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Dispositions Requisite for Mental Prayer

  • FATHER EDWARD LEEN, C.S.SP.

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.

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# 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.[1]

# 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."[2]

# 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 efficacious resolutions.

# 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.[3]  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.

Endnotes:

  1. "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.
  2. "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.)
  3. "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.)
  4. St. Matt.  vi. 20-21.

Progress Through Mental Prayer
by Edward Leen, C.S.Sp.

Part I
The Nature of Prayer

                  Introduction
Chapter 1 - The Aim of Mental Prayer
Chapter 2 - Perseverance in Prayer
Chapter 3 - Vocal Prayer
Chapter 4 - The Ordinary Process of Mental Prayer
Chapter 5 - The Transforming Effect of Mental Prayer
Chapter 6 - The First Stage in the Transformation
Chapter 7 - The Second Stage in the Transformation
Chapter 8 - The Third Stage in the Transformation
Chapter 9 - Mount Thabor

Part II
Method in Mental Prayer Considered
in its Fundamental Principles

Chapter 10 - The Vision of Faith Purified by Mental Prayer
Chapter 11 - The Preliminary Acts in Mental Prayer
Chapter 12 - The Body of Mental Prayer
Chapter 13 - Progress in Mental Prayer: Its Effect on Method

Part III
Elements that make for
Progress in Mental Prayer

Chapter 14 - Dispositions Requisite for Mental Prayer
Chapter 15 - Spiritual Reading
Chapter 16 - Mortification: A Condition of Life
Chapter 17 - Silence: A Means to Recollection


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Acknowledgement

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.

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The Author

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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