Why should we meditate on sacred Scripture?
We have been looking at the prayers Jesus practiced and taught in the Scriptures. We have seen that he practiced mental prayer, the prayer of the heart, but he did not teach a method of mental prayer. Yet the church and the saints recommend meditating on Scripture as the best way – at least for beginners – to practice mental prayer. Why does meditation hold such a high place for Christians?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “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 that 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 (that is, urging) us. Why so strong a statement?
Meditating on Scripture makes mental prayer a true dialog between God and man. Scripture is the publicly revealed Word of God. We know that Scripture is a trustworthy teacher concerning God and his will. When we read the Scriptures in prayer, God speaks directly to us. We can ask ourselves, “What does the Holy Spirit want me to glean from this passage? What is he teaching me about the character of God? How do I fall short in following what he teaches? How does God want me to change?”
“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?’” (Catechism, no. 2706).
In recent conversations on social media, I have seen many Catholics miss an essential point on meditation: Christian meditation is beloved by the church because it moves us to conversion. We compare the ideal expressed in the Gospels with the concrete details of our life. Scripture acts as an examination of conscience.
It shows us where we fall short, but also encourages us with the love of God and the example of saints of old. It urges us to open our hearts to the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Few other types of mental prayer provide this benefit. We can easily make our prayer time focused on our needs and desires, rather than on God’s desires for us. Meditating on Scripture keeps God, not self, at the center of prayer.
St. Alphonsus Liguori writes, “But it is impossible for him who perseveres in mental prayer to continue in sin: he will either give up meditation or renounce sin … They who make mental prayer rarely incur the enmity of God; and should they ever have the misfortune of falling into sin, by persevering in mental prayer they see their misery and return to God” (“Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection,” Part II, Ch. 1).
Meditation on Scripture transforms us, if we allow it to. It makes sinners docile to the grace of God, so that they might become saints.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.