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Catholic Spiritual Direction

A Simple Guide to Christian Meditation

December 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditation, Mental Prayer, Prayer

Christian Meditation:  A Simple Guide
Each day you should reserve some time – 5, 10, or 15 minutes can be a good start – to spend in quiet, heart-to-heart conversation with Christ. This is called Christian meditation. The goal of this kind of prayer is to deepen your personal relationship with Christ, praising God and receiving his grace, and to identify yourself more and more with the purpose of your life: to live in communion with God through the fulfillment of his will. As you develop the habit of this prayer, you will find ways to personalize the method. To begin, however, and in order to overcome the distractions and dryness common to those starting off on a more demanding life of prayer, the following structure has shown to be of great utility.

Be sure to choose a time and place conducive to the silence and attention required; most spiritual masters recommend that we do our meditation early in the day, before the thousand cares of this busy world tangle us up in their knots. They also recommend that we do it at the same time every day, and in the same place, somewhere quiet, where we know that interruptions and distractions will be limited. More important than the time and place, however, is the commitment to make meditation part of your daily spiritual fare, no matter how busy you get or little you feel like praying.

Your meditation can be divided into 4 steps – the four “C”s: Concentrate, Consider, Converse, Commit.

Concentrate

This simply means focusing your attention on God, on his presence, on your relationship with him. You renew your faith, your love, your hope in him. You ask him for the particular grace you are seeking in this time together with him. You recall that he created you and is interested in you – so much so that he sent his Son to save you and established the Church to guide you to your eternal home. This first step of your prayer means concentrating on your true center: your identity as a creature, a beloved child of God in need of his grace.

Consider

In the second step of your meditation you take a passage from Scripture, or from a spiritual book, or the Catechism, of the writings of a saint, or even a sacred image or a beautiful natural landscape (you work out what kind of material is best for you through experimentation and the guidance of a spiritual director) and you read it over. You reflect on what it means, what it tells you about God and his ways and his plans, and what it means for you personally, in your particular situation and state in life. In this stage you ponder in your mind and heart some truth or aspect of God’s revelation, you apply it to your life and make it your own. Sometimes asking questions can help your consideration: what is the meaning of the passage? What are its key words? What is going on here? How would I express it in my own words?

Converse

Here is the core of the meditation: a heart-to-heart conversation with Christ about the passage you have been considering and the insights that the Holy Spirit has been giving you. This intimate, personal exchange is what separates Christian meditation from other merely psychological exercises that don’t move beyond concentration. Here is the mark of true prayer, where you respond to the Word of God with words of your own, expressing your admiration, your gratitude, your love, your confusion, your need – whatever the consideration stirred up in your soul. You also give him time and room to speak to you. He often chooses to do this not with words or even ideas, but by moving your will, by directly touching your heart. (Try not to get hung up on hearing him explicitly every day, but you should be able to look back over several days or weeks and recognize his action in your prayer life.) As you converse, in the silent depths of your heart you open yourself to God, offering your life and inviting him once again to come and show you the way to a living communion with him. All the other steps of the meditation are directed to this step, so if you only need a brief moment of concentration and consideration in order to enter into heartfelt conversation with the One who loves you, don’t dawdle on steps one and two. Normally, however, we need to gather our attention in order to be able to hear and respond to the Word of God, and steps one and two help us to do that.

Commit

Finish your prayer by letting it affect your life: commit yourself to do something concrete today as a result of the time you spent with our Lord, whatever you think the Lord is asking of you or whatever you think would please him. Whether it means making an extra visit to a chapel to spend more time with him, or asking someone to forgive yesterday’s temperamental outburst, or visiting someone who is in the hospital, or calling that person who needs a call – something concrete, measurable, real; something about which you can say at the end of the day: yes, I did that, or no, I didn’t. This insures that our prayer life doesn’t become a mere psychological sedative or an exercise of vanity. As you offer this commitment to the Lord, thank him for his presence and the graces he has given you during this time of prayer, ask pardon for your distractions (especially if you invited them or gave in to them out of laziness or lack of faith), and finish by entrusting the fruits of your prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary through reciting a Hail Mary.

End with the sign of the cross, and then go forth to glorify God by fulfilling his will out of faith, hope, and love.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, ThD

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • http://www.blestatheist.com Elizabeth.Mahlou

    Fr. John, this is an extremely instructive post. Thank you so very much! (I am addicted to your blog, by the way.)

  • Denise

    Dear Fr. John

    This is the first time that meditation has made sense to me. Down to earth and sensible. I will print it and try to make use of it.

    I also wanted to tell you of my appreciation of your homily ‘I am ashamed’ I am braver now that I know that I am not the only one who strugles with such issues.

    Blessings to you

    Denise

  • Sharon

    Father, like Denise, meditation now makes sense; it is so different to the New Age Contemplation which is taught by so many Catholic priests and sisters.

    I will try to put what you have advised into practise so that I can come to a deeper relationship with the Lord.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Fr. John,

    It seems that you condensed the four moments of Lectio Dinia (Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio) equally in Consideration and Conversation. Even though it’s not an enumerated step in Lectio Divina, Concentration is assumed. But I have to say that my difficulties in meditation are answered in part by the lack of what you called Commitment. As you said, otherwise, meditation may be reduced to an introverted practice, whereas it should spill out into our lives. After all, the Scriptures say that our love of the Lord should be reflected in our love of neighbor.

  • Jeanette Woodley

    Thank you for your thoughts on Christian Meditation. I especially liked the last part under Commit concerning after meditation to do something to please the Lord by loving our neighbour in a concrete way as this insures that our prayer life doesn’t become a mere psychological sedative or an exercise of vanity. This speaks to me. I do a lot of praying for others but I need to be more attuned to increase my concrete acts of love for others. “Dear Jesus, meek and humble of heart, please give us your heart to love our neighbour!”