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The Preliminary Acts in Mental Prayer


There are several methods of prayer; the differences between them are accidental.

"Hearken to the voice of my prayer, O my King and my God. . . O Lord in the morning thou shalt hear my voice.  In the morning I will stand before thee." Ps. v. 3-5.


All are substantially the same in that they take account of the constitution of our human nature in tracing the path which that nature must pursue in order to get away from itself and reach God.  They all point out that the activities by which that union is, in its first stages, developed, are elicited by human faculties, in a human way, though supernaturalised.  The several methods differ solely in the manner in which they direct the calling into operation of the several activities.  In all forms of prayer those activities are the ones which belong to us as rational creatures, namely, the activities of the intellect, the memory and the will.  The imagination, a faculty which we have in common with the animals, plays its part, for the operations of our intelligence are conditioned by it.  It can be a great help as well as a great hindrance:  all methods of prayer must take account of it and the Ignatian method accords it a very important role.

So true is it that all methods are fundamentally the same, that a person that has never studied any, will instinctively follow in his approach to God, the broad lines that they all have in common.  It is by the will and the understanding that spirit is united with spirit; and the operations of these faculties, in human beings, must always take place in a human way, and be conformable to human nature:  this in all of us is essentially the same.  Still, it is of great utility to have a reflective knowledge of the processes of prayer, for frequently, because of fatigue of mind, or want of energy in God's service or absorption in external work or for any such cause, our entry into converse with God will lack spontaneity, facility, and positive direction.  It is in these circumstances — when the soul is sluggish — that method is useful.  A practical grasp of the order of the different acts which the soul must elicit, and a consciousness of the effects which, with grace, these acts produce, will help to overcome our natural inertia, dissipate vagueness or idle dreaming, and set the soul in movement towards God.

# 2. Remote Preparation for Mental Prayer.

Mental Prayer is confessedly difficult; but it has no peculiar difficulties of its own; it presents none other than those which occur in every effort of the soul to respond to a movement of the divine as opposed to the movement of the natural.  Its difficulties are keenly felt, solely because in it the human is more consciously felt in presence of, and in contact with, the divine than is the case in the ordinary circumstances of life.  In these, it is too often true that what is seemingly supernatural and under the influence of grace, is purely natural and therefore excites no conflict or repugnance in us.  But to apply ourselves to mental prayer we must put ourselves deliberately in the presence of God and we must make an effort to submit our souls to the divine operations — and this costs and is something against which our natural self revolts.  The great difficulty then in mental prayer is not in the exercise itself but is outside of it.  Yet no matter what difficulty, what pain, is involved in the work by which the soul, gathering up its faculties, sets foot, as it were, on the path of prayer, though this effort — because of original sin — runs counter to nature and is even recognized to be but the beginning of a painful progress, it is well to remember that each effort in the feeble struggle attracts the loving gaze of God and calls forth a new influx of divine energy.  Moreover it is true that even if this struggle were to last for a lifetime, such a life of effort to effect contact with the supernatural would avail more than many lives spent in the more comfortable observance of what may be termed the bare essentials of the exercise of religion.

As has been said, it is only by these three faculties, intellect, will and memory, — to which may be added the imagination — that we can effect contact with God.  Such contact is impossible unless these faculties are called away from the natural objects on which they find pleasure in exercising their activities.  We remember what concerns us:  our thoughts turn towards what interests us and our imagination busies itself with what flatters us.  The faculties relinquish their objects with extreme reluctance.  It requires much self-discipline and strong effort — a discipline and an effort from which the average person shrinks — to withdraw the powers of the soul from what naturally pleases them and concentrate them on the divine which has but little attraction for them.  The gait of those who are summoned away from a pleasant occupation to one which is eminently disagreeable gives a lively image of the attitude of the faculties when they are called away from what appeals to them and bidden to fix themselves on God.  This calling in of the powers of the soul to attach them to God as the object on which to exercise themselves is called recollection, that is, a gathering together and away from something else.  This effort of recollection cannot be renewed day by day unless there has been made a deliberate choice by which God is preferred to all creatures and unless the soul is schooled day by day, in spite of temptations, to adhere with determination to that choice, cost what it may to nature.  It must say to itself constantly:  "I must have God at all costs." It must, using the power of free election, strive to resist the visible attractions of creatures, when inordinate, and desire to surrender to the invisible beauty of God for "God does not give Himself entirely to us until we give ourselves entirely to Him."[1]  For unless there is made this preliminary surrender on our part, the exercise of prayer tends to become a mere form, if it is not rendered utterly impossible.[2]  This surrender is not beyond us; God asks it and His grace will give the strength we need.

To make this exercise successfully then, we must elicit a strong and firm determination in our will to progress in our will to progress in spirituality and to overcome all the obstacles that oppose themselves to our advancement in friendship with God.  We must have the will to renounce, that is aim at renouncing all inordinate attachment to things of earth (perfect renouncement comes only by degrees), and we must will to cultivate an interest in the things of heaven.  This is to dispose ourselves to acquire that "poverty of spirit" to which is promised the Kingdom of Heaven.[3]  To the soul that empties itself of all inordinate desire for created satisfaction, God comes with the abundance of His Gifts; He establishes His reign in that soul.  He communicates to it a knowledge and love of Himself which begets a happiness that bears an analogy with the beatitude of the blessed in Heaven.  "Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God," said Our Lord.[4]  This resolution to steel ourselves against the attraction of the things of earth, must be accompanied by endeavors on the part of our intelligence to increase in knowledge of the mysteries of our religion.  For although Faith is an infused Virtue, its exercise will be paralyzed unless the faculty, namely the intellect, in which it resides, becomes more and more aptly disposed for it by activity exercised on the revelation of God.  Mere intellectual grasp of religious truths is useless; but still real deepening of faith is impossible without growth in understanding of these truths.  Where the study of these truths is made with humility, with a subjection of our minds to what is beyond their power to comprehend (though not to know), with a sincere desire to gain a deeper insight into the wonderful manifestations that God has made of Himself to men — the intellect is made apt to be penetrated through and through with the Virtue of Faith.  The virtue itself becomes more and more deeply rooted in it and the light of the virtue compenetrates and elevates the natural light of the intellect, imparting new energy and at the same time strengthening its natural activity.

The soul has not a natural liking or taste for the study of divine things, at least for that study which has as its object an ever nearer approach to God's understanding of things, and a reforming of conduct with a view to conforming it to the pattern traced by God made Man; therefore the acquisition of a taste for spiritual knowledge involves self-conquest. So far indeed is the study of divine things from being a congenial exercise for the human intelligence that it can safely be said that a growing interest in, and a desire for, greater knowledge of spiritual things, is a sure sign that God is calling the soul to intimate friendship with Himself.  A taste for spiritual books or an anxiety to hear instructions on supernatural truths is a great grace, and one for which we should often pray.

In the firm resolve of the will to renounce satisfaction in the things of the earth and in the study by the intellect of the mysteries of faith, consists the principal remote preparation for meditation.  It leaves the two faculties through which we come in contact with God, free to exercise those activities by which that contact is effected.  "For mental prayer means the occupation of our faculties upon God, not in the way of thinking or speculating about Him, but stirring up the will to conform itself to Him and the affections to love Him."[5]  It is not easy for those who live in the world to acquire that poverty of spirit, that aloofness from earthly things which is a pre-requisite for mental prayer.  Hence for them the practice of it presents some difficulty.[6]  Those who enter religion make that poverty of spirit the condition of their lives, and therefore remove the chief obstacle to progress in intercourse with God.  This of course is not sufficient.  One must not remain idle and inactive, trusting to this initial grace.  It is always necessary to hear the admonition of the apostle saying that it is obligatory to "stir up the grace of God which is in us" and make it effective and fruitful.[7]

We must aim at acquiring a great purity in our affections, gradually weeding out from them all that is too natural.  We are brought to a standstill in our mental prayer if we allow ourselves to be held captive by inordinate affections for creatures or by an excessive regard for ourselves, our own ease and our own satisfactions.[8]  Vigorous efforts must be made to get control over every attachment that threatens to take possession of and master us.  If we are not prepared to make these efforts, or if we are too cowardly to act against our inclinations we shall impede the action of grace and fail to make progress.[9]  All our passions must be kept under restraint.  To allow ourselves to act with too much eagerness in anything is to surrender ourselves to the matter in which we are interested; it is to permit it, not our own soul, to control our activities.  Eagerness in thought or act implies always that something has strongly gripped us.  In such cases we fall under the control of something distinct from ourselves and our activities lose their autonomy, as it were.  They will not be perfectly under our domination and can therefore with difficulty proceed from a principle of faith or even of reason.  Feverish activity or anxiety tends to disturb the calm and balance of our interior faculties; besides, God's grace cannot make an impression upon the soul when it is in a state of agitation.  Those desirous of advancing in the ways of spirituality must school themselves to act without precipitation and to preserve a certain peaceful moderation in all things.  Excitement is fatal to prayer.

The same vigilance to curb the passions must be extended to our senses, interior and exterior.  The imagination of each one of us is stored with images, many of which are not of things pertaining to the supernatural world.  To keep one's mind prepared for God, and keep it fixed on God when prayer has commenced, we must have learned to exercise a great deal of control over the imagination.  It must not be allowed to govern us or carry us away with it.  The habit of indulgence in reverie or day-dreaming is very harmful.  We must strive to store our imagination with images between which and the truths of faith or the service of God, there may be an easy connection.  A continual mortification of the spirit of curiosity is a great help towards acquiring control of the imagination.  The sense of sight and that of touch must be submitted to the same discipline.  To expect to be a person of prayer and to accord every satisfaction, even when these satisfactions are not positively wrong, to one's senses, is to expect the impossible.[10]  On the other hand it is evident that the persistent effort to make our lives a remote preparation for prayer results in real progress on the path that leads from self to God.  It demands, it is true, much that is difficult and even bitter to human nature; but God's help will be abundant and response to this demand ensures that tranquillity and that liberty of spirit, which, making the soul receptive of Divine peace and light and love, facilitate the communication of the hidden mysteries of God.

# 3. Immediate Preparation for Mental Prayer.

The grace that God gives to the soul which He is calling to Himself, the desire of the soul to respond, and the measures that it takes to prepare itself to be receptive of God's communications, all these constituting the remote preparation, place the soul in a certain condition or attitude towards God.  A spiritual want now makes itself felt and one naturally looks for some subject which will enable the intellect, the memory and the affections to direct themselves towards God.  The immediate preparation consists in the selection of some subject; some scene or some thought, which will serve to put the soul in touch with God and with itself.  Although we are not capable of analyzing the matter to ourselves in the beginning yet the fundamental yearning and aspiration of the soul — that which forms the undercurrent of all its strivings — is a reaching after God Himself.  This yearning, set up in us by faith, is spiritual and supernatural.  It is not a reaching out after some external good, like position or property; nor after physical well-being; nor yet after intellectual development.  All these are the desires of sense and mere natural understanding.  The groping of the soul of which there is question is governed by the dim consciousness that the attainment of the objective at which it aims is to be effected by some kind of radical change in itself.[11]  The soul realizes though in a very obscure manner, that it is aspiring after more perfect union with God, and at the same time is made aware by the instincts generated in it by sanctifying grace that such union is impossible unless it is made in some way like to God.  It vaguely understands that to be more intimate with God it must grow in resemblance with God.[12]  The soul penetrated by grace has a new life, and it is the efforts of that life to expand and to develop itself that sets the soul in motion.  The whole process is nothing else than the stirring of grace reaching after its own growth.

This movement of the soul must be concerned with some object.  The human spirit can develop only by the activities of will and intellect.  These faculties demand objects for their exercise:  their activity cannot be, as it were, self-originated or self-sustained.  To think, we must think about something:  to will, we must desire something.  Furthermore, in the present state of existence in this world, the intellect depends on the imagination for its operations.  Where there is no imaginative image, there can be no intellectual idea.  Now the movement of the soul stirred up by grace, supernatural though it is, must conform to the natural modes of thought.  The mind even when concerned about divine things must lean on the help of the imagination.  God Himself, however, presents no hold for the imagination.  Hence the soul, in its efforts to produce that activity which should develop the divine life in it, is confronted with a serious difficulty.  It knows that it can grow in likeness to God only through acting in a way which bears a resemblance to God's way of acting.  But how can man act as man and yet act like God?  It would seem impossible.  And yet in the depths of the supernatural being that is given it by grace, the soul is aware that there is an obligation on it, created by grace itself, to be "perfect as its heavenly Father is perfect."[13]  How can this obligation be fulfilled ?  God in His Wisdom, Goodness and Power has solved the difficulty.

If God were to live like man and were to do and suffer as man acts and suffers, and if He were to do all that as it becomes God to do it, then man would have had traced out for him a pattern of divine action set forth in human and therefore imitable terms.  God came and acted as man, doing that with a divine perfection so that man might learn to act as God, and thus grow in likeness to God.  More intimate union with God follows and is in proportion to the likeness to God.  The soul is created for and destined for this union.  In the life of His Divine Son on earth God showed man the path that he is to follow in order to enter into union with the Divinity.  Hence He said, "this is my beloved Son — hear ye him."[14]  That is to say that we have only to contemplate and to try to reproduce in ourselves the soul- operations of Jesus Christ, in order to cause the Divine Life planted in us by Baptism to expand and reach its development.  The life, the virtues, the words the actions and the principles of Jesus form the exemplar on which our imagination can lay hold, and from which it will furnish the matter for the intellect and the will to work upon.  Jesus traces the pattern of our activity.  In Him that activity is the expression of the Divinity, of which He has the plenitude; its reproduction by us is the means by which is developed in us that Divine Life of which our souls are almost empty in the beginning (for by Baptism, the soul receives as it were, merely the germ of that life).  The constant and sustained effort to copy in ourselves the life of Jesus Christ as gradually unfolded during the thirty-three years and as culminating in the passion, will work out in our persons first the purification of the senses, and then the purification of the spirit; it is only after these purifications that God can take complete possession of our souls.  The imitation of the virtues of Our Lord's life necessitating as it does, fidelity to the inspirations of grace and contradiction of the movements of self, purifies the soul of inordinate desires and affections.  An entry into, and a participation in, the sufferings and passion of Our Lord achieve that final purification in which the last vestiges of egoism arc burned away and the soul is made ready for yet closer union with God.

The purifications are considered here actively that is as taking place through the soul's co-operation with the Divine action.  In the higher states of prayer, even in the obscure beginnings, the purifications are passive and are effected by the direct action of God.

The subject then of meditation will be taken from something connected with the life of Our Lord.  One will naturally select what suits one's spiritual condition, and the manner in which the subject will be utilized will be dictated by the spiritual needs of the soul at the moment.  The same subject may be taken at different stages of the soul's progress, but the mode in which it is handled will vary with the varying moods of the spiritual life.  An incident in the life of Our Lord will suggest different reflections and different affections to one who is beginning and to one who has already made progress.  This subject should always be prepared over night out of the Gospel itself or out of some spiritual book.  One or two thoughts should be retained in the mind as those which should furnish the matter of conversation with God in the morning.  A real desire for progress, if it exists, carries with it a consciousness of the obstacles to that progress existing in ourselves and a keen anxiety to obtain the grace necessary to overcome them or sweep them away.  The sight of the obstacles to grace will naturally create regret for our perversity, a dislike of it and a turning to God for help to correct it.  These emotions are examples of the affections which should accompany the reflections and to which the reflections should lead.  Hence with the preparation of the considerations there should be determined at least in a general way the affections to which they should give rise, considering the needs of our souls.

This preparation of the subject should take place if possible, after the contact with men and affairs necessary during the day has ceased.  One should endeavor to allow no distracting thought or occupation to intervene before the morning's meditation; for such would banish from the memory the spiritual thoughts and affections that have been prepared.  We should with all possible tranquillity of spirit, and without any violent efforts of memory, strive to keep the subject of next day's prayer uppermost in our minds when retiring.  If the reflections and affections are present to us when we prepare to go asleep, they will easily be recalled in the morning.  Whilst dressing, our thoughts should be directed towards the Church, and should be colored with a certain pleasurable anticipation of some spiritual advantage to be derived from the audience with Our Lord which is to take place.  Each morning's exercise of meditation is an important event in our lives, for if done with good-will and with a serious effort, it will always mark an advance in intimacy with Our Divine Lord.  Every fresh conversation we have with a person in whom we are interested, whom we like and whose acquaintance we are cultivating, makes us grow in intimacy with, and in knowledge of, that person.  The same effect is produced by our conversations with Our Lord in prayer.  Every morning's meeting with Him should be looked forward to by us as something new, fresh, and interesting in our lives, as something fraught with great possibilities for us.

This immediate preparation of meditation should never be omitted.  It is not respectful to the Lord to enter into His presence to speak to Him in our morning meditation without having settled in our mind what matters we should treat of with Him.  We never enter the room of a person occupying any position without our being fully prepared with the observations we intend to make, the propositions to put forward and the matters to discuss.  If we were to enter, and then, when in the person's presence being asked what was the object of our visit, we were to say that we were not quite sure but that we would then and there begin to look for some subject of conversation, our reception would be rather cold and we should be politely shown to the door — our procedure would be unmannerly in the extreme.  To enter a meditation without having mind and will ready for the interview with the Lord is to be guilty of very bad manners in His regard.  And yet there are many souls who, quite polite in human intercourse, are frequently guilty of this grave discourtesy to the Savior, The King of Kings, and the Lord of this world and the world to come.  His forbearance with us and His magnanimity should not encourage us to treat Him with a rude and inconsiderate familiarity.

Meditation is a work of memory, intellect and will.  That it be not waste of time and a tempting of God, the memory should be stored with some knowledge suited to our spiritual condition, our intellect should be prepared to consider it, and our will stirred up to adopt the resolutions that such considerations might suggest.[15]

# 4.  Entry into mental prayer.

From the moment that we rise from sleep our minds should be directed towards the audience with Our Lord that is presently to take place; and we should come to the Church with a vivid realization of the fact that we are really coming into the very presence of One Who means everything to us — One Who is ready and willing to listen to us as we plead the interests of our souls with Him, and finally Who has the power to raise us to that state in which our souls will be fitted to share His intimacy.  It is a great consolation for us to realize that He is more interested in our progress than we are ourselves, and that in Him we shall have a patient and tender listener Who will follow with sympathy every movement, every thought, every aspiration of our souls during the time we spend in His presence.[16]  This reflection will enable us to enter the Church with the same pleasurable anticipation as we have when we enter a room where there is one awaiting us, who is great and kind, who has the power to do immense good, who is ever ready to help those who are in need, and who loves us very tenderly.  The consciousness of our unworthiness should not be allowed to interfere with this glad eagerness that we should rightly experience at the prospect of being privileged to enjoy, undisturbed, the society of Our Lord for half-an-hour or more.  If we w ill it, that is if we are willing to do our part of what is necessary in order to have this tranquil intercourse with Jesus, we can remain with our souls bathed in, and enveloped by, the influence of His presence during the whole time allotted to meditation.  All that is required of us is that, like Mary, our thoughts, the eyes of our spirit as it were, should be fixed on Him the whole time.

This involves recollection, that is, the gathering up of the activities of our memory, our understanding and our will to prevent them from being exercised on any other object than on one connected with His life, His actions, His virtues, His thoughts, His sufferings.[17]  This dwelling on the mysteries of Our Lord's life may — in fact, should — be accompanied by a certain return on ourselves; His feelings, emotions, acts, experiences should be contrasted with ours.  This contrast between the perfection manifested in Him and the perversity revealed in us, generates detestation of the perversity and the desire to become more conformed to the Savior.[18]

The sight of the tabernacle with the lamp burning before it, as we enter the Church (i.e., if the meditation be made in Church), reminds us that therein resides the Great God of Heaven and Earth, the Sovereign Lord and Savior of mankind, Who, clothed in the flesh lived that scene on earth or exercised that virtue which we have selected to review in His presence, and about which we intend to converse with Him, with regard to Its bearing on our own inner life.  The thought of His infinite perfections and the plenitude of the Divinity which resides in Him in its fullness should cause us instinctively to fall on our knees before Him, in an attitude of profound adoration and reverence.  This exterior act of worship should be the outward expression of our interior submission — the prostration of our whole being before the Majesty of God made man involves the homage of our understanding, of our will and of all our faculties of body and soul.  It will help if, with eyes closed, we imagine Him in front of us, while we keep ourselves in this humble position before Him.  But the act itself must be one of the will really directing all the powers to take up this attitude that becomes the creature in the presence of the Creator.  This inner act of worship should reflect and express itself externally in a devout and respectful position of the body.  The effort to assume and maintain this posture of deep respect will react upon the interior, and give ease, force and vividness to the inner dispositions of mind and heart.  The initial act of adoration is of great importance; it will repay the effort to make it with full consciousness and actuality of intention, for, if well made, it is in itself sufficient, oftentimes, to secure the success of our meditation.

The presence of God to us that is a consequence of these acts of the intelligence and the will deliberately directed towards Him, is a profound reality.  God is present also to the slothful, the heedless, the distracted and the indifferent, but in a totally different manner.  He is present to such persons as one is present to those to whom one is near but by whom one is not observed.  But to the devout worshipper He is present as the kind benefactor is to the person on whom a kindness is lovingly bestowed.

It is only by faith that we can conceive of God as present in this way.  Reason by itself could only reveal to us God as present in us and all around us as the First Cause of all things.  This is the omnipresence known to philosophy.  Our first act of Adoration then implies an act of Supernatural Faith.  "We adore that which we know."[19]  This act of Faith may regard its object in various ways — all good, but not all equally effective.  Some will, by an effort of the imagination, represent God to themselves as seated before them on a throne of majesty and themselves prostrate in worship at His feet.  Others will prefer to fix their thoughts on the fact, without any pictorial representation, that God is present in the Tabernacle before them.  St. Teresa loved to think of God as dwelling in the depths of her soul and of herself as pouring out all her desires and longings and emotions at His feet.[20]  The more ordinary manner, especially in the beginning, is to worship God, in Jesus Christ, presented before us by imagination, in the mystery which has been chosen as the subject of prayer.  However the initial act of worship be made, the faculties must be brought back to be occupied about the mystery as if it were taking place at the actual moment of the meditation.  One must, as it were, annihilate space and time and transporting oneself in spirit to the actual epoch at which our Lord walked on earth, live over with Him again the event that is being contemplated, and strive to excite in the heart the feelings that would have been stirred were one present with Him in these circumstances.  If one has given way to distractions the return to our Lord is comparatively easy when the imagination has been strongly impressed by the details of the mystery.  When a good deal of progress has been made in the interior life, when the spirit by frequent contemplations has been steeped in the inner dispositions of the Sacred Humanity, and when the imagination, grown sluggish, no longer lends itself easily to the "composition" of details, the soul can adopt another simpler and more direct way of putting itself in the presence of the Lord.

The soul can represent to itself the Divine Master living in the depths of its own interior — as He really is in His Godhead[21]; it can consider Him there as the source of the Divine Life which it possesses in some little measure and can regard itself seated at His Feet in the position of Mary, developing its considerations as if He were giving ear to them, and holding itself attentive to receive the impulses of the graces that are internally flowing from His Sacred Heart:  "Virtue went out from Him and He healed all."[22]  The exercise of prayer can be made in this way even when there is a formal contemplation of an actual scene from the life of Jesus.  The soul can represent to itself the whole series of events, — the sayings, the actions and the rest — that the mystery comprises, as taking place in the midst of itself, with Jesus as the center.  It is to be remembered that spirit is present to spirit solely by the operation of its two spiritual faculties, and chiefly by the operation of the will.  We can therefore maintain ourselves under the sanctifying influence of the proximity of Jesus, as long as we keep our thoughts and affections fixed on Him.  This means an effort on our part to withdraw our thoughts, our imaginations and our interests from everything that is not Himself.  Furthermore, when, through distraction or through some other cause, we have withdrawn ourselves from His divine influence we have the power to place ourselves under it once more, by an act of the will, recalling our wandering faculties.

The deep sense of the nearness of God bringing, as it does, some taste of that peace which the world cannot give should inspire us with a deep feeling of gratitude for the happiness of being admitted into His Presence:  for in the light of His Holiness and Goodness we cannot fail to recognize how unworthy we are to appear before Him owing to our own misery, worthlessness and incapacity for all good.  His perfect purity and justice reveals in a strong light — proportioned to our faith — our own sinfulness.  We realize that apart from the grace of God we are nothing and can do nothing, and that of ourselves we are utterly devoid of virtue.  The light of God's presence shows us that if there is any virtue in our souls, it is entirely due to Him, and that we have nothing of ourselves except resistance to His grace and the nullifying of His favors.  Thus the acts of Faith and Adoration logically issue in one of profound humility.  But this expression of abasement must be filial, not servile; it must be more akin to reverence than to shrinking fear, and must be accompanied by a peaceful confidence that the Lord, who has shown Himself in so many ways good to His creature, will pity the imperfections of that creature, enable it to overcome its vicious inclinations and help it to advance in the way of holiness.  We know that God cannot love except Himself; He can love us then, only in so far as He finds Himself in us.  We have experienced His love and we expect with confidence that He will impart to our souls that which will enable Him to love those souls ever more and more — by imparting to them an ever increasing participation in His own life.

The consideration of God's goodness, of our own great needs, and of the ardent desires that we feel in ourselves to have these needs supplied, inspires us with the hope of obtaining our request. From the depths of our hearts we send up a strong supplication to the Holy Ghost that He would impart light to our intelligence and strength to our memory, that we may be able to penetrate deep into the meaning of the mystery on which we are about to meditate.  We should beg, in addition, that He would impart strength and vigor to our will that we may be able to give effect to the good desires aroused in us by our deeper understanding of the subject of meditation.  Finally, we should ask that the Holy Spirit would so direct and guide us that all the acts and movements of the soul elicited during the ensuing prayer should be for the glory of God and for our own spiritual progress.[23]  These acts of the presence of God, of Faith, Adoration, Gratitude, Humility, Confidence and Supplication for Light and Strength, constitute the Introduction or entrance into the body of prayer which is made up of considerations and affections.  If the soul, in making these preliminary acts, which as a rule need not occupy much time, finds a particular savor in any one of them, it need not force itself to pass on.  If for instance, it finds a great satisfaction in its act of adoration and feels a desire to remain in the interior attitude of deep worship before its Creator, it may continue to abide in that disposition of worship.  It can so remain until the impulse to go on to the other preliminary acts or to the body of the meditation, comes to it.


  1. St. Teresa, "Way of Perfection," Ch.  xxviii.
  2. "Let no created thing have a place in your heart, if you would have the face of God pure and clear in your soul; yea rather empty your spirit of all created things and you will walk in the divine light.  (1 St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Max. 26.)
  3. St. Matt.  v. 3.
  4. St. Matt.  v. 8.
  5. From a treatise on Mental Prayer.
  6. Many holy people in the world however, completely overcome this difficulty and become very proficient in mental prayer.
  7. St. Teresa gives an excellent warning on this:  — "O my sisters, be not too secure, nor allow yourselves to sleep. . . You know there is no thief worse than a domestic one.  Since, therefore, we are always ourselves, if great care be not used (as is used in important affairs), and everyone do not diligently use all her endeavors to be continually denying her will, there are many things which may deprive us of this holy liberty of the spirit which we seek after that it may fly to its Creator, without being burdened with earth and lead." ("Way of Perfection." chap. x.)
  8. A man mounting a hill while dragging a cart gives us a picture of the soul that wishes to lift itself up to God without being free from anxieties and desires (cf.  Spiritual Maxims of St. John of the Cross.  no. 52 in Critical Spanish Ed., Fr.  Gerard, 1912, no. 137 in English Ed.  Trans.  Lewis).
  9. If we are faithful in making these efforts, we may with confidence direct our petition to the giver of grace Whom we seek:  "Look thou upon me and have mercy upon me for I am alone and poor." (Ps. xxiv. 16.)
  10. To think that God will admit to His friendship a lover of his own ease is madness.  (St. Teresa.) Quoted with approval by St. Alphonsus in Prax. Conf.  ix. 3. cf. chap. xvi on Mortification for fuller treatment.
  11. The soul at this stage is beginning to experience for itself the deep truth contained in Our Lord's words:  "Every one of you that doth not renounce all he possesselh cannot be my disciple." St. Luke xiv. 33.
  12. The word "deification" is used to express the process by which the soul is made like to God.
  13. St. Matt.  v. 48.
  14. St. Matt.  xvii. 5.
  15. To the soul who has joyfully observed all that is required as preparation for mental prayer, the words of the Psalmist are beautifully applicable:  " Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly . . . but his will is in the law of the Lord and on His law he shall meditate day and night. . . And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit in due season." (Ps. 1.)
  16. "If a soul is seeking after God, the Beloved is seeking it much more." St. John of the Cross.  "The Living Flame of Love, Stan.  iii. 30.
  17. The difficulty of recollection has been treated on p. 155.
  18. This point will be developed later on when treating of the body of prayer.
  19. St. John iv. 22.
  20. cf. St. Fr.  de Sales:  "Devout Life," ii. c. 2.
  21. St. Teresa describing her prayer in its early stages says:  "I contrived to picture Christ within me, and I used to find myself the better for thinking of those mysteries of His life in which He was most lonely." "Autobiography" ix. The whole passage should be read.
  22. St. Luke vi 19.
  23. These preliminary remarks find beautiful expression in the inspired words:  — "Hear O Lord my prayer! enter not into judgment with Thy servant for in Thy sight no living man shall be justified . . . turn not away Thy face from me . . . make Thy way known to me wherein I should walk, for I have lifted up my soul to Thee . . . teach me to do Thy Will, for Thou art my God . . . Thy good spirit shall lead me into the right land. . . For Thy name's sake, O Lord, Thou wilt quicken me in Thy Justice." (Ps. cxlii.)

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

Part I
The Nature of Prayer

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



Father Edward Leen, C.S.SP. "The Preliminary Acts in Mental Prayer." chapter 11 from Progress Through Mental Prayer (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937) 152-175.

Progress Through Mental Prayer is in the public domain.


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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