by Fr. Godfrey Bushmaker, O.Praem.
“He kept calling out all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.”
Saint Alphonsus Ligouri wrote that he believed it was practically impossible for a person to be saved without praying regularly. And if this is the case for one just to be saved, how much more is it so for those wishing to grow in holiness—and in fact, he also wrote that such growth cannot happen without the daily practice of meditation or a higher form of mental prayer.
It would seem that very few Catholics are heeding these words, since the Pew Research Center reports that over 77% of Catholics in America don’t even attend regular Sunday Mass, let alone strive for sanctity. And yet, although the remaining 23% appear to be making an attempt at heaven, how many of them do more than the bare minimum? How many are actually trying to be saints? This is no less an obligation on us all than attendance at Sunday Mass. Didn’t our Lord command us to strive to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect?
We’re given a limited amount of time in this life, and we’re well aware of how unpredictable that time can be. We have the task to use this time to fulfill the purpose of our existence, which is to develop a relationship with our Lord that allows us to enter heaven. This relationship is the only thing we take with us when we leave this world—and it is nurtured and strengthened most effectively through meditation and the higher forms of prayer.
That’s not to say that nothing else helps us. It’s a wonderful thing to serve God and neighbor in an active life participating in various ministries. Our acts of charity and sacrifice are necessary for us and pleasing to God—as are our many vocal prayers, rosaries, extra Masses and receiving Holy Communion. They all contribute to our sanctification while building up God’s kingdom.
But consider this: it is a common occurrence that, after a while, we begin to do all of these things mechanically, distractedly, or with mixed motives—after which point we just coast along on auto-pilot and allow these activities to lose their earlier ability to move our hearts and minds closer to God—and, in the spiritual life, if we’re not moving closer to God, we’re drifting apart.
The practice of meditative prayer is different in that it’s essentially a one-on-one conversation—something which doesn’t allow gradations of perfection. A conversation simply ends once our attention is turned away. Therefore, if it’s actually practiced, it can’t be done poorly, no matter what we say to God. This should raise our esteem of meditative prayer above our other devotions because it’s a surer way of advancing in our knowledge and love of God. In addition, being one of the primary ways to grow in our faith, it can’t be neglected if we want to advance in sanctity—and this is something we should want even if we were not commanded to it. To understand why, we need to consider the prayer of Bartimaeus.
The gospel describes the blind man Bartimaeus sitting by the road begging. He was blind, without income or support, and pretty much helpless. Although there were a great number of people following our Lord hoping to receive a favor, Bartimaeus was probably most conscious of his need not just for help, but for God’s help. When he heard that our Lord was passing by, his need and his faith moved him to call out for our Lord’s pity.
Now, on the outside, this doesn’t resemble a meditative prayer, yet it does have the essential elements of it—it’s a simple, direct, and sincere expression made to our Lord from the depths of the heart—and under these aspects, it’s a model for us to imitate—especially seeing how it was answered in such a spectacular manner.
For most of us, if we really tried, we could make time to place ourselves in our Lord’s presence, whether bodily or in spirit, and pour out our hearts to Him, like Bartimaeus, regarding our concerns, needs and desires. So why do we fail to call out to Him and let this opportunity pass by?
We may not be blind like Bartimaeus, but our eyesight isn’t getting us any closer to heaven than his did. Those attending Sunday Mass may assume they’re fulfilling all their spiritual obligations, and so give the actual condition of their soul very little consideration. They don’t look any deeper than the letter of the Law and are content if their conscience isn’t bothering them. They neither objectively scrutinize their conduct nor do they see their lack of spiritual growth as a sign that something is wrong. They neglect confession because they don’t feel guilty—but this is often due to ignorance or insensitivity rather than a healthy soul.
This lack of a sense of our own sinfulness prevents us from drawing near to Jesus in a truly intimate way because it makes us feel self-sufficient—as if we had no need to talk to God. Unlike Bartimaeus, we don’t acknowledge our blindness, and so we don’t pray from the depths of our need as he did. How can we ask God to take pity on us if we think we don’t need it?
Although sin is a more serious affliction than our inability to see it, still, we won’t stop sinning, or ask to be freed from it, until we’re aware of it. This blindness is a condition that we continually need to be lifted from, and only a daily personal visit to our soul from our Lord will dispel it from us. Only in the light of conversing with Him personally can we begin to see ourselves as we truly are. Only He can reveal and bring the true state of our soul to our attention.
The standard to measure ourselves by, if we want to be a saint, is Christ Himself. Comparing ourselves to the people around us, even if they’re good and pious, is worse than useless since it can only encourage us to take pride in our accomplishments, which in itself ruins any real progress we make.
Just as Bartimaeus was acutely conscious of his blindness and the misery it was causing him, so we need to be acutely conscious of our sins and imperfections and the misery they cause us. And the only way to have such a consciousness continually is through the habitual practice of speaking to our Lord in familiar conversation—in other words, meditation.
Let us pray that Catholics in America would make time in their schedule to place themselves in God’s presence, whether spiritually or physically, and make a half-hour meditation every day. May they call out to our Lord and learn what they’re most in need of personally and what we need to preserve our Christian nation, so that not only our own sanctity could grow as it should, but that others will have the same opportunity to advance in the ways of perfection and expand God’s earthly reign.
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