Electronic Prayer Book

An Introduction to Meditation on the Gospels

 

An Introduction to Meditation on the Gospels.

by Bishop Ottokar Prohaszka.

 

Acknowledgment

 

This introduction to Meditation on the Gospels is in fact almost the entire Introduction to the following book which we acknowledge to be one of the finest of its kind in any language. So applicable was the author’s description of meditation we simply cannot improve on it. We changed only his reference to “this book” to read “meditation on the Gospels” to render it appropriate for a web site, and added a few headings to guide our readers. We salute Bishop Prohaszka as a great Christian teacher, and commend the Newman Press for making it available in English. We encourage readers to obtain a copy if at all possible.

 

Meditations on the Gospels

By the Right Reverend

 

Ottokar Prohaszka

Bishop of Szekesfehervar

 

Authorized translation from the Hungarian

 

By M. DE PAL

 

Foreword by C. C. Martindale, S.J.

 

The Newman Press
Westminster,
Maryland 1963

 
 
Dedication
 

I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.
(John 10: 10). I wish to serve this purpose of Jesus at His Incarnation, and to that end I am sending this ….. out into the world. It is intended to assist in the development of the life of Christ within our souls.

 
God: Centre of Our Meditation
 

Man upon earth is a citizen of two worlds, and draws his life from two sources, from nature and from grace. Nature appears before him as a beautiful, mysterious fact; everything within it — from the stars and seas and forests, down to the tiniest blade of grass — conceals the mystery of God’s thought, is beautiful in the steady rhythm of its lines and colours, and is the sublime expression of eternally unfathomable Truth. The greatness of creation impresses us, grips us in the core of our being, and stamps the seal of its splendour upon our inner life. Nature is a symphony, which teaches the human soul to sing. In meadow and forest, in the star-sown sky, in the restlessly heaving waters, there is revealed a mighty, vital force, the incarnation of God’s creative ideas; this enlightens and elevates man, and leads him on to the supersensual world of the intellect and the spirit, to a fresh wealth of beauty and of sublimity. And this world as well has its sun and moon and stars, heights and depths, light and darkness; it possesses an inexhaustible store of types and forms, and is immeasurably fertile and productive. In the world of the spirit, art and science, social and economic life have developed, and beyond its borders we see the perspective of God’s kingdom, in which He Himself creates and fashions souls after the pattern of Christ, by their capacities and emotions, joys and sufferings, lives and deaths. He is Christ, Artist and Model in one, Who has manifested Himself to humanity in the matchless revelation that is the Gospel. It is our blessed task to open our hearts to His message, and to shape our lives into conformity with the ideal which He sets before us.

 
Purpose of Meditation
 

This, then, is the great purpose, which meditation on the Gospels is intended to further. It is to help souls in building up within themselves the life of Christ, that is to say, to introduce them to the essence of Christ’s life, and to exercise heart and soul alike in penetrating to those depths which are opened up to us by the mysteries of existence, of nature and grace and supernatural life. Just as the eagle knows no fear when he soars in dizzy heights beyond the reach of human eyes, so the soul must not be troubled when it awakens to a consciousness of the divine power which pulsates within it, or when it hears the voice of love exhorting it to imitation, and the heroic inspirations which issue from the life of Christ. No, it must plunge willingly into the depths, cast away fear, and rejoice. And the soul cannot rejoice while it is still clinging to the rocks of worldly feeling and pride and sensuality, and is swept by the storms of desire.

 
Listening To Our Lord and Following Him
 

Yet even then the soul is conscious of the yearning for the better; it strives for tranquillity and seeks its true home, but cannot find it. It is in need of a helping hand to set it on the homeward track, on the way to God. Here Christ goes before us and encourages us. ‘;Launch out into the deep,’ He tells us, ‘and let down your nets …. and follow Me.’

Christ is God Himself in human shape, and I have to adore Him, and delight in His sublime beauty, in the depth and unique quality of His Soul, in the powerful originality of His mind, in the charm which He diffuses and in the life which flows forth from Him. My soul hangs upon His lips and hearkens to His every word. I see God reflected in Him as in a mirror; I bow my head upon His hands and surrender my heart to Him. He is God’s Instrument, He will form me and harmonize the conflicting elements within me. I wish I could persuade all men to believe this and to act upon their belief. Do not let us search in all directions and at random for the sources of better and higher life; do not let us waste time in the analysis of the symbols of existence; let us rather turn to Christ and contemplate Him. If we do this in love and humility, then His spirit and His image will gradually be absorbed into our being.

Those who contemplate Christ will get to know God; they are drawn towards Him irresistibly. When He walked upon earth He attracted publicans and sinners, rich young men, Peters and Magdalens, a thousand times over; and still to-day he calls souls to Him. Divine power and divine life stream from Him, and are imparted to us by His glance, His words, and His touch. That is why He came upon earth, that He might bring and bestow life; and to Him alone did God grant the power to do so. It is true that profound thinkers have existed, such as Socrates, Plato, and Plotinus, who have given men great ideas; but they could not offer them life, and by the side of Christ they are but pale, if glorious, shadows.

 
Eight Guidelines For Meditation
 

In order to give free play to the life-giving activity of Christ in our souls, and to derive the fullest possible benefit from His teaching and His example, we must approach Him in the right frame of mind and with the decks of the soul cleared for action. Unless we do this the Gospel will remain, where we are concerned, but a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. If we really desire to assure our spiritual progress and success, we must comply with several conditions:

 
(a) Seek Him and Follow Him
 

We must enter into the closest possible contact with God, we must seek Him out and follow Him. This means that we must turn towards Him at every opportunity, whether it originates in the order of nature or on the order of grace; call upon Him, and then listen attentively for His answer. For this, tranquillity and recollection are essential, and to make sure of them we must shut out the world and its affairs and retire within ourselves. Many people find this comes most easily to them in church, others in their home or their garden, others in the loneliness of the country or of the forest. We must choose whichever suits us best. The most suitable time for meditation is the morning, and it is best to meditate kneeling, if we are able to do so without undue strain. Before going to our night’s rest, we should read through one or two points – not more — and after this we should not occupy ourselves with anything else. If we wake during the night, and when we get up in the morning, we should instantly direct our thoughts towards the subject of the meditation, and further occupy ourselves with it while we dress.

 
(b) Approach with a pure heart
 

It is one of the primary requirements of prayer that the soul should bow down before God with the most profound reverence — and with a pure heart. For purity of heart is the first obligation which reverence imposes. We must approach God, then, full of contrition for our sins, seeing to it that there is nothing in us to offend Him, and to bar the way to His merciful condescension. The purification of the soul and the awakening of contrition are essential to the work of preparation, and to these must be added the frequent invocation of God alike during the meditation and in the course of the day.

 
(c) Approach with great longing
 

Great longing. We must approach God like the man who longs for life and draws it up in great draughts, like the man who with the enthusiasm of the true artist strives to express in his own soul that which he perceives to be beautiful and good; and like the man who craves for profound and rich interior life as Holy Scripture understands it — ‘Wherefore I wished, and understanding was given me: and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me. And I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. . . . I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light, for her light cannot be put out.’ (Wisdom 7: 7 –10.)

 
(d) Penetrate the Gospel scene and be present to it
 

We must busy our intelligence with the subject of the meditation; that is, we must form a clear mental picture of the scene or event or sentence upon which we are meditating, examine it attentively, and penetrate it. By ‘penetrating’ I mean that we must contemplate the subject, analyse it, link it up with different trains of thought, and illustrate it by contrasts. For instance, if I meditate upon Christ’s words ‘Launch out in the deep,’ I picture to myself the coastline round Capharnaum, and the shore from which the boat is pushed off; the dirty surroundings, the people lingering at the landing place; and the bluish water, shallow round the coasts, deepening towards the centre of the Lake. I compare the dust of the shore with the clean, fresh air out upon the Lake itself, the shallows with the salty depths where the pearls are born and the storms slumber; arid I remember that Our Lord bids us launch out into the deep. Therefore I am a sailor, and must venture out to sea.; and Christ Himself is the depth upon which I float, the precious pearl beneath it, and the guiding star above. . . . We must analyse other scenes and events — Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary — in the same way, and do the same with Christ’s sayings, sift them, expand them, apply them, and work them out. In this connection we may usefully employ the system of questioning which St. Ignatius advises, and ask ourselves : What is there here that I must take to heart? What is the practical truth which emerges from it? What are the motives which finally decide me to leave one thing undone and to do another? To what extent was this or that line of action moderate, just, useful, sweet, easy, or necessary? What has so far hindered me from putting the truth which I have perceived into practice? What methods and instruments do I propose to employ in the future? To us, truth must be the wide ocean into the depths of which we should ardently desire to plunge.

 
(e) Let the heart glow and cling closely to God
 

But we cannot arrive at any noteworthy results without the help of a capacity for feeling. It is essential that we should set to work not only with our heads, but with our hearts as well. During our meditation we must awaken and stir emotions at every step — faith, hope, contrition, confidence, courage, humility, surrender, love — our hearts must glow, cling closely to God, pay Him homage and flame up towards Him. In this way the dry thought acquires life and spirit, form and power. The necessary, but often tedious, intellectual labour of building up a logical train of thought then becomes radiant in the light of our ideals, just as the spring sunshine floods the beech-woods with emerald light, and our souls are uplifted at the sight. Prayer must be as it were the flood and ebb of the soul — a rising to infinity, and a receding to the depths of its own lowliness; it must be the unfolding of the soul’s wings for flight, followed by the return to the nest.

If we pray in this manner, we shall not be tempted to doubt God’s love; instead we shall have boundless confidence in His guidance, and when we find that the gates of Heaven are open to us, we shall enter in without amazement at our kindly reception, because we know that it is our home.

 
(f) Select one truth and linger upon it
 

We must remember that if we try to follow too many lines of thought in any single meditation, we shall obtain but little result; we must therefore select one individual truth and linger around it, if we desire it to enrich our souls. We must ask ourselves the question, How does this affect my spiritual life, not as a whole, but from such and such an aspect, with regard to such and such a virtue or difficulty, and where my good and bad impulses are concerned? All these things must be considered separately, and detail work is most important in this connection. If we truly desire to fashion our spiritual life from its very depths, we must analyse the practice of virtue as well as our sins, faults, and evil tendencies, in the minutest detail, in order to cultivate what is good in all the separate circumstances and departments of life, and to extirpate what is evil root by root.

 
(g) Practise virtue uninterruptedly
 

Contemplation and analysis, however, are not sufficient; we must proceed to the practice of virtue. The Spirit of God works unceasingly, and activity is the reflection of His essential Being; He creates souls in His own image and likeness and fashions them. The latter is a lengthy process of developing, pruning, warming and purification. The soul has to do violence to itself, in order to make room for the divine life to enter; it attains salvation by way of self-denial. We must practise self-mastery, give up our own wills, persevere amidst dryness and lack of consolation, and suffer the weaknesses of the soul with patience. Even in the times of interior night and darkness we must go forward confidently, with perfect faith in God; we shall then taste the sweetness of a powerful inner life and not fear God’s visitation. In this way the soul will begin to take root in reality, to tear down the veils of self-deception, and when it has made the sacrifice of its evil self, to practise virtue uninterruptedly.

Reflection upon our spiritual progress and failures hitherto, and increasing degree of illumination consequent upon the practices which I have outlined above, will continually increase the strength, depth and truth of our spiritual life.

 
(h) Apply in daily life the fruit of meditation
 

We must carry over to our daily life the lessons we have learned and the resolutions we have formed as a result of our morning meditation, and recall these resolutions during the course of the day by means of short prayers in order to spur ourselves on to fresh and higher endeavour.

 
Reaching Our Goal – To Resemble Christ
 

I believe that the souls who practise this method of meditation will build up their spiritual life in the most satisfactory manner, for they make God and His grace their leader, approach Him ever more closely, and are guided by His inspirations. Their sensitiveness is thereby greatly heightened, and they respond the more readily to the impressions of the external world as well, to the beauties of the sea, of mountain valleys, and the evening dusk when the sound of bells drifts faintly through it; they are stirred by the mystic longing which is expressed in every soaring line of our Gothic churches and cathedrals, and by the first flowers which blossom on a newly-made grave. Yet how much more wonderful is God’s touch upon our souls, now vigorous and powerful like that of the artist fashioning marble, now gentle and tender, like that of a mother caressing her child. The order of grace surpasses the order of nature, and the love of God stands far above all the pleasures of earthly love. To the soul who loves, the gracious countenance of Christ becomes visible, while the nearness to God of which it is conscious fills it with confidence, and with the energy which tolerates the existence neither of false gods nor of self-deception. The soul then desires one thing only: to be filled with God, to resemble Christ.