Sunday, November 07, 2010

Little Catechism of Prayer: Chapter 3: Preparation and Reading

6.  What is the most practical way of drawing close to God?
Every practice of placing oneself in the presence of God is helpful provided we give ourselves to it in earnest.  For prayer, however, two ways are especially indicated: 1.) Placing ourselves in the presence of the  Blessed Sacrament (we do, in fact, make our meditation in front of our Lord in the Eucharist): 
2.) Withdrawing into our own souls by devout attention to the Three Divine Persons dwelling therein by grace, in order to know and love them.  To begin the colloquy with God present we then recall the subject chosen for our reading.

7.  When should this reading be done?
Preferably before going to prayer, that is, during the fifteen minutes which are given us for preparation.  If we have not been able to do it at that time, we may do it at the beginning of prayer.  In religious communities it is customary to read aloud a short meditation at the beginning of the time of prayer.

8.  Of what use is the reading in common?
It serves a purpose of offering a subject of meditation to those who have been prevented from making the preparation.  There is, however, no obligation of making use of the points which are read.  Ordinarily, we come to prayer with a subject prepared in our private reading.  But if at the time of meditation the point read attracts us more than the subject prepared, we may change the theme of our prayer with perfect liberty.

9.  Should the reading always serve the purpose of providing a subject of meditation?
This is its original purpose which distinguishes it from spiritual reading with its wider scope of instructing us in spiritual matters.  The reading we speak of here provides us with a truth which we penetrate by reflection in order to draw therefrom a deeper conviction of God's love for us.  Sometimes, for souls who no longer make prayer in the form of meditation, but who have reached the prayer of which St. Teresa calls the prayer of recollection, or a form of prayer even further advanced, reading no longer serve the purpose of providing a subject, but rather helps to recollect the soul and dispose it sweetly to enjoy the repose in God.

10.  What books should we prefer for reading?
This depends on the purpose of the reading.  When it is a question of finding a subject for meditation, besides collections of meditations, any book which explains the many manifestations of God's love for us may be used.  It would be well, however, to make use of standards books that are best known.  When it is a question of reading to recollect the mind, every work which inspires intense love of God is useful.  The works of our Carmelite Saints belong in this category.  The choice of books depends, therefore, on the immediate purpose of our reading, but the educational background and spiritual development of a person should also influence the choice.  Books that are either intellectually or spiritually too advanced will be little understood and will necessarily cause dryness in prayer.

11.  May we also take our reading from the lives of the Saints?
Such lives cannot well be excluded from our reading, especially since many souls are more impressed by the way the Saints lived the spiritual doctrine that by its speculative exposition.  We should not, however, read to satisfy curiosity, nor should we prolong the reading unnecessarily, nor should we read a new life as a preparation for prayer, because this would tend to excite the imagination too much.  It is more helpful to read a biographical sketch of some Saint we have previously studied.

12.  How should we read?
We should read with attention, since the purpose of the reading is to find a subject of conversation with our Lord; hence the necessity of going over the reading slowly, lest many an inspiration escape our notice.  Moreover, we should read with devotion and recollection because such disposition help us to find what is useful for our souls and render us more attentive to God and more receptive to good thoughts.  Then too, we shall readily select what is fruitful and prepare the affections we wish to express and the resolutions we shall want to make.  We should do all this without becoming too involved, because the purpose of the reading is simply to help us according to our needs.  We add just one remark, if the reading is made in common it should be short, lest it become an annoyance to our companion who are not making use of it, and these may be many.

13.  May we take up the book again during prayer?
This is not to be discouraged and may even be recommended on some occasions.  St. Teresa never went to prayer without a book.  It happens at times that we find ourselves so distracted that the most practical way of getting back to our Lord is to provide the mind with a good thought through reading.  Likewise, when meditation and conversation with God are rendered difficult by fatigue, it is often a help to have a subject of meditation before our eyes.  This is an exterior aid to attention.  We must be on our guard, however, not to change meditation into mere reading.  Prayer should remain at least meditative reading, during which we pause from time to time to make affections and resolutions.  Then reading itself becomes an instrument, an aid to our conversation with God.

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