Friday, March 25, 2011

Prayer Tips from St Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, Ch. 24

I want to advise you, or, I might even say, to t each you how you must 
practice vocal prayer, for it is right that you should understand 
what you are saying. .... We may, of course, consider it enough to 
say our prayers as a mere habit, repeating the words and thinking 
that this will suffice. Whether it suffices or no I will not now 
discuss. Learned men must decide: they will instruct people to whom 
God gives light to consult them, and I will not discuss the position 
of those who have not made a profession like our own. But what I 
should like, daughters, is for us not to be satisfied with that 
alone: when I say the Creed, it seems to me right, and indeed 
obligatory, that I should understand and know what it is that I 
believe; and, when I repeat the "Our Father", my love should make me 
want to understand Who this Father of ours is and Who the Master is 
that taught us this prayer.

If you assert that you know Who He is already, and so there is no 
need for you to think about Him, you are not right; .... And when it 
comes to the Master Who taught us this prayer, and Who loves us so 
much and is so anxious for us to profit by it, may God forbid that we 
should fail to think of Him often when we repeat it, although our own 
weakness may prevent us from doing so every time.

..... It has already been said that it is impossible to speak to God 
and to the world at the same time; yet this is just what we are 
trying to do when we are saying our prayers and at the same time 
listening to the conversation of others or letting our thoughts 
wander on any matter that occurs to us, without making an effort to 
control them. .....These directions are meant for persons who keep 
careful guard over themselves and know that they must not speak to 
God and to the world at the same time. What we can do ourselves is to 
try to be alone -- and God grant that this may suffice, as I say, to 
make us realize in Whose presence we are and how the Lord answers our 
petitions. Do you suppose that, because we cannot hear Him, He is 
silent? He speaks clearly to the heart when we beg Him from our 
hearts to do so. It would be a good idea for us to imagine that He 
has taught this prayer to each one of us individually, and that He is 
continually expounding it to us. The Master is never so far away that 
the disciple needs to raise his voice in order to be heard: He is 
always right at his side. I want you to understand that, if you are 
to recite the Paternoster well, one thing is needful: you must not 
leave the side of the Master Who has taught it you.

You will say at once that this is meditation, and that you are not 
capable of it, and do not even wish to practice it, but are content 
with vocal prayer. For there are impatient people who dislike giving 
themselves trouble, and it is troublesome at first to practice 
recollection of the mind when one has not made it a habit. So, in 
order not to make themselves the least bit tired, they say they are 
incapable of anything but vocal prayer and do not know how to do 
anything further. You are right to say that what we have described is 
mental prayer; but I assure you that I cannot distinguish it from 
vocal prayer faithfully recited with a realization of Who it is that 
we are addressing. Further, we are under the obligation of trying to 
pray attentively: may God grant that, by using these means, we may 
learn to say the Paternoster well and not find ourselves thinking of / span>
something irrelevant. I have sometimes experienced this myself, and 
the best remedy I have found for it is to try to fix my mind on the 
Person by Whom the words were first spoken. Have patience, then, and 
try to make this necessary practice into a habit, for necessary it 
is, in my opinion, for those who would be nuns, and indeed for all 
who would pray like good Christians.

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