Meditation in the Catholic tradition

Meditation is a particular method of praying. Prayer is raising the mind and heart to God. In vocal prayer, you use words as in a conversation (either out loud or silently). But when you meditate, instead of using speech like this, you use the imagination.

"Meditation" for a Catholic is very different from the concept according to some religions, where "meditation" involves trying not to think about things, "quieting the mind". Catholic meditation is just the opposite: it is a very active and thoughtful undertaking (not physically active, but mentally), a kind of prayer. (It's funny how the word meditation can have such opposite manings.)

It was on a retreat that I learned the technique of meditation. The priest who gave that retreat explained that it consists of a set of 4 distinct steps.

Before going into the 4 steps, there's also the matter of posture. The position of the body is not essential to meditation, but there are proper positions. As with any prayer, it can always be done kneeling. It can also be done sitting (which is the way I prefer to do it), it's a good idea to do it while in the liturgical sitting posture. That is: feet flat on the floor, slightly back; hands on the lap, palms down; shoulders a little bit forward and head slightly bowed.

There's also the matter of choosing a topic. Of course, something is going to be needed to meditate on! It's best to choose something from the Gospels. It can be any scene or event recorded by the Evangelists. One way to choose would be to use an event in a recent Gospel readings from Mass: either one that was just heard or one that is about to come up. You could also use a Mystery of the Rosary or a Station of the Cross as a topic for meditation.

Now here are the 4 steps to meditate Catholic-style.

The 1st step is to place yourself in God's presence.

This doesn't mean you must be physically in a church. You just need to think of yourself being watched over by God, not being alone. He is always very close, waiting for us to come to Him.

Before beginning to meditate, it is important to bring to mind God's presence. Sometimes this can be done quickly, sometimes it can take quite a while. But even if it doesn't come easily, it is important to do that before beginning to try to meditate.

Personally, I find this easiest to do in church, before the tabernacle, or before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. If I can look at the Blessed Sacrament or at the tabernacle which has the Blessed Sacrament inside, I can usually place myself in God's presence quickly and easily.

The 2nd step is to ask for God's help.

A person can do no good without God's help. It is necessary to recognize that fact, that any benefits from meditation are God's free gift and not the result of our own natural thought processes.

In addition to asking God for His help directly, it is wise to ask for help from the saints as well. We can ask for the Blessed Mother to intercede in gaining God's help in the meditative prayer. If you're in a church, it makes sense to ask the saint to whom the church is dedicated for his help too.

A Guardian Angel is standing by to assist too so it's also good to ask him to help in prayign. You can also seek the help of any other saint you feel inclined to turn to.

The 3rd step is the actual meditation.

The meditation consists of 2 parts:

  1. The first thing to do is to imagine the scene you have chosen to meditate on.

    Think about what the environment might have looked like. The more detail you can add, the better. Picture the place and the people: what they look like, what they are doing.

    Besides imagining the appearance, also imagine the sounds that would be heard there. Imagine hearing the people involved in the scene saying the words they are saying.

    Include any background noises there might be.

    If there are any noticeable smells, you can include them too in your imaginary scene.

    You want to make the scene as vivid and realistic as you possibly can!

  2. After you've done that, the second phase of meditating is to place yourself into that scene you've just been imagining.

    Imagine yourself interacting with the people there as much as you can. You can think about what you might have said or done had you actually been there.

    You can talk to people there, and listen to what they have to say.

The 4th step is to give thanks.

First you thank God for helping you to meditate.

Then you proceed to thank all those whom you went to for help during step 2 of your meditation.

Then the meditation is complete (until next time).


Rick Kephart 2005

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