Book of the Month, January 2022, Part 3

+JMJ+ Welcome to part 3 of our sixth Catholic Book of the Month, Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre. You can get a hardcover copy or a Kindle ebook copy using the links at the end of this post, and view other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page.

Jesus used words when He prayed. He even repeated them.

I’ve heard people, mostly non-Catholics, claim that we should only pray using our own words, using the Lord’s Prayer as some sort of suggestion or pattern, and that all repetition is forbidden by Jesus in the Gospels. But Dr. Pitre makes the good point that Jesus not only prayed using the words of Scripture, but He also used repetition when He prayed. He prayed using His own words, too, but He also used Scripture, and this is the way we should pray, too. The Lord Himself gave His own disciples words to say when they prayed, that’s what the Lord’s prayer is: Jesus’s own instructions to His disciples, showing them how and what to pray, what to pray for and the words to use when they pray. And all of them already knew to pray the Psalms, including Jesus. We see that much when He recites worsd from the 22nd Psalm from the cross: 

“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Matthew 27:46, citing Psalm 22:1, below. And, yes, I do like the old way of capitalizing the first letter in the Divine Nouns and Pronouns.) Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.

“Unto the end, for the morning protection, a psalm for David. O God my God, look upon me: why hast thou forsaken me? Far from my salvation are the words of my sins..”

Psalm 22:1, Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.

And we know that Jesus went to the synagogue “as was His wont [habit]” and would have prayed the Psalms and Canticles with the congregation or assembly, as we do now when we attend the Mass. What we do in our worship and in our spiritual practice, our spiritual lives, has its roots in the religion and way of life that was His and His disciples.

I can’t go through every part of this book for copyright reasons, but I highly recommend that you take this chapter on the Jewish roots of vocal prayer and spend time with it. 

I also highly recommend that you get a copy of a good Catholic prayer book (the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office) to use in your time of prayer. You can get the one volume Christian Prayer (containing, alas, no Office of Readings). Or you can try the monthly publication, Magnificat, which is much easier to use if you are a beginner and it has interesting articles and beautiful art in it, too. It has the Mass readings in it along with a form of Morning and Evening prayer, if memory serves. It’s been a while since I used it. Magnificat also comes in digital format so you can try it out right now if you want to. Go to the subscription page at Magnificat.

An Aside

Just please be careful to choose an authentically Catholic prayer book and not a channeled New Age counterfeit like Jesus Calling or the earlier God Calling that “inspired” it. What we’re doing here is trying to follow the True Christ in union with His Church and its two thousand year old teachings, not some old heresy dressed up in modern clothes, twisting the words of the Lord to deceive the unwary. I’ll be doing a write up about this later. Just wanted to mention it here because over the years I have seen so many Catholics get involved with what amounts to a cottage industry for the author of those books (the Jesus Calling books, I mean. The authors of God Calling have surely been dead many years since that one came out in England in the 1930s. Spiritualism was all the rage then and automatic writing, mediumship and chaneling were popular then and continue to be. I got free of the New Age a few years ago, thanks be to God, and I hate to see others fall into that pit.)

End of Rant. Back to our Authentically Catholic Way of Prayer

If you don’t have a copy of the printed Liturgy of the Hours and can’t get hold of one anytime soon, you can find various forms of it online and in apps. The Divine Office is one such site and app. I use it a lot because I need to make the font larger for my poor, aging eyes. That’s something else to consider, too. Plus, you can read straight through without all the flipping back and forth you have to do with the regular Liturgy of the Hours. 

If you don’t want to do that, just use the Psalms in a good Catholic Bible. Yes, it matters that it is a good Catholic Bible. Go to the Psalms and start exploring. Use the Mass readings (available in apps and on the USCCB website)

If you’re drawn to a certain Psalm or Canticle or verse or what-have-you, stop and read there. Think about it and ask the Lord about it. And thank Him for His marvelous Word.

Pray the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, the Mass. Read about them outside of prayer and take those ideas with you into your prayer time, allowing the Lord to show you whatever He wants to show you.

(A word to the wise here: It’s perfectly alright to ask the Lord for guidance and to receive it. But it’s not alright to think you have received a new Revelation that the whole world needs to hear and that the Lord has chosen you to reveal it. This way lies madness. This is where a good spiritual director is such a help. Maybe the Lord really showed you something. But if it’s a “new revelation” and it contradicts “old revelation” then check yourself and test that spirit! It may not be a holy one, after all. This will help you avoid being the author of a new spiritual counterfeit and committing all sorts of heresy.)

The section Jesus and Vocal Prayer is a rich one and highly recommended. I’ll have to sum it up in a few words since I can’t quote copious amounts of its text. Basically, we should always “strive to speak to God from the heart.” This speaking may spring from our hearts spontaneously in our own words, or it may arise spontaneously using the words of others. Jesus prayed both of these ways and He taught His disciples to do the same. So did the great Carmelite saint, Teresa of Avila.

“It may seem to anyone who doesn’t know about the matter that vocal prayer doesn’t go with contemplation; but I know that it does. Pardon me, but I want to say this: I know there are many persons who while praying vocally…are raised by God to sub“lime contemplation without their striving for anything or understanding how. It’s because of this that I insist so much…upon your reciting your vocal prayer well.”

Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, 30.7. In The Collected Works of Saint Teresa of Avila, Volume 2, 152.

In sum, if Jesus himself talked to God the Father using words, and if he taught his disciples to do the same, then vocal prayer is an essential part of the spiritual life of a Christian. It is also the beginning of the path to meditation and contemplation.

Introduction to the Spiritual Life, Brant Pitre, p. 46.

Meditation is the basis for acquiring all the virtues, and to undertake it is a matter of life and death for all Christians.

Teresa of Avila (16th century), The Way of Perfection, 16.3. In The Collected Works of Saint Teresa of Avila, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D., vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1980), 94.

Jesus teaches the necessity of meditation

Jesus is emphatic that we should meditate on the word of God as He indicates in His Parable of the Sower and His words about the greatest commandment. 

Let me be clear about this and what our use of the word “meditation” means and what it does not mean. There is meditation as meant by Hindus and Buddhists, and New Agers who have mangled what Hindus and Buddhists mean. And none of that is what Jesus is talking about in the Gospels. Don’t be fooled by translations and translators who blur meanings by using the same words that really mean very different things in different contexts. (And different words that mean the same thing, too.)

Meditation in the Christian sense does not mean performing pranayama breathing exercises or sitting in lotus position or trying to see the third eye or any of that. Meditation in the Christian sense is meditating on Scripture or the truths of the Faith, or spiritual exercises like the Ignatian ones, scenes from the Rosary, et cetera

The word in the Bible is hagah (to sigh or moan in longing) in the Hebrew and meletaō (to think about or meditate) in the Greek. It involves the mind and it should be done day and night.

1 Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence.

2 But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2, Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.

In the parable in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus talks about four kinds of soil, or “responses to the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Specifically, the fourth group of people hear the word and “hold it fast” in their hearts (Luke 8:15). The Greek word katechō means “hold fast” or “to keep in one’s memory” and this is where we get our word catechesis too. “[T]hese people respond to the word of God by memorizing it and writing it in their hearts…” They ponder on it and store it up in the heart so to grow in the love of God. This is also what the Blessed Virgin Mary does: She kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. (See Luke 2:19.)

In the parable the person who meditates on the word of God is affected in his soul. His heart becomes “honest and good” (Luke 8:15) and he begins “to bear superabundant fruit” (see Luke 8:8,15).

1 Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence.

2 But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night.

3 And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season. And his leaf shall not fall off: and all whosoever he shall do shall prosper.

Psalm 1:1-3, Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.

So the Bible teaches that we must meditate, Jesus teaches it, and Christian spiritual writers down through the ages have taught it, too. We have to set aside time every day for prayer and meditation. 

Contemplation

This is probably best defined as the simple “gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love.” (See CCC no. 2724.) I won’t go into it much here, you can read that section in the book. I’ll just give you this quote from the Psalms and give you a word that sums it up for me, but I do recommend this whole section of the book. Here’s the psalm:

4 One thing I have asked of the Lord, this will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. That I may see the delight of the Lord, and may visit his temple. Hear, O Lord, my voice, with which I have cried to thee: have mercy on me and hear me.

8 My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I still seek.

9 Turn not away thy face from me; decline not in thy wrath from thy servant. Be thou my helper, forsake me not; do not thou despise me, O God my Saviour.

Psalm 27:4,7-9, Douay-Rheims Bible, public domain.

And the word? Adoration.

Well, this is already long enough. I need to get this formatted and posted, and then I need to spend some time in the Word. Thank you visiting and reading. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous during this new year, and help each other on our Quest to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His Peace be always with you. +JMJ+

Next week, the Spiritual Path’s First Step: Repentance.

Catholic Book of the Month TOC, Annotated
All Series TOC, Annotated

Special Rosary for Christian Unity and LIFE on Twitter this Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, at 7pm CT, 8pm ET.

(After I posted this I remembered that the Rosary would have TWO main intentions so I put the new banner on Twitter but forgot to edit this, so I did it just now. Late but there it is.)

See the Rosary Project Live Archives to view past threads.


Notes and Links

  • The Catholic Book of the Month for January 2022 is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
  • There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
  • Go to the subscription page at Magnificat to get it monthly in print or in digital format.

Subscribe via email: While you’re here, subscribe to get new blog posts, updates on projects like the ebooks, giveaways, and who knows what else. And thank you very much!

Image: in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Crucifixion, by Rembrandt, 1631, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Full disclosure: When you make purchases through my Amazon affiliate links (or my general Amazon link) on this site, I may make a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you for your prayers and support!

Copyright: All original material on Catholic Heart and Mind is Copyright © 2009-2022 Lee Lancaster. All rights reserved. Read more.

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