Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Spiritual Life: An Exchange

My post about how a rule of prayer may assist in the spiritual life has given rise to further discussion; I have excerpted and edited the following, hoping that this may be helpful to other readers also:

From a correspondent:
My problem has always been trying to live a spiritual life and my agonies over the [respective benefits of the] Ignatian/Carmelite meditation style as against the prayer of the Divine Office and trying to live out one or the other. …
Good people and saints seem to divide between the psychological feats of Ignatian meditation and the simple recitation of the Office…

… on the division between meditation and the liturgical life: briefly, I am hopeless at the former and far prefer the latter.  I admire meditation, but Vespers is… more my cup of tea.  That is why I may attend Mass at the local Carmel, but read my own Breviary there, rather than meditate as do the nuns.

[I recall also the words of Fr Faber, in the notes of his about St Philip Neri which I posted long ago, to the effect that there are two schools of spirituality, the school of captivity and the school of liberty – the former I tend to equate with rigorously enforced methods of meditation (such as that of St Ignatius); the latter, with the older tradition centred on liturgical prayer, which ought naturally inflame the mind and heart to rise upwards (so I consider the Sacred Liturgy a school of Christian liberty).]

A correspondent:
My problem is that, for me, meditation seems too self centred and too much of me, me, me and mine and the focus seems always to be on me and my spiritual life. 
[In contrast, the] Sacred Liturgy lifts us up and pushes us towards and into God's Glory Bright.  We join the saints, angels and the powers around the throne and what can be better?  Surely better than going on about me, my sins, my weaknesses and my ideas… that's how it strikes me and yet most traditional Catholics will tell you: Divine Intimacy (published by TAN) and The Exercises (as if there was nothing except St Ignatius).

I second your thoughts regarding Ignatian meditation versus the liturgy...

But, when you immediately speak of the Sacred Liturgy uplifting us to God, then you reveal just as immediately that the Liturgy accomplishes the right orientation of your mind, in the very way that counter-reformation meditative practices at their best try to achieve: for mental prayer is nothing other than "lifting heart and hands to God in heaven".

St Teresa of Avila wrote of a nun who could only repeat the Lord's Prayer, and thought herself entirely useless at prayer beyond that – but shrewd St Teresa descried that this nun in fact was lifted to the heights simply by saying the Our Father, and was far more advanced in prayer than many an earnest meditating sister.

If I may be so bold as to say, I find in the Breviary and Mass that in saying the one and joining in the other I am lifted up (a very few micrometres above earth!) - so for me, the best meditation is to join in the liturgy.  I suspect it may be similar for you. 

All unawares we are "meditating", and guided in such by the Prayer of the Church, which is far more efficacious by its very nature than any private devotion.

My schooling in spirituality was in a Dominican sensibility, which rightly fears too much Jesuitical busy-ness (though I have done the Thirty Days' Retreat): so, while the Exercises and that Carmelite work are all delightful and most beneficial to many, they are not so to me.

Just so St Philip Neri simply said his Mass and Breviary (raised to the heights all the while) and never practised Ignatian meditation (though he was a friend of St Ignatius), because the Holy Ghost gave contemplation to him "direct" - to the extent that his Mass took three hours, and he had to read his Office with others lest he simply float away.

I am no St Philip, but I do feel a strong affinity to him and his school, which was at once very 16th C. and yet of the primitive Church of the first ages.  After all, if Mass and the Psalms will not carry us up to God in prayer, what on earth will?

… don't feel bad about "not meditating" - I would argue that in your prayer you probably already are, since it directs you so toward God in heaven.

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