As we have discussed, daily, intimate prayer is necessary…one could say it is the critically important foundation…in order to grow closer to God…to journey the path to the transforming union God so desires with us. Virtually all of us must start out on the path of using the Gospels or related works on the life of Christ and His Mother (like the “City of God” by Venerable Mary of Agreda) for our prayer. The beginning path is termed meditation, where the framework has been passed down by the great saints who previously traveled this path with God’s help and guidance, since all is Grace! One of the most respected and well developed frameworks is that of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The other one designed for lay people is by St. Frances de Sales, although they are very similar! We will focus for now on the framework of St. Ignatius.
St. Ignatius proposes using the Gospels to both reflect (by using our powers of reason to ponder on the virtues, example, and lessons from the life of Christ) and to further use our imagination and feelings to allow us to intimately express our desire to love and enter into a deep and profound relationship with the Trinity through the humanity of Jesus Christ. Ignatius teaches us how to place ourselves into the stories and events of the actual life of Christ on earth in order to see, hear, observe and feel what God wants us to experience with our senses and affections in this intimate, personal relationship where He becomes all for us and we actually “put on the mind of Christ” with St. Paul.
The framework begins by consciously placing oneself in the presence of God, who is within us. We use our Virtue of Faith to truly know He is there to speak to our heart and mind, because of His infinite Love for us! We next pray a preparatory prayer by offering all of ourselves, every desire, thought, word and action to God that His Will be perfectly done in us both at this moment of prayer and at every moment of our life. I then review the Scripture or the reading on the life of Christ. I use my imagination to enter the scene (or to be close with God in conversation and love if there is no scene to enter). I ask of God what I specifically seek or desire from this encounter, if I feel so drawn; or that He draw me closer to Him each moment in His Love if I have no immediate request.
We then enter the body or substance of the material we read in order to do three things:
1. To call to mind the truth of the point or message we read from the material.
2. To ponder over it and reflect on it with love…what is it saying to me!
3. To embrace the point or message with love…to resolve to internalize it and live it daily!
The final part is to allow our feelings to freely express how God moves us to respond to Him in His Love by speaking to Him with our heartfelt emotions and sentiments…to admit and to share with Him our nothingness and inclination to sin, but also our desire to know and love Him better than we now do. So, that with and by His Grace, we may truly imitate Him as His Mother did! It is in the daily journey of formal, intimate prayer, the ongoing prayer of Love in the duty of the present moment and the perseverance to get back up each and every time we fail, because we WILL fail often, that we receive the Grace to change our mind and hearts and we do actually move closer to Him and His virtues through the power of the Holy Spirit! The more we truly humble ourselves, and recognize our complete nothingness and inability as St. Therese did, the more we rely completely on Him working within us, the more powerful and more rapid is the Grace given to transform ourselves into Him through our friendship with the Holy Spirit, His own Spirit and the Spirit of the Father given to us…yes to the littlest ones!
Once we gain experience with reflecting and pondering, then St. Ignatius teaches us to use our imagination to enter the scene (assuming there is a scene to enter from our reading material). Now the three steps for the framework become:
1. I see the persons
2. I hear the words they speak.
3. I observe their movements and actions.
This exercise of our imagination can produce great fruit in the growth of our daily, intimate relationship. We will often find that we go back and forth between the reasoning or intellectual approach and the imagination approach. There is complete freedom to do so based upon your personality and traits, which God has given to you. The one requirement is that you ask God to produce the maximum fruit He desires for you, by leading you to pray as He wills for you within this overall framework. The final act is to pray the Our Father and to thank God with His own Will for drawing you closer to Him and to ask for the Grace to persevere and grow in Love through daily, intimate prayer for the rest of your life! Take a thought or word with you to repeat throughout the day to remind you of His Love and your daily response in the present moment.
One of the best tools to learn this framework and see many examples of ordinary lay people develop and persevere in this prayer of meditation is the work by Father Timothy Gallagher entitled, “Meditation and Contemplation: an Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture”. May our Mother and the extraordinary Grace of the Flame of Love of her Immaculate Heart be poured upon you, so you may desire to enter into this daily intimacy with her Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so you may ponder all these things for all eternity in her Immaculate Heart and the Heart of her Son as they beat together in Love for you…yes for you… as if you were the only child of God!