to
cool, or making it feel uncomfortable and ill at ease in His presence, it
must bring such an attachment to an abrupt termination. It is the only
remedy; one must be drastic in this matter. As long as the soul is attached
inordinately to anything created, it has no longer the same freedom as
before to raise itself up to God. A nothing can keep it tied to earth, and
God dwells only in heaven. There our affections ought to be.
# 3. Purity of Mind.
To live in a state of prayer demands that the mind be constantly occupied
with the thought of God. This does not mean that the entire day be spent in
the exercise of meditation. This is impossible. It means simply that all
our actions should at least subconsciously be guided and influenced by a
sense of God's Sovereignty. This postulates a control by the will over the
workings of the mind and, consequently, over the activity of the
imagination. Our trains of thought are governed from within or from
without. If from within they are under the sway of the will and can be made
to issue from considerations of faith; if from without, they are under the
sway of nature. Things impress the imagination, the images of the
imagination start the processes of thought, and these processes follow the
course set by the images of the inferior faculty. Hence if we allow outside
things that have no bearing on the life for God, to occupy our imagination
and fill it, reflection on spiritual matters becomes exceedingly difficult.
Dissipation and distraction are the natural consequence of allowing the
imagination to occupy itself with images that have no connection with the
higher life. To abandon oneself habitually to every caprice of one's mind,
to make no effort to be master of one's mental activities, no effort to
direct them at one's will, and at the same time to expect to lead an
interior life, is to expect what cannot be realized. "Purity," says St.
Thomas, "is necessary if the mind is to be applied to God, because the
human mind is sullied when it is attached to inferior things; just as
anything is rendered impure by being mixed with something baser, e.g.
silver when mixed with lead. The mind ought to be withdrawn from inferior
objects if it is to be united to the supreme object; and therefore the mind
that lacks purity cannot be applied to God."
# 4. Purity of Will.
The faculties of thought and imagination being emancipated from the control
of creatures, and subjected to the control of the will, one must set about
the purification of this latter faculty. The will is the faculty by which
we move towards and cleave to what is presented to us as being good, that
is, as satisfying a want in us. Whilst depending on the intelligence for
its object, the will, in virtue of the freedom that is inherent in it, can
control that faculty. The will is purified when it seeks only God and the
things that pertain to God, amongst which is its own spiritual perfection
or its own union with the divinity. To attain this state of purity it must
employ its liberty to cause the intellect to judge as " good " only that
which brings us to God. Its purification, therefore, consists in the
gradual elimination from its tendencies of all that is not God or does not
lead directly to Him. Thus it attains its perfection in an unquestioning
submission to the action of Divine Providence, and in embracing
wholeheartedly the dispensations of that Providence in the minutest details
of life. The purity of the will leads to the taking of strong and
# 5. Strong Devotion.
This is based upon a deep realization of God's absolute sovereignty over
us, and His right to unqualified subjection on our part; and it means a
promptitude of disposition to obey Him in all things and to exhibit a great
generosity in His service. The soul possessed of true devotion is not
content merely with carrying out God's orders, it aims at forestalling His
wishes. Devotedness is something far higher than mere duty. It is inventive
to discover ways of giving pleasure to the Person, who is its object. Great
projects planned and undertaken for the promotion of God's cause find their
inspiration in devotion. Sometimes it is accompanied by a certain sweetness
and suavity which sustains this promptitude of the will and permeates the
soul with a relish for the things of God. But this is purely accidental to
devotion. More often, devotion is exercised without any feeling of relish
and in the darkness of faith; this absence of feeling is called spiritual
dryness. For faithful souls, such dryness is a test of their sincerity and
a trial sent by God to purify and deepen their faith. For the more the soul
acts by the prompting of faith alone, unsustained by any help coming from
its sensible feelings and emotions, the more perfect that faith becomes.
But for souls that are less strong and not so advanced, the absence of
sensible devotion may easily be the consequence of immortification and
slight but continued infidelities. If the soul, losing courage because no
longer finding satisfaction in serving God, ceases to make efforts to
acquire obedience, forbearance and humility, it loses not only the
sweetness of devotion but devotion itself. If, however, it does what it can
to remain united to God, even though it can hardly succeed in so doing, it
has preserved devotion substantially.
# 6. Knowledge of Self.
It is most important to have some knowledge of self, of our own tendencies,
of our weaknesses and of our qualities. Blindness as to what we really are,
can prove a great obstacle to our progress: for it will lead to continual
mistakes as to what in us proceeds from nature and what from grace. Through
such blindness we may easily be resisting the instincts and the promptings
of the Holy Ghost, Who usually directs us in accordance with our natural
aptitudes. This self-knowledge should never degenerate into minute self-
analysis: that would prove just as harmful as ignorance. It is best
acquired by the exercise of humility and by striving to live habitually in
the presence of God. Self-revelation comes very slowly, because the more
deeply rooted our own tendencies are, the more they form part of ourselves
and as a consequence the less they obtrude themselves on our notice when we
enter on action. We are less a mystery to others than to ourselves. This is
the psychological reason for the need of spiritual direction. It is also
the reason why we can so easily discern the mote in another's eye and be
blind to the beam in our own.
# 7. The Christian Motive.
Our Divine Lord's infinite wisdom is wonderfully reflected in his admonition: "Lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven . . . for where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also." Our interests and affections naturally govern our life and its activities. To succeed in the spiritual life, it is necessary for us to labor to place our affections at the service of our faith. Attachments are our great obstacle The readiest means to overcome them is, not to turn in on ourselves to combat them directly, for sooner or later we would lose in the struggle, but to turn outward and upward and combat them indirectly by creating counter attachments, in the spiritual order. Progress will necessarily be slow for us as long as our emotions are at variance with the dictates of our faith. To make our course easier, it will be necessary to effect a union between the two. The purely spiritual, because it is such, makes little or no appeal to our sensibility. Something must be sought cut between God and our soul, which may serve as a lever to lift us above the earth and bring us as it were into God's reach. This lever must contain elements that, whilst giving free exercise to our senses, our feelings, and our imagination, still tend to carry us on to God and to bring us into relations with Him. The grandeur of the catholic liturgy is such a thing that standing as it were midway between the sensible and the spiritual world, effects a union between the two by supernaturalising the former. Our senses, purified and refined by the expressive and beautiful symbolic vesture in which holy Church robes the deeply spiritual mysteries of our religion, will by this discipline satisfy and elevate the sensibility and thus develop the emotional tendencies in perfect harmony with the ultimate aspirations of the human soul. This harmony being established between the tendencies of sense and spirit, the soul will be free from that which presents the greatest obstacle to its supernatural development, namely, the opposition to our soul's upward movement which arises from our sensitive nature craving for satisfactions that must be denied it, if purity of heart and conscience is to be preserved. Through the appeal of the Church's ritual, we shall be drawn into a sympathy with the mind of the Church which has created that ritual for its outward expression. Drawn into the current of the life of the Church, the soul will begin to breathe easily, as it were, in the supernatural world. That world becomes its connatural element. In it, it will become gradually penetrated through and through with the atmosphere that prevails there. The life of the Church manifests itself uniquely in the love of its Divine Spouse, Jesus Christ. Every act of the Sacred Liturgy, every ceremony, every expression is dictated by that love, has its source in it, and is the means by which that love finds voice and utterance. The soul that is in sympathy with, and which enters into this liturgical life, gradually assimilates that enthusiastic love of Jesus Christ, with which the Church palpitates. In this pure and spiritual love the soul goes outside of itself, relinquishes itself, and espouses the interests of its Beloved. It makes its own the interests of Jesus Christ and those of His Church, which are identical. These interests are simply one absorbing interest, the salvation of the souls of men. This zeal for the expansion of the Church, this consuming desire to bring ever increasing numbers into its fold, becomes the 'grande passion' of the soul that is seized by the spirit of the sacred Liturgy. The soul that is possessed by it finds therein the great lever by which it is lifted up above that preoccupation about self which is the chief obstacle to progress. In this selflessness it will find that quality of simplicity which Jesus so admired in children, and which He postulated as the condition of entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is realized for us here on earth, in close and intimate union with God.
- "Does it make any difference," says St. John of the Cross, "whether a bird be held by a slender thread or by a rope, while the bird is bound it cannot fly 'till the cord that holds it is broken?" "Ascent" I. xi.
- "Munditia enim necessaria est ad hoc quod mens Deo applicetur, quia mens humana inquinatur ex hoc quod inferioribus rebus conjungitur; sicut quarlibet res ex immixtione pejoris sordescit, ut argentum ex immixtione plumbI. Oportet autem quod mens ab inferioribus rebus abstrahatur, ad hoc quod supremae rei possit conjungi; et ideo mens sine munditia Deo applicarti non potest." (II. II. Q. 81. a. 8.)
- "Devotion," says St. Thomas, "is the will to give oneself with promptitude to the things that belong to the service of God." (II. II. 82. 1.)
- St. Matt. vi. 20-21.
Progress Through Mental Prayer
Chapter 10 - The Vision of Faith Purified by Mental Prayer
Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP. "Dispositions Requisite for Mental Prayer." chapter 14 from Progress Through Mental Prayer (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937) 203-210.
Progress Through Mental Prayer is in the public domain.
Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP. was born in Ireland in 1885 and entered the Holy Ghost Fathers being ordained in 1914. He was president of Blackrock College in Ireland from 1925 to 1931 and then became professor of philosophy at Kimmage Manor, Dublin. During this time he gave many retreats and conferences, especially to religious communities and he became widely known as a master of spiritual matters. His conference and lecture notes became the basis for his many books on prayer and the spiritual life. He visited the United States once in 1939. He died in 1944 in Dublin. He is the author of Progress Through Mental Prayer, The Holy Spirit, Why the Cross?, In the Likeness of Christ, The Voice of a Priest, and In the Likeness of Christ.Copyright © Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP.
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