We can always learn new perspectives on prayer. Pope Emeritus Benedict shows us how the Blessed Mother can help us in our prayer. Meditation isn’t just for the Saints, it is for us all and it is fundamentally simple and uncomplicated. I hope this reflection is beneficial to you.
God bless you,
Father Joseph Byerley
Today, I do wish to speak about meditation. And what is meditation? It means to "remember" all that God has done and not to forget all his benefits (cf. Psalm 103:2b). Often, we see only the negative things. We also need to hold in our memory the good things, the gifts that God has given us; we need to be attentive to the positive signs that come from God, and remember these. Therefore, we are speaking about a kind of prayer that the Christian tradition calls "mental prayer." We are more familiar with vocal prayer, and naturally the mind and heart must also be present in this prayer, but today we are speaking about a meditation that does not involve words, but that is rather a making contact of our mind with the heart of God.
And here Mary is a true model. The Evangelist Luke repeats numerous times that Mary, for her part, "kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (2:19; cf. 2:51). She keeps them; she does not forget. She is attentive to all that the Lord has said and done to her, and she ponders; that is, she makes contact with diverse things -- she dwells deeply upon them in her heart.
In our own time, we are absorbed with so many activities and commitments, concerns and problems. Often, we tend to fill up all the spaces of the day, without having a moment to stop and reflect and to nourish our spiritual life -- our contact with God. Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our days -- with all its activities -- moments to recollect ourselves in silence and to ponder all that the Lord wants to teach us, how He is present and acts in the world and in our life: to be able to stop for a moment and meditate. St. Augustine likens meditation on the mysteries of God to the assimilation of food, and he uses a word that recurs throughout the Christian tradition: "ruminate." The mysteries of God should continually resound within us so that they might become familiar to us, guide our life, and nourish us as happens with the food that is neces-sary to sustain us. And St. Bonaventure, referring to the words of sacred Scripture, says that they "should al-ways be ruminated on so as to be kept in mind by the ardent application of the soul".
To meditate therefore means to create within ourselves an atmosphere of recollection, of interior silence, so as to reflect upon and assimilate the mysteries of our faith, and all that God is doing in us -- and not only the things that come and go. We can "ruminate" in many ways; for instance, by taking a short passage of sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle's Letters, or a page from a spiritual author we are drawn to and which makes the reality of God in our today more present, perhaps taking advice from a confessor or spiritual director; by reading and reflecting on what we've just read, pausing to consider it, seeking to understand it, to understand what it says to me, what it says today -- to open our soul to all that the Lord wants to say to us and teach us.
The holy rosary is also a prayer of meditation: In repeating the Hail Mary we are invited to think back and to reflect upon the mystery we have announced. But we can also dwell upon some intense spiritual ex-perience, on the words that have remained with us from our participation in the Sunday Eucharist. You see, therefore, there are many ways of meditating and of thereby making contact with God -- of drawing near to God, and in this way, of being on the road to heaven.
Dear friends, consistency in giving time to God is a fundamental element for spiritual growth; it will be the Lord Himself who gives us a taste for His mysteries, His words, His presence and action, to feel how beautiful it is when God speaks with us. He will make us understand in a more profound way what He wants of us. In the end, this is the goal of our meditation: to entrust ourselves ever more to the hands of God, with trust and love, certain that, in the end, it is only in doing His will that we are truly happy.
I have just returned from a very beautiful pilgrimage to Spain, Portugal, and France. It was filled with many blessings; I was fortunate to have visited some amazing places and shrines. I remembered you, the wonderful parishioners of Saint Rose of Lima at every Mass and especially at Lourdes and Fatima where I was blessed to be able to concelebrate Mass at the actual spots where the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary took place.
One of the things that I was reminded of as I visited these holy places where the Blessed Mother appeared was some common themes that these apparitions shared. Whether it was the humble shepherd children of Fatima or the poor country girl, Saint Bernadette, Mary seems to choose those whom the world finds insignificant to deliver a very significant message. This also is seen in the Blessed Mother’s apparitions to Saint Juan Diego in Guadalupe. It is a humble and simple heart that can respond so much better to Our Lady and to her Son, Jesus, than a sophisticated one. This humble and simple heart that Jesus speaks of so often is the one we need to always be striving for if we are going to make any real spiritual progress.
Whether it was Lourdes or Fatima about sixty years later, there were three things that Mary stressed at both places: penance, prayer for sinners, and the Rosary.
Mary asked repeatedly to those to whom she appeared to undertake penance for sinners. We are to do penance in reparation for sins. And we must believe that, if we can take the word of Our Lady, which I am sure we can, consciously “offering up” of penances and sufferings really does matter. It isn’t some old fash-ioned idea that was made up to keep us docile, but truly contributes to the salvation of others. It makes sense too, considering what Saint Paul states in his letter to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
Not only do our sufferings offered up in reparation for sins spiritually benefit others; our Blessed Mother was also insistent that we are to also pray for sinners. Although we ourselves are sinners and in need of other’s prayers for ourselves, our prayers for our fellow sinners brings down graces to them that they would never receive if we were not praying for them. This mutual benefit of praying for each other, as sinners, is a humble recognition that our disobedience of God’s laws matters. That is, what we do or don’t do matters greatly in our eternal lives and that we need God’s grace and mercy to advance spiritually.
Finally, Mary strongly encouraged (in fact, essentially mandated) to Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia in Fatima and to Bernadette in Lourdes, to pray the Rosary daily. Meditating on the mysteries of Christ in the Rosary and offering this special prayer to Jesus through Mary, His Mother, is one of the most powerful prayers that exists. Since the month of October is the month of the Rosary, it would be a wonderful time for all of us to rediscover the beauty and the power of the Rosary. We have our Lady’s word and innumerable historical events that confirm that the short time that it takes to pray the Rosary profits us with incredible spiritual benefits.
God bless you,
Father Joseph Byerley
In the early Church, the “four living creatures” that encircle God’s throne in the Book of Revelation (4:7-8) became symbols for the evangelists. These symbols originated from the four-sided creatures described by the prophet Ezekiel six hundred years before the birth of Christ. “Within it (a storm wind) were figures resembling four living creatures that looked like this: their form was human, but each had four faces and four wings ... Each of the four had the face of a man, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side the face of an ox and finally each had the face of an eagle.” (Ezekiel 1:5, 6 & 10). While a number of early authors ascribe different creatures to different Evangelists, we have St. Jerome, in the latter part of the fourth century, whom we owe the formation of this tradition as we now hold it:
St. Matthew : Winged Man, Incarnation.—To St. Matthew was given the creature in human likeness, because he commences his gospel with the human generation of Christ, and because in his writings the human nature of Our Lord is more dwelt upon than the divine.
St. Mark : Winged Lion, The Resurrection.—The Lion was the symbol of St. Mark, who opens his gospel with the mission of John the Baptist, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." He also sets forth the royal dignity of Christ and dwells upon His power manifested in the resurrection from the dead.
St. Luke : Winged Ox, Passion.—The form of the ox, the beast of sacrifice, fittingly sets forth the sacred office, and also the atonement for sin by blood, on which, in his gospel, he particularly dwells.
St. John : The Eagle, Ascension.—The eagle was allotted to St. John because, as the eagle soars towards heaven, he soared in spirit upwards to the heaven of heavens to bring back to earth revelation of sublime and awful mysteries as well as the divinity of Christ.
God bless you,
Father Joseph Byerley