Consider first, that the time of Lent is not only a time for fasting and
giving alms, but is also in a particular manner a time of devotion and prayer.
Fasting, alms, and prayer, are three sisters, which ought to go hand in hand,
and with united forces, to offer a holy violence to heaven, which is not to be
taken but by violence. If, then, prayer be at all times necessary, if it be the
very life of a Christian soul, it is certainly a most indispensable fact of our
duty at this holy time. But what is prayer? It is a conversation with God; it is
a raising up of the mind and of the heart to God; it is an address of the soul
to God, in which we present him with our homage, our adoration, praise, and
thanksgiving: we exercise ourselves in his presence in acts of faith, hope, and
love, and we lay before him all our necessities, and those of the whole world,
begging mercy, grace, and salvation at his hands. O my soul, how happy it is!
how glorious, how pleasant to entertain oneself thus with thy God! Is it not in
some measure anticipating the joys of heaven? For what is heaven but to be with God?
Consider 2ndly, more in particular the most excellent advantages the soul enjoys by the means of prayer. It gives her a free access whensoever she pleases to come before the throne of his divine majesty, and to make her addresses to him - any hour of the day or night - with a positive assurance from him of meeting with a favourable audience; it admits her as often as she pleases into his private closet, where she may find him all alone, and treat with him with all freedom as long as she will; and she may be assured he will never be wearied with her importunity, nor shut the door against her. Will any prince of the earth allow any thing like this even to his greatest favourite? O Christian soul, what an honour is this! And why art not thou more ambitious of it?
Consider 3rdly, how delightful prayer is to the soul that truly loveth God. The true lover finds the greatest pleasure in thinking of and speaking with the object of his love. If then, the soul truly love God, nothing will be more sweet to her than this heavenly intercourse and conversation with her sovereign good. The Saints have found it so when they have passed whole nights in prayer, and thought the time very short through the delight they found in the company of their beloved. O my soul, if thou find no such delight in prayer, see if it be not for want of love.
Conclude to embrace this heavenly exercise of prayer at all opportunities. Here is to be found thy greatest honour, interest, and pleasure, and, in a word, thy whole happiness both for time and eternity.
Consider first, that all Christians are indispensably obliged to pray, because it is an homage and worship we owe to God. He is our first beginning and our last end; he is the inexhaustible source of all our good; therefore he justly expects we should daily worship him, and daily acknowledge our total dependence on him, by a diligent application to him by prayer. We are all bound by our creation and redemption frequently to present ourselves before the throne of God with acts of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving; we are all bound to honour him by frequent acts of faith, hope, and love; and it is in prayer, and
by prayer, we perform these duties: they are all neglected if prayer be neglected. It was appointed in the divine law that twice every day, viz., morning and evening, an unspotted lamb should
be offered in sacrifice, in the temple of God, as a daily worship he expected from his people; and shall not the children of the new law be equally obliged, twice a day at least, to offer up their homage of prayer in the temple of their hearts? Daniel chose rather to be cast into the den of the lions than not worship his God by prayer three times a-day. And shall not this convince Christians of the strict necessity of this
Consider 2ndly, the necessity of prayer, inasmuch as it is by divine appointment the channel through which the graces and blessings of God are to flow into our souls. We can do nothing towards our salvation without the grace of God; but with his grace we can do all things. Now, prayer is the great means of procuring and obtaining this all-necessary grace; 'Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.' O how often is this repeated and inculcated in holy writ! How much are we there pressed to be earnest and fervent in prayer! Does our God then stand in need of us or our prayers? No, certainly. He stands not in need of us, but we continually stand in need of him; and therefore out of love to us, he is so often pressing us to pray, because he sees that without frequent and fervent prayer we must be for ever miserable. Blessed be his name for this his infinite charity.
Consider 3rdly, the necessity of prayer, from the warfare in which we are engaged the whole time of our mortal pilgrimage, with three most desperate enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are surrounded with dangers on all sides, and with dangers that threaten us with nothing less than the loss of God, and a miserable eternity. We walk in the midst of snares; our way is beset with robbers and murderers; we breathe a pestilential air; we live in a world that is very wicked; in the midst of worldlings, a deluded people who are strangers to the Gospel, who by word and work encourage sin, and seek to drag us along with them into the broad road of perdition. We carry about with us a load of flesh, which weighs down the poor soul, and tyrannizes over her with its passions and lusts; these hold a correspondence with the third enemy the devil, and are ever ready to betray us to him, to make us his companions in never-ending woe. We have whole legions of his wicked angels to fight against, crafty and malicious spirits, bent upon sparing no pains to destroy us. And what shall we do? Or what can we do to escape all these dangers, and overcome all these enemies? We must watch arid pray; and God will watch over us, and give us the victory over them all. Prayer will engage God on our side, and all our enemies shall fall before us; for if God is with us, it is no matter who is against us.
Conclude to have recourse to prayer in all dangers and temptations; and since our whole life is full of dangers and temptations, let us make our whole life, as much as possible, a life of prayer.
Consider first, that the most essential condition to make our prayer either acceptable to God, or beneficial to ourselves, is a serious attention; it deserves not the name of prayer without it. To pray with wilful distraction is a mockery; it is affronting the divine majesty. 'This people,' saith he, 'honoureth me with their lips but their hearts are far from me,' Isais. xxix. 13. See, my soul, if this he not too often thy case? And if so, seek a speedy remedy for so great an evil. There needs no greater to sink thee into the very depth of all misery for time and eternity. For as he cannot fail to live well, who has found the way to pray well; so he that prays ill must not expect to live well, or die well.
Consider 2ndly, that in order to pray well, our heart and mind must go always along with what we are about, or, which is the best attention of all, and most conducing to bring us to the love of God, our thoughts must then he fixed in God; not considered as abroad, but as within our own souls; not as represented by corporeal images, but as the being of all beings, the eternal, incomprehensible, infinite truth. But that we may be better able to keep this attention in the time of prayer, we must hearken to the admonition of the wise man. 'Before prayer prepare thy soul, and be not like a man that tempteth God.' This preparing the soul for prayer consists in discharging beforehand, as much as possible, all foreign thoughts; restraining even at other times all the rovings of the imagination, and vain amusements; untying the heart from its disorderly affections, and beginning by a serious recollection of the soul in the presence of God, and an earnest address to him, to teach us and help us to pray as we ought.
Consider 3rdly, that if, after taking these precautions, we still find ourselves hurried away with a multitude of distractions in the time of prayer, we must not be discouraged. For as long as our will has no share in these distractions, they will not be imputed to us; nor hinder the fruit of our prayers. ‘Tis the heart, ‘tis the will that God regards; our care must be to keep this right; to set out at first with a good heart, and a will to seek our heavenly Father, and not to retract this by any wilful turning aside from him, and we may be assured that he that seeks and sees the heart, will not be offended at the involuntary wanderings of the imagination, which can never separate the soul from him.
Conclude upon ever keeping a close guard upon thy mind and upon thy heart, if thou desire to pray well, and this not only at the time of prayer, but at all times. For if thou live in a constant dissipation of thought at other times, and with a heart set upon irregular affections and cheating vanities, how canst thou expect but that both thy mind and heart, in the time of prayer, will be still running after those things they are accustomed to, and which they have unhappily made their treasure instead of God.
Consider first, those words of St. James iv. 3. 'You ask and you receive not because you ask amiss.' Great promises are made in holy writ in favour of prayer; but these are to be understood, provided we ask for what we ought, and in the manner we ought. But if we are more concerned for the temporal goods of this transitory life than for the eternal welfare of our souls, and make such things as those the principal subjects of our prayers, we must not be surprised if God does not hear us. For in these cases we often know not what we ask, or we know not at least what is expedient for us, and it is a mercy of God not to grant us those things, which, if he were to grant them, might be the occasion of the loss of our souls. In our prayers we must seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and as to those other things, God will give us them as far as he sees expedient for us. And if at any time we pray for such things, or pray to be delivered from sufferings and crosses, we must ever pray with submission and conformity to the will of God; if it be his will, and if he sees it expedient, and not otherwise. 'Not my will, but thy will be done.'
Consider 2ndly, that we must not only pray for such things as are truly good, as being agreeable to God’s holy will, and conducing to our true and everlasting welfare, but we must also pray in a proper manner, that is, with a pure intention, and with a lively faith and confidence in God. Great promises are made in Scripture to prayer, but it is to prayer made with faith and confidence in God. The honour of his divine majesty is engaged to stand by those that pray with a strong belief; and trust in him. But as for him that prayeth 'wavering in faith, let him not think that he shall receive anything from the Lord,' James i. 6. If, then, we would pray to the purpose, we must come before God with a lively sense of his boundless power, goodness, and mercy; with a conviction of his being ever faithful to his promises, and that his divine truth cannot fail. And we must not trust in the least in ourselves, nor ground ourselves upon any merits of our own, but put an entire confidence in God, who is more desirous to give us his grace than we are to ask it, and we shall quickly experience how ready he will be to show us mercy, and to hear our prayers. So true it is that no one ever trusted in him and was confounded.
Consider 3rdly, that in order to obtain our requests, we must take care to present them in the name of Jesus Christ, and through the merit of his death and passion. What we ask of God is mercy, grace, and salvation; now, our faith assures us there is no means of coming at mercy, grace, or salvation, but through Jesus Christ. 'No one can come to the Father but by him,' St. John xiv. 6. 'Whatsoever we shall ask the Father in his name, shall be given to us,' chap. xvi. 23, 24. But 'there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.' Acts iv. 12. Here then is the great ground of that faith and confidence with which we draw near to God, and address our prayers to him. The Son of God has died for us; he has made over to us the merits of his death and passion; he has purchased for us those graces which we pray for; his blood continually pleads in our behalf. Through him, then, 'let us go with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid.' Heb. iv. 16.
Conclude to take the blood of Christ along with you, as often as you desire to go by prayer within the veil, into the sanctuary of God; this will open to you the way to all mercy, grace, and salvation.
Consider first, the necessity of fervour in prayer, that is to say, that we should be quite in earnest in our addresses to God. For how can we expect that God should hear or regard our supplications when we present them with so much indolence and indifference, as if we told the Almighty we did not care whether he heard us or not? Such lukewarm prayer as this, instead of drawing down his blessing upon us, will rather move him to indignation. It is doing the work of God negligently, which is a thing of the worst consequences to a Christian soul. Fervour and eagerness in prayer is recommended to us by the great example of the Son of God, 'who in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offered up his prayers and supplications;' Heb. v. 7. It is recommended by the doctrine and example of all the Saints. Not a fervour of the imagination, but of the will; not expressed by the motion of the head, or any outward gestures of the body, but consisting in the strong desires of the soul, suing with all her power for the mercy and grace of God.
Consider 2ndly, how our Lord recommends to us, St: Luke xviii. 1, 'That we should always pray, and not faint;' that is, not to be discouraged, or to give over, if we don’t immediately find the effect of our prayers; but by the example of the poor widow, whose importunity prevailed even upon a wicked judge, still continue to knock at the gate of heaven, till God is pleased to open to us, according to his merciful promise. Perseverance in prayer, and a holy importunity, were the means by which the Saints obtained such great things of God. It is well if the want of these be not the true reason why we are not favoured in the like manner. The hand of God is certainly not shortened. But alas we have not that faith, that fervour, that perseverance, which they had, who, like their Lord, sometimes passed even whole nights in prayer.
Consider 3rdly, that nothing contributes more to render our prayers effectual with God than a profound humility. A contrite and humble heart God never despises. ‘The prayer of him that humbles himself,’ saith the wise man, Ecclus. xxxv. 21, 'shall pierce the clouds - and not depart till the Most High behold.' Humility always finds admittance with God, who ever resists the proud, and gives his grace to the humble. If then, my soul, thou desire that thy prayers should find admittance, see they be ever accompanied with humility. 'I will speak to my Lord,' said holy Abraham, Gen. xviii. 27, 'whereas I am but dust and ashes.' Alas! poor soul of mine, thy whole being is a mere nothing in the sight of that great God, before whom thou presentest thyself in prayer. His majesty fills heaven and earth and both heaven and earth dwindle away just to nothing at all in his presence. But what a figure, then, do thy crimes and abominations make in his eyes and how wretched an object do they make of thee! See, then, what pressing motives thou hast to humble thyself in prayer, in consideration of thy sins, and of what thou hast deserved by them. Nothing but humble prayer can remedy all thy evils, and this will effectually do it.
Conclude ever to pray with fervour and humility, and, in order thereto, begin always thy prayer by placing thyself in the presence of God, and humbly imploring the assistance of his divine Spirit. None but he can teach thee to pray well.
Consider first, that the great advantages and excellence of prayer are chiefly found in mental prayer, that is to say, in such kind of prayer as is not confined to any form of words, but is made in the secret closet of the heart, where the soul, all alone, finds her God, and entertains herself with him. The advantages of this kind of prayer beyond that which is only vocal are that it brings us nearer to God and to his heavenly light; it employs all the powers of the soul, viz., the memory, the understanding, and the will, about him; it opens the eyes of the soul to the knowledge of God, and of ourselves; and is the true school in which we learn to despise the world and its cheating vanities, and to love God with our whole hearts. O my soul, see thou daily frequent this school of divine love.
Consider 2ndly, that the Saints, and other masters of a spiritual life, have prescribed certain rules and methods of mental prayer, with a variety of subjects, to make the practice easy. According to these rules and methods, the soul begins by placing herself in the presence of her God, and by humbly imploring his divine assistance. Then the memory represents the subject of the prayer, and the understanding is employed in considering the heavenly truths discovered therein, till the will is properly affected therewith, and stirred up to the fear and love of God, to an humble confidence in his goodness, to a sense of gratitude for his benefits, to a horror of sin, to a sincere repentance for past offences, and such like affections, which ought to be followed by good and firm resolutions of avoiding evil and doing good, and in particular, of the immediate amending such failings as one is most subject to. Such is the method of mental prayer, by way of meditation, recommended by St. Ignatius, St. Francis de Sales, and other Saints, and both very easy and beneficial to Christian souls, by its serving greatly to enlighten their understanding and to inflame their will. Give thanks, my soul, to thy God, for the lights he has communicated to his Saints to direct thee in this sovereign exercise of mental prayer; and particularly practise what they recommend, with regard to the insisting principally in thy prayer upon affections and resolutions, lest otherwise thy meditations fall short of answering the chiefest end of prayer, which is the love of God, and the amendment of thy life.
Consider 3rdly, that although this method of mental prayer be excellent, and such as ought to be followed where the soul does not find herself invited and attracted another way; yet as 'the Spirit breatheth where he will,' John iii. 8, and as we must not pretend to set bounds or give rules to him who expects to be ever acknowledged as sovereign Lord and King within our souls, and to establish his reign there by mental player, if he should be pleased to advance the soul to the more perfect prayer of contemplation, (in which she finds herself drawn nearer to God, quite alone with him, and absorbed in his love,) she must not be restrained by any of these usual forms or methods, from following that happy call, and thankfully yielding herself up a captive to divine love. For it must ever be the rule of the soul which desires to have the kingdom of God established in her interior, by way of mental prayer, to follow God in his divine attractions yet so as to take a guide along with her for fear of being imposed. upon by taking the suggestions of Satan, or of her own pride and self-love, for the motions of the Spirit of God.
Conclude to exercise thyself daily in mental prayer as the great means to bring thee to God. Let no pretext of business call thee off from this exercise; nothing can be of half so much importance to thy true welfare; ‘tis the very way to heaven. The morning is the best time for it, and half an hour at least ought to be dedicated to it.
Consider first, the great error of many Christians, who imagine the practice of mental prayer to be very difficult, and, therefore, are discouraged from undertaking this exercise by the vain apprehension of not being able to succeed in it; an error which the devil endeavours to propagate with all his power, because he fears nothing more than mental prayer, as being the direct ruin of his usurpation, and the establishment of the kingdom of God in the soul. To confute this error, and to take away this prejudice against so necessary an exercise, reflect that there is no such mystery in mental prayer as people vainly imagine; that it consists in considerations and affections, that is, in thinking and loving and this in thinking on subjects generally the most easy, and the most copious that can be, and at the same time, of the utmost importance to the soul; and in loving him whom by thinking we find to be every day the most worthy of our love. We can easily think of our other affairs, and even of every trifle that comes in our way; nay, thinking is so natural to us that we cannot help thinking of something whenever we are awake. And shall thinking be then only difficult when we are to think of matters of the utmost consequence to our everlasting welfare? Or shall loving be difficult to a soul that was made to love, and that never can find rest but in her love; and whom God by his grace is continually inviting and pressing to love him.
Consider 2ndly, that the subjects for mental prayer, which are the most necessary, are withal the most easy, such as those that are recommended by St. Teresa in her writings, and by her own practice viz., 'the true knowledge of ourselves, and what we are, both as mortals and as sinners: how much we owe to God; how much we have offended him; and how ungrateful we still are to him: what he is, and how much he loveth us, and what he hath done for us; the great humiliations and sufferings of the Son of God for our redemption from sin and Satan; the sudden vanishing of all present things, and the eternal punishments and rewards to come.' Such meditations as these are no way difficult or curious but easy for every capacity, and withal open a wide field for the soul to expatiate in; and from these it will be easy for her to pass on to a variety of pious affections, suitable to the subject of the meditation. But more especially such considerations as these serve very much for enkindling in the soul the love of God, and a desire of being grateful to him, and of never more offending him, when we reflect what he, the Lord of Glory, infinite in majesty, has done and suffered for us - such poor wretches as we are - to deliver us from such torments, which we had deserved, and to purchase for us such glory, of his own pure mercy and goodness.
Consider 3rdly, that it is also easy for the soul to practise mental prayer, and the way of familiar colloquies or entertainments with our Lord; conversing and discoursing with him, as we would do if we had him visibly present with us, as when he was here among men in this mortal life; treating with him as with a parent, a friend, a benefactor; as with our high priest, our advocate, our physician, our director, our brother, our spouse, our head, our Redeemer, &c.; sometimes humbling ourselves before him, confessing and begging pardon for our many disloyalties; at other times representing to him our many infirmities; reminding him of his promises, thanking him for his great patience towards us; condoling with him in his sufferings, and the daily affronts he receives from obstinate sinners promising a new life for the future; offering all that we have, and our whole being to him; petitioning him for our many spiritual wants and necessities, &c. for, 'since we never want words,' said St. Teresa, 'to talk with other persons, why should we to speak with God?' And surely none can want matter to converse and discourse about with him, but such as think they owe nothing to him, and neither here nor hereafter desire or expect any thing from him.
Conclude to let no apprehensions of difficulties discourage thee from the daily practice of mental prayer. The grace of God will make it easy to thee, if thou continue resolute in using thy best endeavours. Be not frightened if thou meet with nothing at first but dryness and distractions; let thy will be good and these will not hurt thee - God, in his good time, will let the light of his countenance shine upon thee. By perseverance in this exercise, thou wilt at length dig out a treasure, which will abundantly recompense whatever labour thou hast taken in digging.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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