Saturday, November 27, 2010
1. What are the chief difficulties encountered in prayer?
Since prayer consists in raising our minds and hearts to God, that is, in thinking of Him and loving Him, our difficulties in prayer come from whatever hinders or renders more arduous this double application of our soul to God. In the mind we have distractions; in the will, aridity.
2. What are distractions?
Distractions are thoughts which come to us in prayer but have no connection with it. These thoughts lead us to occupy ourselves with other things. This intrusion of thoughts foreign and even contrary to recollection of the mind in God may be either voluntary or involuntary. There is a great difference between the two.
3. What do we mean by voluntary distractions?
By voluntary distractions we mean that we either willingly introduce, or once they have come, freely consent to thoughts that turn our minds away from the divine subject with which we are occupied. In distracting ourselves willfully, we suspend, or at least interrupt our prayer. If we do so without sufficient reason, we become guilty of irreverence towards our Lord. Hence voluntary distraction is more of an infidelity than a difficulty. If, on the contrary, the distracting though which presents itself to the mind is not accepted, it is called an involuntary distraction.
4. What are the causes of involuntary distractions?
Causes of involuntary distractions are of two kinds: occasional and natural. The first is made up of sense impressions from outside; the second includes certain tendencies within our nature that stir up images and thoughts. Hence we may designate these distractions according to their source as exterior and interior distractions.
5. Is it possible to avoid distractions in prayer?
We may to a great extent avoid exterior distractions by keeping careful guard over our senses and above all by choosing a secluded place for prayer, as our Lord Jesus Christ counsels in the Gospel. By keeping our eyes closed or fixed on some devotional object or on the meditation book, we can avoid many distractions coming by way of sight. It is much more difficult, however, to avoid interior distractions.
6. Whence comes this special difficulty with interior distractions?
This particular difficulty arises from instinctive reactions of our nature which manifest themselves in images and thoughts concerning things we love or fear. When our attention is fixed on the subject of our meditation this interior world of natural reaction remains in the background. But as soon as our attention wanes, all these natural tendencies begin to make themselves felt. Then there arise within us thoughts and memories quite foreign to the meditation we are trying to make.
7. Is it possible to counteract interior distractions?
Yes, there is an direct and indirect way of resisting these distractions. We resist them directly by bringing our thoughts back to the pious subject that we are considering, or by giving our attention to God in an act of faith or of love. Indirectly we counteract these distractions by intensifying our spiritual life. As our spiritual life becomes more intense, it gathers new energies, strengthening us in our adherence to God and overcoming natural inclinations which distract us from Him. Obviously this cannot be accomplished quickly. It is rather the result of long application to the spiritual life.
8. Are interior distractions sometimes unavoidable?
Yes, they are at times unavoidable because they are so instinctive. Especially when we experience difficulty in fixing our attention on prayer, interior distractions may be overwhelming, insistent, and very wearying. This difficulty may sometimes spring from an accidental cause. It may also come from habitual disposition, as in very temperamental persons. If we continue nevertheless to experience displeasure at being so distracted and do our best to remain attentive to God, these painful distractions, far from causing harm, will become the instrument of our purification and an occasion of supernatural merit.