CHAPTER EIGHT

SEEKING CHRIST IN PRAYER

Our examination of the supernatural life that is given to every soul at baptism has reached a point where we shall have to consider in more detail what is the program to be followed by one who wishes to live that life. We saw that in baptism an intimate union is established between God and the soul of the baptized person. God gives the newly made Christian a participation in His own nature; He pours into his soul the infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity and makes him a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. The fundamental duty of the Christian is to love God with all his heart and to love his neighbor for God. The general outline of the policy that such a Christian should adopt is, as we saw, an attitude of humility and the practice of conformity to the will of God, in faith, hope, and charity.

We now have to consider how that policy is to be carried out, and the question immediately arises, for whom are we writing this book? To whom do its principles apply? The answer is that all that has been written up to the present point applies to every soul who has been baptized, and our intention in applying these principles is to apply them even to those in the lay state, just as much as to priests and religious. And if there be any particular type of lay person whom we have in mind, it is those whose condition has already been determined either by circumstances or by their choice, and especially those who are married or who intend to get married. But we exclude no baptized person who is willing to avoid mortal sin. It does not matter what is his or her age, condition, or education, or what has been his or her history; it does not matter what sins he or she may have committed in the past, or what opportunities he or she may have neglected, or what graces he or she may have refused; as long as it is a case of a baptized person who is willing to try to avoid mortal sin, all the doctrine we have outlined can be applied to his or her case.

The reason why that is so certain is because of the name given to the Son of God in the Incarnation: “And thou shall call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). And the greatest reproach the Pharisees could find against our Lord was to appeal to the already well-known characteristic: “This man receiveth sinners” (Lk 15:2). Since the spiritual life is at once a partnership with Jesus and also a search for Jesus, no one then need have any fear of being repulsed by Him; there is no one whom He will not receive. So that whether the reader is one who “kept all these things from his youth” and wishes to do better, or one who has realized that his life is one of lukewarm mediocrity, or one who perhaps has been converted from a life of serious sin, it does not matter; this book is addressed to him, and all the possibilities of the spiritual life therein discussed are open to him. All that we ask of him at the start is that he do not glory in any good he has done (or in his success in avoiding evil), that he repent of the evil he has done and of the good he has neglected, and that he be prepared to try to do better in the future, relying on the help and partnership of Jesus, His Savior.

The obvious policy from the very start is to get into touch as soon as possible and as closely as possible with our Lord. Our Lord is God’s revelation of Himself, He is God’s model for men, He is God’s teacher for men, He is the partner and the Savior of men, He is, in fact, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Still, His appeal to each man is different; it will depend upon individual temperament. Those of an affective nature will be moved rather by His kindness and love; those of the austere type may tend rather to see in Him a teacher, a leader, and a king. But He has an appeal for every man, and there is no heart that He cannot completely satisfy. There are four great ways of getting in touch with Him; prayer, the sacraments, reading, and the doing of God’s will. The latter, in fact, would include them all, but we are here thinking for the moment in terms of obedience to the commandments and the duties of one’s state in life. There is a fifth way, which needs a special place for its consideration; it is both a highway and still a shortcut; it is to go to Him through His Mother. But that way is so important that we shall leave it for separate discussion.

These four ways of searching for Him are not independent. In fact, in the development of both the practice and the knowledge of the spiritual life, one must grow in circles, so to speak—first, a small circle, which then expands and takes in new ideas or new practices, until one reaches fullness. Development on a single line may be one-sided and will generally fail, for the different parts of the true development are inter-dependent. We need knowledge to pray, we need grace to get knowledge, and we need prayer to get grace. We cannot pray sincerely unless we are sincere in doing God’s will, and we cannot do God’s will unless we pray for His grace.

One other point should be noted. We speak of searching for Christ. But we have already said that the Christian life starts by intimate union with Christ. Is there not a contradiction here? Perhaps in words there appears to be one, but the reality is not so contradictory as the appearance. Our Lord’s presence outside us does not interfere with His presence within us. And our Lord’s presence in our soul does not interfere with His growth in our soul, nor with His coming to us from outside, as it were, to enter into a more intimate union with us. In fact, we are forbidden to receive Him in Holy Communion unless He is already in our souls by grace. Besides, we are using human words for divine things, and human words are inadequate. At different times we have to adopt different figures of speech to indicate our meaning.

One way of viewing the problem is that of St. Teresa in The Interior Castle, where she pictures the soul as a castle; when a man is in sin, he is outside the castle. God is often in our soul, and we are outside ourselves—we cannot find Him in ourselves, we must look for Him elsewhere. It often happens that we cannot enter into our own selves; we have locked ourselves out and cannot find the key. Despite the apparent confusion of words, the ordinary Catholic is quite satisfied with the ideas expressed, and he knows that they do correspond to a reality. Even when he has found God in the depths of his own soul, he can still pray to God in heaven without any sense of inconsistency. We need not then imagine that we are denying what we have already said of the divine in-dwelling, when we now speak of setting out on the search for God. For whether we consider God within us or God outside us, we have still to set out from our own selves to find Him. And even when we are in union with Him, we shall see that that union can be intensified by the sharing with Him of those very acts by which we seek Him.

The first way of seeking God to be considered here is by prayer. Prayer, we are told, is an “elevation of the soul to God.” It is also described as “a familiar conversation with God,” and “the soul’s affectionate quest for God.” In a special sense, it is “the asking of seemly things from God.” In practice, we start to pray by bringing God before our mind, or more properly, by turning our mind to God. He is everywhere; and by putting aside other thoughts and adverting to His presence, we can always pray to Him. A definite effort is necessary to get rid of these other thoughts, and we need some idea of God to supplant them in our mind, or to occupy our imagination. This is one example of the connection between prayer and reading, for our reading plays a great part in building up our notion of God.

We can choose any way we find helpful of representing God to ourselves. Individual needs vary so much that nothing definite can be laid down. For some, perhaps, the mere notion of God is sufficient; others will form a very definite picture of our Lord’s humanity in some of His mysteries; others again concentrate their attention upon the tabernacle or upon a crucifix. The golden rule in this, as in all similar questions about prayer, is to pray the way one finds best. Still there are some principles that will guide us.

Prayer in one way is a very simple thing; in another, it is extremely complex. It achieves a manifold purpose, and if we keep its different ends in mind, we shall know better how to go about it. The first purpose of prayer is to discharge that duty laid upon man by the first commandment: to give God due homage. That due homage includes adoration which is an acknowledgment of God’s supreme dominion over us, and of our absolute dependence upon Him; it includes thanksgiving, for we owe everything to God’s goodness; and it includes a recognition of our own state as sinners with a sincere sorrow for our offences against God and a readiness to atone for them. There is of course no need to put all these things into words every time we pray, but there should be some time every day when we make a formal protest of them in some way. And there is no better way than the way shown to us by our Lord—by saying the Our Father. We should then, every day take up a formal attitude of prayer, preferably on our knees, and in some short form give due homage to God.

There is also another purpose in prayer, which is to obtain for ourselves certain graces that are necessary for us. Every single action of our spiritual life depends upon God for its initiation and performance; the very preservation of our life depends upon His providence, and the final success of our efforts calls for a special grace called the grace of final perseverance. Some of these graces God gives us without our asking, for our Lord is always making intercession for us, and we have a Mother in heaven who is concerned in every good that comes to us—and the first of all graces must come without our request; but there are other graces, even necessary ones, that He will not give unless we ask Him to do so. It is true that He already knows our needs, but it is not to inform Him of them that He wishes us to ask, but rather to inform ourselves of our need of Him, so that we may acknowledge Him as the source of good, and that while teaching us to have confidence in Him, He may prevent us from taking Him for granted. This then is another reason why we should fix a period of formal prayer for every day. Both these needs can be satisfied by choosing some form of prayer that appeals to us, and making daily use of it. The Our Father should certainly be part of that form; and, since we cannot do without our Lady’s assistance, the Hail Mary should also find an honored place therein. If we wish to use a prayer book, well and good; let us do whatever suits us best. The one thing that is important is to keep these fixed set of prayers short. It is better to say one Our Father sincerely than to rush through a whole Rosary without thinking of God. The prayers we decide to say every day should not be long enough to become a burden to us; otherwise it is very likely that we shall often say them badly, and that sooner or later we shall dispense ourselves from saying them at all. Further, prayer is so essential to our spiritual life that we should never let it be associated with the idea of a burden. In any case it is not for “much speaking” that we shall be heard, but rather for the dispositions of our heart.

What are these dispositions? The one condition our Lord attached to the promises He made with regard to prayer was that we should pray in His name. In other words we should pray in partnership with Him, and for the benefit of His Mystical Body. United to Him, we have His infinite merits at our disposal to put before God; united to Him we can say to God: “This is Thy well-beloved Son in whom Thou art well-pleased: Hear Him!” The dispositions then for prayer are the dispositions for healthy membership of Christ; faith, hope, charity, humility, and submission to God’s will. It is true that even the sinner can pray, and should pray; even he, too, must pray through Jesus Christ, relying upon His infinite merits to make his prayer heard before the throne of God; but if he has not these dispositions in actual fact, he should at least have them in desire.

Obviously a man must believe in God’s existence and in His willingness to take notice of us; this is implied in the very act of turning to God. Our request springs from the hope we have of being heard. Charity must be added to our prayer, at least in desire; for if we are in the state of mortal sin and have not some desire of being reconciled to God, we are really in rebellion against Him. Fraternal charity is also necessary for prayer, for we remember how our Lord insisted that even the man offering his gift at the altar should first go and be reconciled with the neighbor who had something against him, and come to offer his gift.[41] This may surprise us, but if we remember that fraternal charity is necessary for living membership of Christ, we shall see why such charity is necessary if we are to pray in the name of Jesus. It is only when we are united to the rest of His members by charity that we truly can pray in His name. The need for humility is illustrated in the parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble Publican; and God Himself warns us that He resists the proud and giveth His grace to the humble. That we should be willing to submit to God’s will is necessary; to refuse to do so is to refuse to acknowledge Him as God; it is to separate ourselves from Christ, who Himself has given us a classical example in His prayer in Gethsemani: “My Father, if it be possible let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt 26:39).

Dispositions such as these come first of all from God’s grace, and therefore they must be sought in prayer. They are also developed by reading and reflection—which gives us another reason for avoiding long prayers, for where there is much speaking there is little thinking. If one were to start, say, with a decade of the Rosary or some prayers of equal length every morning and evening, that would seem sufficient as far as formal prayer is concerned. If there are prayers in a book with a special appeal it is better to say one or two each time, or repeat the same one for a week, than to burden ourselves with the whole collection each night. If our facility in prayer increases we can always extend our program, but it is always better to be too short than too long. We have a long road before us, and the important thing is to persevere to the end. Moreover, one of the reasons why such insistence is placed upon not making prayer a burden is that then there is much more likelihood that informal prayer will rise spontaneously to our lips during odd moments of the day; and that sort of prayer is very necessary also. In any case “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver”; and it is far better to give Him one minute cheerfully than ten minutes under duress.

There are two sorts of prayer which are of importance: one in which we use a set formula and endeavor to conform our minds to its meaning; the other in which we pray in our own words, trying to express sentiments that have already been produced in our heart. There should be something of both forms in our daily prayers. The first form is necessary because there are necessary sentiments that will not arise spontaneously; they must be acquired by use of a formula or by reading. Further, if we had to face the effort to improvise every time we tried to pray, we would soon dread praying. The second form is no less necessary because it is an excellent form of keeping in touch with our Lord, and that sums up the whole spiritual life.

It is true that we are in union with our Lord in any prayer; in fact, some such dependence upon Him is a part of all prayer. But the growth of our spiritual life depends upon the development of friendship and intimacy with Him so that we can share all our actions with Him. If we always have to be on formal terms with Him, the growth may not be so easy. We should therefore frequently turn to Him and talk to Him in our own words about anything of mutual interest. That is a pretty wide range of reference. Yet since our life is only fully Christian when it is completely shared with Him, those terms of reference are not too wide. Now such a form of prayer can vary very much. It may use some well-known formula which serves to unite us to Him; many people, for example, say decades of the Rosary as they go about the streets and places of their daily work. It may merely consist of occasional aspirations. These aspirations should be sincere. There are many aspirations to which an indulgence is attached. This may lead us to feel that we should repeat them every time we think of saying them. On that account one wonders whether it would not be more prudent to put some limit to such repetition—or even whether it should be allowed at all. Because once we feel that burden of an indefinite obligation to repeat them, we shall soon find that we are very slow and unwilling to think of saying these prayers even once. “A little and often,” is a good maxim. In any case, we can be in our Lord’s company without saying anything to Him, and such a form of union with Him is in itself an excellent prayer and one which should not be disturbed by any attempt to say “prayers”—unless those prayers are of obligation. There should be complete liberty of spirit in this, as in all matters that are not of obligation. Otherwise there will be no true growth in the spiritual life.

There is really no occupation except sin, which is incompatible with such spontaneous prayer. Obviously there must be some prayers in the day to which we give our whole mind and lay everything else aside, but God forbid that any one should feel bound to limit his prayers to those said on one’s knees. Perhaps the point can be illustrated by reference to the story of the two men who were in the habit of saying some prayers on their way home from work. The question whether they could smoke while doing so arose, and they decided to seek advice from their directors. One man was severely reprimanded for thinking of smoking while praying; the other man found a different type of director, who said that although smoking while praying was open to objection, still, one could hardly object to a man praying while he was smoking! The story is only a story, but it may draw attention to the fact that there is a difference between formal prayer and informal prayer, and that while the former demands suitable circumstances, the latter may be used anywhere. The point about smoking is that if it is not a sin, it can certainly be shared with God, and if so, there is no reason why we should not talk to Him while enjoying one of the creatures He has made for our recreation and refreshment. The whole question of pleasure and recreation needs further discussion; here it need only be said that pleasure has its proper place in the spiritual life, and—in its proper place—is no obstacle to close union with God.

There is then a prayer for all times, and there is certainly a time for prayer that is natural and unstudied—when we speak to God in terms very similar to those in which we speak to our friends. We have to learn to be at our ease with God, and to realize that there is no need to keep on saying something to Him. It must be admitted, however, that there is a very close connection between such silent prayer and the purity of our conscience. It is not generally possible to be at our ease with God if we have a deliberate intention of indulging in habitual sin. But repented sin is no obstacle to such friendship, nor are those sins into which we suddenly fall through frailty. The very act of sorrow for them affords an opening for a new conversation with God, and since He is our Savior, we need never be afraid to show Him our sins and our weakness.

A number of people experience a need of saying some longer prayers during the day, for example the Rosary, the Little office, some of the Psalms, or some such prayers. Prudence is necessary in the choice and the measure of such practices; but undoubtedly there are many cases where prudence not only allows, but actually calls for, quite long prayers of this type. In prayers like the Rosary, the constant repetition makes it impossible to follow the meaning of each word; in prayers like the Divine office the multitude of ideas therein expressed in too swift a sequence for any mind to adapt itself to each idea and still finish the office in a reasonable time. In such cases the mental attitude may be somewhat different. One could attend, for example, to God, to whom one prays, rather than to the prayers one says to God, and be quite confident that these prayers—for example, the Psalms—are pleasing to Him by reason of their origin, or of the authority who gave them to us. In the Hail Mary, for example, one might have a general remembrance of the fact that the opening words are those in which God, through the angel, made to Mary the most wonderful proposal that ever came to any human being. Surely, they have a meaning for Mary that is beyond our comprehension! We can be quite certain that they are very pleasing to her.

As an alternative, one may take the view that these prayers are being said in the name of the Church and that their meaning applies to the incalculable needs of her members, of which needs we may be in ignorance. Such an attitude applies especially to the Divine office when said by those who have been officially appointed to recite it in the name of the Church. But it applies in some degree to all prayer, for we are all members of Christ, and we all pray in His name. The meaning of the words we use may express rather the needs and sentiments of some other members of Christ’s Mystical Body, and our attention then will tend more to the “whole Christ,” or to an obscure sense of partnership with Him, than to the particular words we utter.

In long prayers there is nearly always difficulty in preserving our attention and avoiding distraction. Voluntary distraction, is of course, blameworthy, especially when it means a complete turning of our mind away from God and from what we are doing. There may be partial distractions which can be included in our prayer, under the form of an act of charity, or by some necessary action; in these cases we really do not turn our hearts away from God, we only change our way of serving Him for the moment. The saints have always been noted for their readiness to break off their private prayers to serve Christ in the person of their neighbor.

Involuntary distractions are quite different. Unless they proceed from our antecedent and deliberate carelessness, such as a lack of a proper effort to fix our attention at the beginning of our prayer, there is certainly no blame attached to them. Even with the best will in the world, they cannot be avoided. Thought evokes thought, image evokes image; the very nature of our mind and imagination is such that they tend to wander. Until we advert to such wandering, there is no question of fault on our part. When we do advert to the distraction, some effort must be made to renew our attention. Sometimes one can easily get rid of the distraction; at other times, it is so persistent, that the best plan is to leave it alone and “look over its shoulder” at God. To renew our attention is not always easy, and there are times when our prayer seems to be nothing but one long series of distractions, combatted it is true, but with no sign of success. It is well to remember that such a prayer can be very pleasing to God. Each attempt to restore our attention is an “elevation of the mind” to Him made under difficulty, and therefore very pleasing to Him as a prayer—whether it be successful or not as an effort to banish distraction.

It should be noted that it is not necessary to attend to every word we say. Even in ordinary speech we use polite formulae and only advert to their general significance. In prayer one can attend merely to the saying of the words correctly; or one can attend to the meaning of the words used; or finally one can attend to the purpose of the words used, or to the person to whom they are addressed. Thus one could be attentive to God and quite forget what one was saying to Him! Such attention is very praiseworthy, and we need never be afraid to let the Person to whom we speak distract us from the words we say to Him in ordinary prayer.

The effect of distraction on our prayer is best understood by considering the three aims of prayer. Insofar as prayer is a meritorious work, distraction does not take away its merit; for the original intention and attention are the source of the whole prayer. The same is true of our prayer considered as impetration. But prayer can also be considered insofar as it has some direct effect upon ourselves or our own dispositions. Obviously distraction can interfere with this effect.

The actual method of dealing with distractions depends to some extent upon the circumstances of our prayers. In prayers of obligation, there is a definite work to be done, and distractions when they are noticed must not be let interfere with that work. Sometimes one can use the distraction to give an intention for the prayer, sometimes one may have to struggle with it the whole time of prayer and sometimes, as we have said, one can only look over its shoulder. The important thing to remember is that, unless deliberately accepted and retained, distractions do not render our prayers useless. On the contrary they often are the occasion of very meritorious service to God.

Sometimes the source of distractions is obvious; some inordinate attachment, some inordinate worry, fatigue, the natural instability of our mind, the ordinary cares of the day’s work, our surroundings—the list is endless. Where they arise from some inordinate interest, the remedy is obvious. But whatever be their origin, one necessary measure for avoiding them is to recollect oneself completely at the beginning of prayer. If that is done generously, the whole prayer is given a value that no subsequent involuntary distraction can take away. If we are praying informally—that is, if we are “talking to God”—distractions can be dealt with by making them the subject of the conversation. After all, God made all things, and every creature, then, has at least that connection with Him, which may form a starting point for further conversation.

Before leaving the question of the more formal type of prayer, there are a few further remarks that should be made. Of the Mass as a prayer it is better to treat separately. The Divine Office is a form of prayer, which of its kind has no equal. It is, however, not practical for many of the laity. What a layman who has an attraction for such a prayer, and has sufficient leisure, might do would be to say one of the Hours daily. He could either recite, say, vespers or Compline for each day, or he could take a different part of the Office each week. The Little Office of Our Lady seems more practical for the laity and would often suit those who find that the repeated formulae of the Rosary make that prayer rather difficult. However, we again insist on the principle: better to say a little and say it well than to say much and first say it badly, and later give up, saying it at all. But in passing, let it be remarked that the Psalms are prayers that might well appeal to many lay people. They have God for their author, and there are few prayers which can be shared so intimately with our Lord. He said them Himself during His life on earth, and He will continue saying them in us and with us if we allow Him to do so.

Liturgical prayer, in the sense of assistance at the public recitation of the Divine Office, is not generally available for the laity. But there are many other forms of congregational prayer; and we have to be careful of our attitude in regard to these. Too many devout people are apt to look down on such prayers and to prefer their own private efforts at devotion rather than public devotions, on the ground that they can pray better by themselves. It is true that one may have to give up a certain feeling of “devotion” in assisting at public prayers, but the gain in doing so can be very great. Sometimes the objection arises from a loss of the self-glorification we find in such private devotion; but it is quite true that one may often find it really difficult to share in such public worship with the same fervor and recollection, and with the same apparent profit, as one has in praying alone. Nevertheless, even where that is true, let it be always remembered that Christian life is an entering into Christ’s life rather than the perfecting of one’s own life, that Christian prayer is an entering into Christ’s prayer rather than the flowering of one’s own prayer, and that in the particular case under discussion, where we have to abandon our own prayer to join in the prayers of the congregation, we are really putting on Christ. Where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in the midst of them, as He has promised, and when we join in their prayer, we are really exchanging our own poor prayer for the powerful prayer of Christ. This is, of course, specially true of all liturgical prayer. To join in the liturgy of the Church is to put on Christ in a very special manner and to offer to God a peculiarly acceptable sacrifice of praise. In all such cases we can say to God with special significance: “This is Thy beloved Son in whom Thou art well pleased—Hear Him.”

Lest it should seem that this is a pious exaggeration, we shall quote the words of St. Augustine. In connection with the passage in the Psalms which runs: “To thee have I cried from the ends of the earth” (Ps 40:3), he asks: “Who is this that cries from the ends of the earth? Who is this one man who reaches to the extremities of the universe?”;[42] and elsewhere he gives the answer: “He is one, but that one is unity. He is one, not one in a single place, but the cry of this one man comes from the remotest ends of the earth. But how can this one man cry out from the ends of the earth, unless he be one in all?”[43] In another place he explains further: “Christ’s whole body groans in pain. Until the end of the world, when pain will pass away, this man groans and cries to God. And each of us has part in the cry of that whole body. Thou didst cry out in thy day, and thy days have passed away; another took thy place and cried out in his day. Thou here, he there, and another there. The body of Christ ceases not to cry out all the day, one member replacing the other whose voice is hushed. “Thus there is but one man who reaches unto the end of time, and those who cry out are always His members.”[44]

And more emphatically:

No greater gift could God bestow on men than to give them as their Head His Word, by whom He made all things, and to unite them as members to that Head. Thus the Word became both Son of God and Son of Man; one God with the Father, one Man with men. Hence when we offer our petitions to God, let us not separate ourselves from the Son; and when the Body of the Son prays, let it not detach itself from its Head. Let it be He, the sole Savior of His Body, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who prays for us, who prays in us, and who is prayed to by us.

He prays for us as our priest; He prays in us as our head; He is prayed to by us as our God. Let us therefore hear both our words in Him and His words in us . . . We pray to Him in the form of God; He prays in the form of the slave. There He is the Creator; here He is the creature. He changes not; but takes the creature and transforms it into Himself, making one man, head and body, with Himself. We pray therefore to Him, and through Him, and in Him. We pray with Him, and He with us; we recite this prayer of the psalm in Him, and He recites it in us.[45]

Despite the value of community prayer and the need for formal prayer at regular times, there is still room and even necessity for our own private personal prayer; for those intimate talks—and even intimate silences—with Jesus which are a very important part of our spiritual life. In fact, we have only mentioned the other form of prayer in order to avoid misunderstanding, and one of our reasons for insisting on brevity in such prayers is to leave the soul free to develop this personal prayer. It is important to realize that such prayer may be quite conversational in style and even commonplace in its topics. The more formal words of the prayer books do not generally come naturally to our lips in such personal conversation, and since our object is to develop a sense of companionship with Jesus and to make ourselves at home with Him, there should be nothing forced or artificial about such prayer nor anything that would render it needlessly unattractive. In fact, it might be better not to think of it as prayer at all, but to regard it, say, as one would regard those apparently meaningless comments that men sharing a piece of work make to one another, when there is an occasional pause in the work. The important thing is to get in touch with our Lord and to keep in touch with Him; all that helps to that end is good and holy.

This view finds support in the encyclical which we have already quoted. The Holy Father, having treated of the Mystical Body of Christ and of our union with Him, still found it necessary to correct some mistaken views that might seem to be favored by this corporative doctrine. His words are worth quoting:

There are some who deny to our prayers of petition any real efficacy, or who suggest that private prayers of God are to be accounted of little value, inasmuch as it is rather the public prayers offered in the name of the Church which have real worth since they proceed from the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. This suggestion is quite untrue. For the Divine Redeemer holds in close union with Himself not only His Church, as His beloved bride, but in her also the souls of each one of the faithful, with whom He ardently desires to have intimate converse especially after they have received Holy Communion. And although public prayer, as proceeding from Mother Church herself, excels beyond any other by reason of the dignity of the bride of Christ, nevertheless all prayers, even those said in the most private way, have their dignity and their efficacy, and are also of great benefit to the whole Mystical Body; for in that Body there can be no good and virtuous deed which does not, through the communion of saints, rebound also the welfare of all. Nor is it wrong for individuals, simply because they are members of this Body, to ask special favors for themselves, even temporal favors, subject to conformity with the will of God; they are still individual persons, and still subject to their own particular needs. As for reflection on heavenly things, not only the pronouncements of the Church but also the practice and example of the Saints are a proof of the high estimation in which it must be held by all.[46]

The Holy Father then corrects the error of those who would hold that we should not address our prayers, “to the person of Jesus Christ Himself, but rather to God, or through Christ to the Heavenly Father on the ground that our Savior in His capacity as Head of His Mystical Body is to be regarded only as the Mediator of God and men.” He points out such a view is quite wrong and is opposed to Catholic practice and Catholic teaching. The importance of such private prayer to our Lord is so great that we shall have to return to the subject and consider it in connection with what is called meditation and mental prayer. Mental prayer is really nothing more than the development of such intimate conversation with God. Meditation, in the proper sense of the word, indicates thinking about God and the things of God. Before we consider these exercises, it will be better to deal with something which is a very important, if not an indispensable, preparation for them, namely, reading and reflection.

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