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The Vision of Faith Purified by Mental Prayer

  • FATHER EDWARD LEEN, C.S.SP.

Every soul walking in the way of perfection enters into what is called a state of prayer.

"The just man liveth by faith." — Gal. iii. 11. Mark ix. 1, Luke ix. 28, Matt. xvii. 1.

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This state is nothing else than the habitual disposition in which the soul normally finds itself.  It is something that is independent of the conscious and deliberate acts of the soul's faculties.  State of prayer is a term which expresses the degree of intimacy that the human soul enjoys ordinarily with God; the deeper the intimacy the higher the state of prayer; the less close the intimacy, the more imperfect the state.  Each soul, in the measure of its progress, is in a certain supernatural condition which marks the degree and the closeness of its relationship with God.  "In order to converse in the most advantageous way with God," says the Ven.  Libermann, "the soul must, in beginning its meditation, strive to put itself in the state of prayer that is peculiar to it.  Doing otherwise it runs the risk of gaining little profit from its spiritual exercise.  In order to know the state that is proper to us, we have only to give close attention to the interior attitude the soul adopts instinctively before God in its moments of marked recollection and fervor.  A great sameness will be noticed in the supernatural attitude that the soul assumes on these occasions, and that is the one that should be adopted in the regular exercise of prayer.  It undergoes a change as one advances in the interior life.  Often it changes — in the sense that it attains a greater perfection.''[1]

Intimacy with our Creator is based upon knowledge.  By this is not meant the mere acquisition by our intelligence of a number of truths concerning God or Divine things.  The acquisition of theological science, no matter how profound that science may be, has no power of itself to make us better acquainted with God or to put us on terms of close relationship with Him.  But when the activities of the intelligence exercised on these truths is animated, directed and informed by the infused virtue of Faith, then this intellectual activity serves to make us grow in knowledge of God, and, through knowledge, in love.  Our natural activity of knowing must be elevated and enlivened by the infused intellectual habit of faith[2]  in order that it may help to bring us close to God.  It is written in the prophets — " And they shall all be taught of God."[3]  Our knowledge of God must be supernatural knowledge if it is to promote and perfect our spirituality.  The divinity stands revealed only to the divine gaze:  it is only the piercing intuition of that glance that can comprehend the Godhead as it is in Itself and for what it is in Itself.  It is such a vision that alone can originate a love which pours itself out on the Divine beauty in its full reality — as opposed to any participated or reflected forms of that Beauty.  It is only the vision of God as He is in Himself that can generate a personal love of God as He is in Himself.  That vision and that love belongs by nature to God alone, and is for that reason called supernatural.  But God in His mercy deigns to call us to share the contemplation which belongs to Himself.  By infusing the divine gift of Faith into the human intellect He elevates that faculty and, giving it a participation of His own Divine Intuition, He enables it to contemplate — in a veiled manner in this world, clearly in the next when faith gives way to vision — the same Divine Beauty which He Himself eternally sees and loves.[4]  It is only this vision of God, seen by the eyes of faith, that can issue in sanctity — which is nothing else than the surrender of the will to the charms of the Divine Beauty.  No philosophical knowledge no matter how great, can cause the very smallest degree of this love.  It is knowing God as a child knows its own parent, not knowing a great deal about God, that sanctifies the soul.  The vision of God that alone can make us holy is God's Vision of Himself; it is by the love in which that vision issues that we are perfected.

The vision of God is given us in this world truly, though imperfectly, by Faith.  Faith is nothing else than the supernatural, obscure intuition (not face to face) of God, which whilst always remaining obscure in the condition of this world, can nevertheless grow in intensity, in purity and in depth.  Since the truths which are the object of Faith infinitely surpass human reason, whole-souled and dutiful assent to them demands a grace- inspired act of the will; and this whole-souled and dutiful acceptance of them carries with it serious moral consequences for ourselves.[5]  Hence it is evident that progress in Faith tends to perfect concomitantly the will as well as the intellect.  We cannot see ourselves and God in the light that streams from the Divine Intelligence without being impelled to suit our life's activities to that condition which in this light is seen to be ours.  A clear view of what the Creator is and what the creature is, when that view is given in the light of Faith, constrains the creature to act in a spirit of profound adoration and unquestioning submission to the will of God.  Hence, in the last resort, growth in Faith is growth in holiness; and the measure of our faith is the measure of our perfection.  This explains St. Paul's glorification of this virtue in the 11th chapter of the Hebrews — "Faith," he says "is the evidence" — that is, the clear intuition — "of things that appear not."[6]  These things "that appear not" are the mysteries of the divine life, whether that be considered as it is in the bosom of the Blessed Trinity or in the economy of its communication to human souls through the Sacred Humanity of Jesus.  God alone contemplates that mysterious life in its fullness, and adequately comprehends it:  "So the things also that are of God, no man knoweth, but the spirit of God."[7]

God's holiness is a consequence of the vision of Himself which He enjoys.  His love of the Divine reality is infinitely perfect, being in proportion to and determined by that vision of Himself.  The measure of that vision that He imparts to us — is the measure also of our resemblance to Him in that infinite movement of love in which He tends toward Himself.  All Holiness consists in the love of that Infinite Good.  Supernatural holiness is nothing but the gravitation of the will towards God — of the will as carried towards Him by the weight of Love:  "Amor meus pondus meum."[8]  Though cut off from this vision by our condition as creatures, we attain to it by faith.  By faith, we contemplate though dimly, obscurely and inadequately what God contemplates.  " But to us God hath revealed them by the spirit .  .  .  Now we have received the spirit that is of God, that we may know the things that are given us from God."[9]  The spirit of which St. Paul speaks is the gift of faith and the things that are given is the Divine Life participated.

Since faith is a participation of supernatural or divine knowledge, the more of mere human understanding that is found mingled with its exercise the less perfect it becomes.  The intellect in its contemplation of the mysteries of divine life of the Blessed Trinity in Heaven or of the Incarnate Son of God on earth, even when elevated by the gift of faith, is prone to vitiate its considerations by the introduction into them of reasonings, judgments and appreciations, which are the fruit of its human spirit.  In this sense faith must undergo a purification and its operations must have these corrupting elements eliminated from them if man is to know God as a friend knows his friend.  Such a purification takes place in the saints.  The whole process of sanctity according to the teaching of St. John of the Cross, depends on this progressive elimination of the purely human elements from the operations of the virtue of Faith.[10]  In the case of Christians who take but little interest in the supernatural life the faith contains a large alloy of the natural.  They see God it is true, but they see Him badly.  Their spiritual vision is defective.  They suffer from a supernatural myopia.  They resemble persons who, because of their defective eyesight, cannot see objects clearly in distinct outline and in all their details — but only dimly, obscurely and in a confused and uncertain manner.  As their understanding of God depends on their spiritual sight of Him, they know Him very imperfectly and easily hold false notions concerning Him.  That is the reason why so many who are said "to have the faith" are so frequently without virtue.  Their faith is very superficial; it takes but the feeblest share in the soul's activity, which is dominated by human impulse, passions, and affections.  In such souls the knowledge of God is darkened and dragged down to earth by the human considerations and views that mingle with and tarnish the purity of the knowledge of faith.  As long as these conditions prevail, the soul's activity will be largely human, unsupernatural and, to a great extent, uninfluenced by grace and withdrawn from the direction of the Holy Ghost.

It is lamentable that so many baptized souls are thus neglectful of the gift of Faith which they possess and allow to remain latent — almost atrophied — for want of exercise.  The claims of the visible world clamor powerfully in a too successful rivalry with the claims of "things unseen"; and yet, we know that the hidden world of the supernatural life is the world of Reality; and each baptized soul bears responsibility for the development of that supernatural life within.  The Divine Virtue of Faith is exercised in prayer.  Thus it is that prayer is an ideal means of developing faith and an ideal preparation of the soul for the reception, and increase, of that Divine gift.

"And the Apostles said to the Lord:  'Increase our Faith'.''[11]  Our prayer of petition will be very perfect when it attains their earnestness and is directed towards the same thing for which they prayed with such longing and such childlike simplicity, namely, an increase of Faith.  Such a prayer of petition is eminently pleasing to the Savior.  The Gospels bear eloquent testimony to the great value for the soul that He attached to the virtue of Faith.  The expression of it always has the effect of stirring His admiration, moving His feelings and unlocking the treasures of His Mercy.  On Him an act of real faith operates like a veritable rod of Moses, for it touches His Heart and causes waters of grace to gush forth in the soul of the believer.  The predilection of Jesus for this virtue should not cause astonishment.  He knows full well that a man's life takes its color from the depth and sincerity of his faith.  The more one penetrates into the inner world of divine realities, veiled under the happenings of the life of the Man-God on earth, the more one experiences the transforming effect of that life and the more easily one's conduct conforms to the manner of acting of Jesus.  Faith that is strong cannot be inoperative.  As God's vision of Himself is the source of His life of love, so our Faith, according as it is purified from the imperfections caused by the darkened condition of our soul, will issue in activities which will bear a resemblance to the divine goodness.  This will develop perfection in ourselves and render us capable of effecting good in others.  The whole end of meditation considered as such, is to increase, deepen and purify our Faith.

In the previous chapters there was instituted a study of the soul in its progress through the different states or conditions of prayer; that is an examination of the phases through which the soul passes in its emancipation from what is purely human and natural, in its progress in the divine intimacy and in its assimilation to God, which is the direct fruit of that intimacy.

No soul, ordinarily speaking, is taken by God into His intimate friendship unless it freely chooses to enter into those relations of friendship, and unless it consents to adopt the means by which this friendship is initiated and cultivated.[12]  The soul is aided by actual graces to make this choice, but it has the fatal power to resist grace and to disregard the divine appeal.  The exercise of mental prayer is the normal way by which the soul becomes intimate with God, shares His secrets and receives His communications and spiritual gifts.[13]  the details of method in mental prayer must now be considered carefully.

Endnotes:

  1. Ven. Libermann "Ecrits Spirituels," p. 94.  cf. "Letters," Vol.  I, no. 83.
  2. All apprehension and knowledge of supernatural things cannot help us to love God so much as the least act of living faith and hope made in detachment from all things.  (St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Max. 24.)
  3. St. John vi. 45, Is.  liv. 13.
  4. By this infusing the divine gift resides in the intellect but submission is not compelled.
  5. cf. "Christ, the Life of the Soul." Marmion.  Part Il.  Ch.  i.
  6. Heb.  xi. 1.
  7. I Cor. ii. 11.
  8. St. Augustine — "My love presses me as a weight." Confess.  xiii. 9.
  9. Cor. ii. 10, 12.
  10. Ascent, Book II
  11. St. Luke xvii. 5.
  12. Mental prayer as an exercise is the discipline to which the soul must submit itself in order to enter into the way of union with its God.
  13. The exercise of mental prayer must be distinguished from the state of prayer, which is its result, i.e., that in which it normally issues and which is, as was said, the position which the soul instinctively tends to adopt in the presence of God.

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 Boy 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. "The Vision of Faith Purified by Mental Prayer." chapter 10 from Progress Through Mental Prayer (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937) 143-151.

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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