Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. Amen.
Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola
I often hear Christians say that they are lacking an inner peace when they sit down to approach God in prayer. The complexities of life, the chaos of stress, and the manifold emotional struggles we encounter throughout each day become hindrance to fruitful prayer. In many respects, this is due to the failings of the human condition; we allow ourselves to become distracted by the situations of life that serve to draw us away from God. But I find that when I sit down to pray, it is fruitful to take these particular hindrances and reflect upon them, so that I can have the distractions, the sins, and all the other vexations of the Enemy before me, and rely upon God to overcome them, for without God, I would soon fall back into sin, and God alone can help me to overcome all of the struggles that otherwise oppress me.
It is important to remember that when we sit down to meditate, we aren’t simply saying, “Lord, take all these things away so that I can focus on you.” Instead, meditation has three particular aims, all of which are necessary in growing in relation with God, and by this relation, be able to overcome the battles of daily life.
The first aim of meditation is integrate and internalize the truths of the Faith. All of our doctrines and dogmas, the mysteries of Christ’s life, and the whole of Holy Scripture contain lessons for the daily life of the Christian. In looking at these truths, we lay before ourselves the path to fulfillment, the path to continual communion with God. We have before us these fundamental realities, and seek to reconcile ourselves with all that we have been given.
Secondly, in meditation we educate our emotions, our passions, for the sake of human flourishing. This emotional education allows us to more fully embrace rational life, understand those things that are good in themselves, and seek after them in the process of communing with God, with that final end of eternal beatification.
Finally, we are able to overcome and identify “thought traps,” those negative patterns of thought and action that prevent us from properly flourishing. St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, says that what we must first do is recognize the differences of consolation and desolation, recognizing that which leads us to God and that which leads us further away from Him. For St. Ignatius, true contrition is a consolation. Christ himself says that those who mourn are blessed, for in their mourning, they shall be comforted (Mt. 5:4).
With this in mind, I propose that meditating on particular passages which draw our gaze to our particular need for God’s mercy and our sinfulness can be powerful catalysts for growth.
Psalm 22:6 says—anticipating Christ—“I am a worm, and no man.” Like Christ—who becomes “a worm” in taking on our sinfulness, emptying Himself—we can say to Christ, “Lord, I am nothing without you. I can do nothing without you.” This isn’t a blasé, “Oh, I rely upon God for everything,” but is truly recognition of our sinfulness. Only in truly recognizing our weaknesses can we say, “I’m a wretch, I’m a worm and no man. And if it weren’t for your love and for your grace I would be mired in dirt and filth. But you raise me up, you heal my humanity.”
I said earlier that meditation is one way we educate the passions. Often, in our heights, in our good times, in our good feelings, we can become inflated and our ego becomes inflated. Meditation on our sinfulness can help us lower ourselves in those good times, to help us overcome our love for honor, our love for success.
St. Paul writes, summarizing all of this,
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:19-25)
We must always deal with our limitations, or disposition to sin. We must always be on guard against desolation. We must always be aware of our capacity for evil. We can then see the darkness within our hearts and be able to look at the seven deadly sins and say, “I can see each one of those in my heart. I can see their route. I see how I could fall into that.” But again, this is precisely the way God brings it out. This is source for rejoicing. This is a source of consolation, precisely because it opens us to God’s mercy. God comes to us in this weakness and he’s merciful with us. Our capacity to embrace and recognize our sinfulness grows our capacity to receive God’s mercy.