Some readers have told me of their difficulty with Ignatian spirituality and one reader reported that the Ignatian retreat she attended was helpful but that the method itself did not seem to be a good fit for her. I agreed that I had the same experience and would have profited more during my retreat from spiritual reading and hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Dom Boylan’s practical approach helped me immensely and so I offer it to readers, for those who may find it useful. In coming weeks, I hope to write also on St. Teresa’s advice in the matter, as well, from her “Way of Perfection” and from Father Frasinetti’s “Treatise on Prayer with St. Teresa’s Pater Noster”.
Today’s offering is from the conclusion of “Difficulties in Mental Prayer”. I am presenting this portion, which is out of sequence, because it seems indicated by several questions I received from readers lately, who advise me that they truly have nowhere else to turn to for assistance. Although this writing is primarily aimed at the religious life, Dom Boylan states that it is also meant to be beneficial for laity who seek perfection, as we all should.
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In the conclusion of his book, Dom Boylan offers a quote from St. John of the Cross, the authority par excellence on the subject of mental prayer. In “The Living Flame of Love”, when treating of the development of the prayer of meditation, he writes:
“The state of beginners… is one of meditation and of acts of reflection. It is necessary to furnish the soul in this state with matter for meditation, that it may make reflections and interior acts, and avail itself of the sensible spiritual heat and fervor, for this is necessary in order to accustom the senses and desires to good things, that, being satisfied by the sweetness thereof, they may be detached from the world.
“When this is in some degree effected, God begins at once to introduce the soul into the state of contemplation, and that very quickly, especially in the case of religious, because these, having renounced the world, quickly fashion their senses and desires according to God; they have, therefore, to pass at once from meditation to contemplation.”
“This passage, then, takes place when the discursive acts and meditation fail, when sensible sweetness and first fervors cease, when the soul cannot make reflections as before, nor find any sensible comfort, but is fallen into aridity, because the chief matter is changed into the spirit, and the spirit is not cognizable by sense. As all the natural operations of the soul, which are within its control, depend on the senses only, it follows that God is now working in a special manner in this state, that it is He that infuses and teaches, that the soul is the recipient on which He bestows spiritual blessings by contemplation, the knowledge and the love of Himself together; that is, He gives it loving knowledge without the instrumentality of its discursive acts, because it is no longer able to form them as before.
“At this time, then, the direction of the soul must be wholly different from what it was at first. If formerly it was supplied with matter for meditation and it did meditate, now that matter must be withheld and meditation must cease, because, as I have said, it cannot meditate, do what it will, and distractions are the result.
“If before it looked for fervor and sweetness and found them, let it look for them no more nor desire them; and if it attempt to seek them, not only will it not find them, but it will meet with aridity, because it turns away from the peaceful and tranquil good secretly bestowed upon it, when it attempts to fall back on the operations of sense. In this way it loses the latter without gaining the former, because the senses have ceased to be the channel of spiritual good.”
The primary purpose in quoting this long passage is to draw attention to the words in which the Saint indicates for us the fundamental disposition for the passage to contemplation, namely: that one has fashioned one’s senses and desires according to God, which disposition, with its result, He expects to find quickly reached in the case of religious. But the whole passage has been quoted because it sums up in pregnant language, weighted with all the authority of the Church’s Doctor of Prayer, all that these pages have been trying to say.