Dear Father John, I have a question about preparing for meditation. I have been deeply blessed by the insight you and have provided with respect to meditation recently. I wonder if what I am seeking as a fruit of meditation is too lofty. Why? Because it doesn’t change day to day and I don’t perceive that I am making much progress. Is it normal to seek the same fruit for weeks at a time or longer? In this case, essentially, the fruit desired does not change day to day and the exercise becomes a bit repetitive. Is this an indication that I would do better to seek fruit that is lower on the tree?
This is an excellent question. Here’s the deal. Usually, those who are beginning the spiritual life change their fruit often. Those who have been striving consciously and conscientiously for holiness for a longer period of time tend to grow in spiritual simplicity as time passes. This involves having a clearer idea of one’s spiritual state. That in turn involves knowing one’s own weaknesses and tendencies better. When that happens, all of our spiritual work takes on a more unified character, and the fruit we seek in prayer tends to be the same for longer periods. Sometimes, it even happens that you try to switch fruits, but the Holy Spirit won’t let you, and you keep coming back to the same thing, even when you were consciously trying to go somewhere else! By focusing on the same fruit for longer periods, the soul actually drinks more deeply of the knowledge of God, of some particular characteristic God’s love that the soul needs most.
In fact, it is often a good idea to fix the “fruit” of your daily meditation as a part of your program of life, so that you don’t flit around according to whims and distractions.
A gold prospector will look all over the place for a rich vein of gold – panning streams, exploring caves, tapping into rock faces… He just can’t settle down in any one place, because he is convinced that there is a rich store of gold somewhere nearby. But as soon as he finds the mother lode, he sinks down a deep shaft and stays put, mining it diligently until every last flake of the precious metal has been extracted.
That’s a bit what it’s like for the soul that God is leading to deeper spiritual wisdom. At first, the thirst drives the soul after every possible virtue – humility, charity, purity, fortitude, contrition… But gradually the Holy Spirit shows us a more detailed profile of our own spiritual needs, and guides us to that “aspect” of God, of the Gospel message, which will meet that need most effectively. I am sure that if you think about some of the saints you are familiar with, you will see how this works. I once visited a church in an ancient little hill town in Italy and talked to the parish priest there (I think he was older than the church). He told me that he only meditated two things: Calvary and Heaven. Calvary filled him with mourning for sin, and Heaven filled him with joyful hope – these were the fruits God wanted to see flourish in his soul, and he was delighted with them.
That said, there is room for variation on another level, that of the specific resolution that you make at the end of the meditation. As we finish our daily meditation, we should look forward to the day ahead, and try to see, with God’s help, a particular, concrete action that we can commit to as a way of living out in our life whatever we were meditating on. Often this resolution is one of the points of the program of life, and sometimes, especially if our daily life is predictable and stable, the same resolution will come to mind day after day, or even week after week. But at other times the circumstances of daily life will provide new opportunities or challenges. In this case, our resolution can vary, even though the fruit stays the same.
For example, if the fruit I am seeking is greater confidence in God’s goodness, my resolution may be something as simple as: “Today when I feel anxiety because of my financial difficulties, I will make a spiritual communion.” But when the financial difficulties go away or diminish, my resolution may end up being something like: “Today when I get stuck in traffic I will turn off the radio and praise God for the beauties of nature that I see on the side of the highway.”
Yours in Christ, Fr John Bartunek, LC