My next several posts will be an effort to present by installments Fr. Gabriel of St.Mary Magdalene, OCD, "Little Catechism of Prayer." This is one of those little books which takes its place among the classics of Carmelite spirituality. The small pamphlet deals with the Carmelite way of meditation and leans heavily on the teachings of St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross. I thought it would be wonderful to share this not so well known book to my readers who will find it to be a tremendous treasure in their spiritual life. Fr. Gabriel is one of my favorite Carmelite authors and the author of another great meditation book, "Divine Intimacy."
PRAYER IN THE CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE
1. What is Christian Life?
The Christian life is human life lived in conformity with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to which we should direct all our actions to the glory of God by loving Him and observing His holy laws. The Christian soul lives for God.
2. What is the Contemplative life?
The contemplative life is a form of the Christian life in which we endeavor to live not only for God, but also with God. It is not restricted to Religious, but can be lived perfectly in the world. This life is wholly centered on the quest for divine intimacy, to attain which it calls for repeated spiritual exercises throughout the day. These are especially exercises of prayer, which should be accompanied by the practice of mortification, "because", says St. Teresa, a great Mistress of the contemplative life, "prayer and comfort do not go together."
3. What place does prayer hold in the contemplative life?
Prayer occupies the first place in the contemplative life. Practically, the contemplative life is the life of prayer. Hence, contemplative Orders devote much time to prayer. In the Rule of Carmel, an eminently contemplative Order, the central precept is that of continual prayer: "Let each one remain in his cell, meditating day and night on the law of the Lord and watching in prayer." Carmelites give themselves to many pious exercises: they make mental prayer twice daily, assist at Holy Mass, recite the Divine Office, and apply themselves to the Presence of God throughout the day, besides practicing various private devotions.
4. What is Prayer?
Prayer is a conversation with God in which we manifest to Him the desires of our hearts. Prayer can be vocal or mental.
5. What is Vocal Prayer?
Vocal prayer consists in the recitation of a formula to express our desires: for example, the Our Father, which was taught by Jesus Himself, and in which we make seven petitions to God. We recite this formula with the intention of honoring God. Often we do not think in a disrinct way of the sense of the words we are pronouncing, but this does not hinder our prayer from being true prayer, provided our soul remains turned towards God with the desire of honoring Him. Vocal prayers can be recited to the Saints with the same desire of honoring them.
6. What is Mental Prayer?
Mental prayer consists in a "heart to heart" talk with God, not using prepared or memorized formulae, but speaking spontaneously.
7. What do we say to God in Mental Prayer?
In this form of prayer, contemplative souls may manifest to God all their desires, but according to the teaching of St. Teresa, they will prefer to tell Him that they love Him, or at least they desire to love Him.
8. Why speak to God especially of love?
We speak to God of love, because love is the substance of the contemplative life. According to St. Teresa, contemplatives are to become intimate friends of our Lord; and it is precisely love which makes friendship fluorish and which leads to intimacy. Moreover, St. Teresa wishes us to be convinced that when we go to prayer God is calling us to love Him and we are answering His call.
9. Is it also necessary to think in prayer?
It is not possible to love without having some thought of the object of our love. To love God, it is necessary to think of Him. But the thought of God may vary much, according to the occasion. Sometimes it will consist in somewhat prolonged reflection on God's love for us; sometimes it will be a simple remembrance of the lovableness of our Lord and of His goodness. Consequently, in prayer we think only in order to love, in order to nourish love. St. Teresa says, in fact, that prayer consists not in thinking much, but in loving much.