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How do I “do” mental prayer?

“I keep hearing about mental prayer and how important it is. It sounds hard, though, and I don’t know how to begin!”

Mental prayer can sound intimidating. Maybe it’s because every time we use the word “mental” it seems to connote high levels of either intelligence or difficulty: mental math, mental gymnastics, mental block, etc.

Is mental prayer about thinking hard?

Let’s ask St. Teresa of Ávila, one of the foremost authorities on mental prayer.

“Do not tire your brain by trying to work it during meditation.”
—St. Teresa of Ávila

Huh. Great feats of the mind are not, apparently, what the saints, spiritual writers, or your parish priest are talking about when they discuss the necessity of mental prayer.

Let’s start with an accurate definition, then: mental prayer is conversation with God.

To return to St. Teresa:

“For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him Who we know loves us.”

“I don’t know,” you might say. “I’m still not sure I’d know what to say, think, or do for thirty minutes, or fifteen, or even ten…I’ll just get distracted…”

That’s because everyone needs a structure for prayer time. It’s the best way to ease any fears you might have about starting mental prayer and to keep your mind and heart on track.

Here’s a short guide on how to “do” mental prayer, a method taken from St. Teresa and other great writers on prayer such as St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Francis de Sales. Of course, this is just a guide and you can adjust it as you need to:

  1. Place yourself humbly in the presence of God. Ask for guidance and light during this time of prayer. Call on Our Lady and your guardian angel to assist you.
  2. Choose a subject for meditation. Something from the Gospels is always a good choice. Perhaps you have a favorite meditation book.
  3. Immerse yourself in the Gospel event or subject you have chosen. For example, if you are reading about the Crucifixion, imagine yourself there as an onlooker.
  4. Talk to Our Lord about it. Make acts of love and affection towards Him, thank Him, ask Him questions, make some good resolutions for the future. Ask Him for the graces you need.
  5. End with a prayer of thanksgiving.

That was pretty awesome, wasn’t it?

Of course, this is only a brief sketch of mental prayer. You can learn more about how to pray fruitfully in The Ways of Mental Prayer, a spiritual classic that describes the stages of mental prayer, its joys and challenges, and practical methods of practicing it. Pick up your copy today!

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