Is Meditation on Scripture Necessary?
How to Pray – Part I
After many posts dealing with errors about prayer, I’d like to begin a series on how to pray for the beginner at prayer. Now, before you dismiss this series as not for you, let me define “beginner.” I don’t necessarily mean someone who has never prayed before, but someone who would like to learn to pray better. Perhaps you have been praying off and on for a decade and you’d like to become more consistent. Or you’ve been praying daily, but have a hard time praying beyond ten minutes. Or you’ve been praying for twenty minutes a day, but you feel like your prayers are half-hearted or otherwise need improvement.
This series is for you. And from my experience, that would include the bulk of committed Catholics.
I hope this series will be very practical and specific, because that is what I myself like to read to help my spiritual life. If you have questions, quibbles, or comments, please post them. They help clarify the message and help us all grow and learn.
This post is titled “Is Meditation on Scripture Necessary?” I am going to share with you some ways to meditate on Scripture in future posts. But first I want to convince you that you should meditate.
We read in the Catechism:
The Church “forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.”‘ (No. 2653)
Notice the Church is not suggesting we read and pray over Scripture, or even encouraging us to do so. Instead, She is forcefully and specially exhorting (i.e., urging) us. Should we just ignore Her? Or pay attention?
The Catechism continues:
The spiritual writers, paraphrasing Matthew 7:7, summarize in this way the dispositions of the heart nourished by the word of God in prayer “Seek in reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be opened to you by contemplation.” (No. 2654)
The Church wants to lead us toward infused contemplation, an intimate union with God which He initiates. How do we prepare ourselves? By reading and meditating on Scripture.
Now, there are all kinds of errors about prayer in our day. If you have read my other posts you’ve heard me talk about them quite a bit. I don’t wish to return to speaking of error here. I just want to highlight again what the Church, in the Catechism, says will prepare us for contemplation: reading and meditating on Scripture.
Right now, I am bracketing the discussion about the moral life, and we will come back to that in a future post. We will discuss the necessity of virtue if we wish to grow in prayer. But today I want to stick with the theme of prayer itself.
Returning to the Catechism, we read:
Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower. (No. 2707)
Remember that parable? A farmer sowed grain, symbolizing the Word of God. The first seeds fell along the path and birds devoured it. This symbolizes the Devil snatching the Word away, so that it has no lasting effect on the listener. The second group of people fell away when hardship touched them, even though they had at first received the Word joyfully. The third group was unfruitful, because they were distracted by the good things the world had to offer. (See Mark 4:3-20.)
In other words, if we want to remain faithful, we must do more than just hear the Word. We must be like Mary, who heard the Word and kept it, pondering it in her heart (Luke 1:45, 2:19, 11:28, etc.)
Once more, from the Catechism:
To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (No. 2706)
Pope Leo XIII wrote in Exeunte Iam Anno:
By the infinite goodness of God man lived again to the hope of an immortal life, from which he had been cut off, but he cannot attain to it if he strives not to walk in the very footsteps of Christ and conform his mind to Christ’s by the meditation of Christ’s example. Therefore this is not a counsel but a duty, and it is the duty, not of those only who desire a more perfect life, but clearly of every man “always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus.” (No. 10)
In other words, every one of us must meditate on the life of Christ, and by so meditating, learn to follow His example.
And since I cannot write a post without quoting at least one Carmelite saint, I will finish with these words from St. Teresa of Avila on meditation:
For this is the first step to be taken towards the acquisition of the virtues and the very life of all Christians depends upon their beginning it. No one, however lost a soul he may be, should neglect so great a blessing if God inspires him to make use of it. (The Way of Perfection, Ch. 16)
That should establish meditation’s necessity. Next time we will consider what this necessary meditation is.
Art: Im Gebet (In Prayer), F. Schurig, 1889; Portrait of Pope Leo XIII, author unknown, c. 1898; both PD-US published before January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.