What should you meditate on in prayer?
April 18, 2019
We have been talking about Christian meditation: what it is, how to do it and how to find time for it. We have learned that Christian meditation is not a form of Eastern, non-Christian meditation. It is engaging the mind and heart in conversation with God. But you might be wondering what you should use as a basis for meditation. Should you use a book of pre-made meditations? Any random writing from the saints? Or something else?
The Catechism says: “We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: the sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history the page on which the ‘today’ of God is written” (no. 2705).
There are a variety of good sources for meditation. Notice, though, the first item in the list, “the sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels.” Saints and spiritual theologians also recommend the Gospels as being the most appropriate material. The purpose of meditation is to get to know and love God better. It’s not about studying theology or learning about the lives of the saints. What we read should teach us about God’s character and move us to desire a closer relationship with him. Nowhere in the Bible or the writings of the saints do we come face to face with God as powerfully as we do in the Gospels. Jesus reveals the face of God to us. Every event in his life teaches us who God is and who we are in relationship to him.
When choosing a particular passage from the Gospels, it’s best to proceed in an organized fashion, rather than randomly picking a chapter. One good practice is to follow the daily Mass readings, meditating on the Gospel for the day. Another good practice is slowly going through one of the Gospels from beginning to end.
Some readers tell me that they find the Gospels difficult to understand. Others feel drawn to different books of Scripture. The Psalms are particularly moving, and you can find one to suit almost any joy or struggle you may be experiencing. I sometimes use the Psalms when the Gospels leave my prayer feeling dry. But although the Psalms are good for moving the heart, they do not always teach us about the character of God at the same level that the Gospels do. I do recommend the Gospels for beginners.
If you find the Gospels difficult to understand, you might try a book of meditations on Scripture. Father Timothy Gallagher provides excellent meditations in “An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer.” Some will find the consistent format of the meditations helpful for learning the process of meditating on Scripture. By the time you have finished the book, you will probably be ready to begin meditating without help.
Prayer should not become Bible study. In our prayer time, we don’t need to be concerned with understanding deep theological concepts or learning the geography of the Holy Land. We want to learn about a person, not about facts. A little background information on the passage may sometimes help, but we should be careful not to get sidetracked into performing intellectual exercises. We seek what St. John of the Cross called “a little loving knowledge of God.”
Meditating on the Gospels should increase your love for God so that you can more easily engage in conversation with him. It should help you conform your life more closely to his will, so that you can grow in intimacy with him. That is what prayer is about.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of The Contemplative Rosary just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.