Sunday, December 6, 2015

Meditation: A Purifier for the Soul and a Gateway to Contemplation

Meditation: A Purifier for the Soul and a Gateway to Contemplation 

Daily devotion to meditation is necessary to advance in the spiritual life. How much time should we spend in devotion daily? That depends on one’s state in life. Saint Francis de Sales in his spiritual classic ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ tells us, “Devotion must be exercised differently for the noble, the craftsmen, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl and the wife; and not only that, but it is necessary to accommodate the practice of devotion according to the strength, the business, and the duties of each separate individual.” So we must be prudent in exercising our devotions, but we must nonetheless persevere in meditation on some level. It is good for every person to spend at least 15 minutes a day in meditation. Only in meditation one can we reflect on God and our relationship with Him. This is essential to grow in the spiritual life. No matter what our vocation is, we must not neglect this devotion.

It is important to expound upon meditation since it is the tool in which we also conquer temptations that come to us throughout the day. Our thoughts are our own worst enemies much of the time and we are bombarded on a daily basis with all sorts of spiritual attacks from various sources. Temptations come from our own fallen nature, the world, and the devil. We must have some sort of protection from these attacks if we are to survive the spiritual war we find ourselves engaged. Sin comes first from desire, which is first cultivated in our minds. We dwell on an idea before we act. If we dwell on sinful ideas we eventually commit them if we are not careful. Mediation is a remedy for sinful thoughts. It is a purifier for the soul. 

Denis the Carthusian warns us of the dangers of a mind out of control. “The mind itself is torn to pieces, poisoned and greatly tormented; for, as the proverb puts it: A mind out of control is its own tormentor.” When we turn our minds to meditate regularly on Christ and His mysteries we can begin to heal our minds and our transform our sinful inclinations into charitable works. Denis says we should contemplate Our Lord on the cross, His way of life, His teaching, His exhortations and the way the Saints have lived their lives in Christ. Only by doing this can we determine God’s will for our own lives. Meditation is also an examination of our lives in union with Christ.

It is my opinion that the devil tries the hardest to get Christians to give up on daily mediation because he knows it is the primary weapon of God to transform souls. When we become busy in worldly affairs, our daily meditation is the first thing that gets set aside. This is known as the sin of sloth. The sin of sloth however is not just spiritual laziness; it is an actual detriment to the soul's ascent to God. In the spiritual life there are only two paths to follow, one goes up, one goes down, we are never really on a plateau. So when sloth enters and meditation stops, sin enters into our thoughts and lives. Denis the Carthusian puts this reality into a blunt condemnation of neglecting meditation and giving oneself only to worldly thoughts. “What have you to say to this, my wretched soul? Why pretend?.. Why are you dragged this way and that, why are you dissipated by empty and frivolous cogitations? Worse still, why do you fornicate with demons in shameful and vile fantasies? Why? After all, you have so many subjects and such copious matter for wholesome meditation; so much that is necessary and profitable for your salvation... How long will you be drunk with wine, how long will you be out of your mind?.. Rather vomit up the wine of the vineyard of Sodom and of the suburbs of Gomorrah that have intoxicated you?”

To effectively engage in meditation we must fully give our undivided attention to God. Denis the Carthusian tells us; “On God we must fix our gaze and our attention…I pity you who honour the presence of personages rather than the presence of God.” It is a great danger for us to become enraptured in the worldly things. We have bills to pay and jobs that demand more and more of our time. We have dangerous tendency to put off the spiritual life for a later time in life. Yet we never know the hour of our death when we will stand before the dread judgement seat of Christ. We cannot make the mistake of saying that when we find ourselves in a more opportune state in life, then we will focus on God. Maybe once we retire we can sit back and pray more? This is a trick of the devil to get you to put off working on the salvation of your soul. He dangles before you the enticement of procrastination hoping we will fail in joining with God in meditation. In case you are still not getting it, meditation is not an option for the Christian, it is necessary for our salvation.

How then should we meditate? Meditation is often coupled with spiritual reading in which one reads on a topic and then reflects on what he has read in order to enkindle in him the fire of divine love. This act is known traditionally as “Lectio Divina” One can reflect on the Sacred Scriptures, the Psalms for example, or a spiritual writing by one of the Saints such as St Francis de Sales, ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’. One can meditate on the crucifix or some other image so that they may grow closer to Our Lord and contemplate His mysteries. St Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila often meditated on the crucifix or an image of Our Lord, to which they were then drawn into a deep contemplation. It is critical to orient oneself toward God in consistent daily meditation so that they may love God above all things. Daily meditation is best done at the beginning of one’s day so that he may bring forth a spiritual souvenir, as St Francis de Sales calls it, to one’s mind many times during the day. This souvenir is a spiritually beneficial thought that one should bring to one’s mind as he or she encounters the world. When one perseveres in this, over a period of time they begin to inoculate themselves from sin.

On a final note, one cannot reach the stage of contemplation without first meditation. These terms are often confused and used interchangeably. However meditation is the doorway to contemplation. One uses the intellect and reason to engage in meditation. He uses his memory and recalls certain to truths to dwell upon. As Saint Anthony Mary Claret says, " meditates when one uses discursive reasoning from one truth to another...." Contemplation allows one to interiorly behold a truth of God, seeing it in a form of admiration for that particular truth such as God's love or His hatred for sin for example. Saint Anthony Claret continues, " contemplates when interiorly one sees or grasps a truth in a simple glance, without a variety of discourse; of admiration, love, sorrow for sins, etc., etc." There is much more to be said on meditation and contemplation which I can elaborate on in future posts. For now, let us make time for daily meditation for it is certainly a purifier for the soul and a doorway to contemplation.  

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