Chapter 2. Mental Prayer is Indispensable in Order to Attain Perfection
All the Saints have become Saints by mental prayer. Mental prayer is the blessed furnace in which souls are inflamed with the Divine love. "In my meditation," says David, "a fire shall flame out." [Ps. 38: 4] St. Vincent of Paul used to say that it would be a miracle if a sinner who attends the sermons in the mission, or in the spiritual exercises, were not converted. Now, he who preaches, and speaks in the exercises, is only a man; but it is God Himself that speaks to the soul in meditation. "I will lead her into the wilderness; and I will speak to her heart." [Osee 2: 14] St. Catherine of Bologna used to say, "He who does not practice mental prayer deprives himself of the bond that unites the soul with God; hence, finding her alone, the devil will easily make her his own." "How," she would say, "can I conceive that the love of God is found in the soul that cares but little to treat with God in prayer?"
Where, but in meditation, have the Saints been inflamed with Divine love? By means of mental prayer, St. Peter of Alcantara was inflamed to such a degree that in order to cool himself, he ran into a frozen pool, and the frozen water began to boil like water in a caldron placed on the fire. In mental prayer, St. Philip Neri became inflamed, and trembled so that he shook the entire room. In mental prayer, St. Aloysius Gonzaga was so inflamed with Divine ardor that his very face appeared to be on fire, and his heart beat as strongly as if it wished to fly from the body.
St. Laurence Justinian says: "By the efficacy of mental prayer, temptation is banished, sadness is driven away, lost virtue is restored, fervor which has grown cold is excited, and the lovely flame of Divine love is augmented." Hence, St. Aloysius Gonzaga has justly said that he who does not make much mental prayer will never attain a high degree of perfection.
A man of prayer, says David, is like a tree planted near the current of waters, which brings forth fruit in due time; all his actions prosper before God. "Blessed is the man . . . who shall meditate on his law day and night! And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit in due season, and his leaf shall not fall off: and all whatsoever he shall do shall prosper." [Ps. 1: 3] Mark the words "in due season;" that is, at the time when he ought to bear such a pain, such an affront, etc.
St. John Chrysostom compared mental prayer to a fountain in the middle of a garden. Oh! what an abundance of flowers and verdant plants do we see in the garden which is always refreshed with water from the fountain! Such, precisely is the soul that practices mental prayer: you will see, that it always advances in good desires, and that it always brings forth more abundant fruits of virtue. Whence does the soul receive so many blessings? From meditation, by which it is continually irrigated. "Thy plants are a paradise of pomegranates with the fruits of the orchard . . . The fountain of gardens, the well of living waters, which run with a strong stream from Ubanus." [Cant. 4: 13] But let the fountain cease to water the garden, and, behold, the flowers, plants, and all instantly wither away; and why? Because the water has failed. You will see that as long as such a person makes mental prayer, he is modest, humble, devout, and mortified in all things. But let him omit meditation, and you will instantly find him wanting in modesty of the eyes, proud, resenting every word, indevout, no longer frequenting the Sacraments and the church; you will find him attached to vanity, to useless conversations, to pastimes, and to earthly pleasures; and why? The water has failed, and, therefore, fervor has ceased. "My soul is as earth without water unto thee. . . . My spirit hath fainted away." [Ps. 142: 6] The soul has neglected mental prayer, the garden is therefore dried up, and the miserable soul does from bad to worse. When a soul abandons meditation, St. Chrysostom regards it not only as sick, but as dead. "He," says the holy Doctor, "who prays not to God, nor desires to enjoy assiduously His Divine conversation, is dead. . . . The death of a soul is not to be prostrated before God."
The same Father says that mental prayer is the root of the fruitful vine. And St. John Climacus writes, that prayer is a bulwark against the assault of afflictions, the spring of virtues, the procurer of graces." Rufinus asserts, that all the spiritual progress of the soul flows from mental prayer. And Gerson goes so far as to say that he who neglects meditation cannot, without a miracle, lead the life of a Christian. Speaking of mental prayer, Jeremias says, "He shall sit solitary, and hold his peace; because he hath taken it up upon himself." [Lam. 3: 28] That is, a soul cannot have a relish for God, unless it withdraws from creatures, and sits, that is, stops to contemplate the goodness, the love, the amiableness of God. But when solitary and recollected in meditation -----that is, when it takes away its thoughts from the world-----it is then raised above itself; and departs from prayer very different from what it was when it began it.
St. Ignatius of Loyola used to say that mental prayer is the short way to attain perfection. In a word, he who advances most in meditation makes the greatest progress in perfection. In mental prayer the soul is filled with holy thoughts, with holy affections, desires, and holy resolutions, and with love for God. There man sacrifices his passions, his appetites, his earthly attachments, and all the interests of self-love. Moreover, by praying for them, in mental prayer, we can save many sinners, as was done by St. Teresa, St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and is done by all souls enamored of God, who never omit, in their meditations, to recommend to Him all infidels, heretics, and all poor sinners, begging Him also to give zeal to priests who work in His vineyard, that they may convert His enemies. In mental prayer we can also by the sole desire of performing them, gain the merit of many good works which we do not perform. For, as the Lord punishes bad desires, so, on the other hand, he rewards all our good desires.
My Jesus, Thou has loved me in the midst of pains; and in the midst of sufferings, I wish to love Thee. Thou has spared nothing, Thou hast even given Thy blood and Thy life, in order to gain my love; and shall I continue, as hitherto, to be reserved in loving Thee? No, my Redeemer, it shall not be so: the ingratitude with which I have hitherto treated Thee is sufficient. To Thee I consecrate my whole heart. Thou alone dost deserve all my love. Thee alone do I wish to love. My God, since Thou wishest me to be entirely Thine, give me strength to serve Thee as Thou deservest, during the remainder of my life. Pardon my tepidity and my past infidelities. How often have I omitted mental prayer, ain order to indulge my caprice! Alas! how often, when it was in my power to remain with Thee in order to please Thee, have I remained with creatures, so as to offend Thee! Oh, that so many lost years would return! But, since they will not return, the remaining days of my life must be entirely Thine, a my beloved Lord! I love Thee, a my Jesus! I love Thee, O my Sovereign Good! Thou art and shall be forever the only love of my soul. O Mother of fair love, O Mary! Obtain for me the grace to love thy Son, and to spend the remainder of my life in His love. Thou dost obtain from Jesus whatsoever thou wishest. Though thy prayer I hope for this gift.