Fr. Jacques Philippe uses this image of School to help us see the need to know that we are still tiny infants in truly understanding God and His Infinite Love for us, and that we must acquire by Grace through experiential knowledge each and every day for the rest of our life a glimpse into the Divine Mind and Heart where Love dwells. We have previously learned one of the most important principles of Life: God will not give Himself completely to us until we give ourselves completely to Him! So, we must persist in our commitment to daily, intimate prayer. Now, let us address the key practical aspects: how do we best accomplish this time set aside for God in love? What do I actually do? How do I best pray? What methods should I use?
Here we come to the crux of the issue and Father Jacques offers the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit: “Each person’s relationship with God is unique, and therefore each person’s prayer is unique. No one can map out a path or method that applies to everyone, because that would mean is regarding people’s freedom and the diversity of their spiritual journeys (and where they are right now in that journey). It is up to each believer to discover, in response to the Spirit’s movement…the path along which God wishes to lead him or her. Second, the life of prayer is subject to development and goes through stages. What applies at a certain point in our spiritual life does not apply at another point. The right way of proceeding in mental prayer can be very different depending on whether someone is at the beginning of the way or (if) our Lord has already begun to introduce that individual to certain specific states, that Sr. Teresa of Avila would call ‘dwellings’… Third, what is experienced in mental prayer is difficult to describe. Often the person experiencing it has no clear consciousness of it…Words are often lacking to express what happens between the soul and God.”
After making these important qualifications and setting the stage that mental prayer can be very different for each person, Father Jacques teaches us that there are certain unifying principles about our disposition…how we approach it with our attitude and our desire. In other words, it is very important to come to correctly think about it regularly as a habit of our mind through God’s Grace. The first and most important principle is to recognize that ultimately this time with God is to be spent in Love with Him. St. Teresa of Avila has described (or defined) mental prayer as: “an intimate commerce (or activity) of friendship where one often goes to speak alone with God, by whom one knows oneself to be loved.” Father Jacques then elaborates: “Two people who love each other deeply don’t usually have many problems about how to spend time together. Sometimes just being together is enough–they don’t need to do anything else!
“But often, alas, our love for God is very weak, and we don’t reach that level (for some time)”. We then must learn all the ways we can spend time together in love from those saints who have trod these same roads before us. This is why most of us must start with meditation, where we take some spiritual material, especially the Gospels, and after asking first for guidance from the Holy Spirit through our Mother Mary and in her name and under her mantle (who best pondered the words of God in her heart!), we read slowly and ponder on the lesson or lessons involved in the material and then seek to apply it to our own spiritual life. We then apply our emotions and our feelings and express our love for God based upon what we have pondered. We next thank God and petition Him for what He knows we most need. We finish with a resolution on applying what we have learned and sensed from our pondering in love. As St. Frances de Sales teaches: we should seek to capture a word or phrase from what we have read and pondered, and like someone relishing a beautiful flower and its smell, seek to keep the meditation in our mind throughout the day by recalling the thought or phrase, just as someone will go back and smell a flower again to recapture its sweet fragrance throughout the day.
It is essential to get a good book to help guide your Meditation, at least initially in the Journey. There are three which I can recommend due to some experience with them. Perhaps some of you have others you can recommend. The first is “Divine Intimacy” by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene (my personal favorite due to also teaching the entire spiritual life). The second is “The Better Part” by Father John Bartunek, which is also outstanding. The third is “In Conversation with God”, which I used very, very briefly a few years ago. We also produce a daily Meditation at www.flameoflove.us where you can sign up to receive each morning the daily Scripture reading with a thorough meditation framework. In addition to “Time for God” by Fr. Jacques Philippe, I can also recommend a great book on Meditation by Fr. Timothy Gallagher entitled “Meditation and Contemplation”, which takes the approach of St. Ignatius from the Spiritual Exercises.