Appendix A: Three Methods of Prayer

 

These additional methods of prayer might be as useful in the context of the Spiritual Exercises as outside of it. The companions can try out at any time to see if they feel to use them with spiritual benefit [1]. No prayer method has absolute importance and we should apply also for these the principle of St. Ignatius that if something works for us - in the sense that it is helpful for what we are seeking - than we should keep it, otherwise we should leave it aside without regret. Objectively these are good proven ways of praying but each person and couple for as far as it goes should test it if it works for them personally or for the common prayer. It happens normally that a certain kind of prayer works for us for a certain period of time and then at some point it becomes fruitless, in which case we might simply change for some other way of prayer.

Before beginning to pray with any of the three methods the companions need to recollect themselves for awhile, and “either seated or walking up and down, as may seem better” [239] consider what they are going to do and for what purpose [2].

 

238-248.              The First Method of Prayer: A Review of Conscience

 

This method is a way to review shortly our conscience that can be used in order to render other prayers or the sacraments more fruitful [3]. It consists of four reflections, “On the Ten Commandments”, “On the Seven Capital Sins”, “On the Three Powers of the Soul” and “On the Five Senses of the Body”. It should not take a long time so it might be prayed even at the beginning of important contemplations or meditations.

239-243. On the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments often called also Decalogue (“ten words” of God) has its origin in the basic Old Testament law given to the people at the Mount Sinai as described in Ex 20:1-17 and in Deut 5:6-22 and constitutes an essential part of the basic Christian catechesis since St. Augustine. While the division and numbering of the commandments changed during the history of the Church, the present Catechism of the Catholic Church follows the Augustinian tradition [4].

Opening prayer

In this opening prayer the companions ask for the grace to understand better the meaning of the Ten Commandments, to know if they failed in the observance of them and to be free from that failure in the future.

Reflection and prayerful conversation

The one by one review of the commandments might take several minutes and the companions need to stop and wait for each other at each commandment. Each time one finds faults, stop to ask forgiveness and say an Our Father, then they continue to the next commandment. It depends on the companions if they choose to do it silently, praying God in their hearts or to share their faults so to ask forgiveness together from God and also from each other when it is appropriate. For a married couple this “reciprocal confession” or common examination of conscience might be a powerful means to build their relationship.

It is not necessary to spend a long time with the individual commandments, the idea is just to see if one has sinned against it or not. As they arrive to the end of the reflection, the companions close it with a prayerful conversation with God as is usual in all the exercises.

244-245.            On the Seven Capital Sins

The Seven capital sins are defined in the following way in the Catechism: “Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia”[5].

The companions now consider one by one the seven capital sins in a similar manner as they did in the precedent reflection with the commandments. St. Ignatius warns that in order to understand and to avoid more efficiently the actual faults that derive from the capital sins (which are in reality attitudes and patterns of being or acting), it is better to consider and seek the opposite virtues. One needs to exercise the seven virtues, so that these could become habitual instead of the negative or inauthentic tendencies. The companions should resolve to practice humbleness instead of pride, generosity instead of avarice, joy for the good of others instead of envy, peace of the heart instead of wrath, moderation or temperance instead of lust, temperance in food instead of gluttony, and joy of the heart instead of sloth or acedia.

246.    On the Three Powers of the Soul

This classical threesome division of the human faculties on the image of theTrinity [6], speaking of memory, intellect and will originates from St. Augustine’s writings. Karl Rahner explains the three powers in this way: “We today would say: the spirit in its self-presence, in its self-intuition, and its self-activity…We must realize that this description has to do with the presence of a spirit whose inner constitution is essentially transcendence toward God; therefore, it already has a certain type of presence of God, grasp of God, and capacity of doing the will of God” [7]

The image of the Trinity in us is distorted by sin and we can experience this deformity in the less then perfect working of our faculties. As memory, intellect and will fails, the presence of God, the grasp of God, and our capacity to do the will of God becomes obfuscated in our spirit. Since these faculties are touching the essence of our being as humans, the prayerful review of the three powers will go still deeper in our hearts. The method of the reflection is the same as in the precedent points, the companions should take the three faculties one by one, review the faults that are connected with each and resolve to amend in the future.

247-248.    On the Five Senses of the Body

This reflection is on the five senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The use of the senses is a typical part of the Ignatian contemplation especially in “application of the senses” which directs the senses one by one to the scene contemplated [8]. We know that also our senses are somewhat weakened by sin and unhealthy tendencies. In this reflection we take them one by one to understand the faults that are connected with each sense to amend their use for the future.

St. Ignatius in a note proposes that one might wish to “imitate Christ Our Lord” or Our Lady in the use of senses, in which case one should add a prayer for this grace at each sense with an Our Father or Hail Mary [248]. Of course, imitation is not an external copying of an imagined attitude but inner conformation to the living Christ as presented in the Second Phase [9].

 

249-257.    The Second Method of Prayer: Word Meditation

 

This method consists in slow recital of the text of a prayer, psalm or scriptural passage with reflection on the meaning of each word of it [10].

Opening prayer

The companions will address in this short prayer God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit or Mary as it fits better with the text chosen for reflection.

Meditative recital and closing prayer

The companions choose a fitting position for the meditation. They begin then with the first word of the chosen text, and stay with it as long as they find in it insights, feelings and consolations. The companions can do it together, so that one says the word loud, they meditate and then by an agreed sign that it can go on they pass to the next word. At the end of the meditation they share what experiences each of them had, after which in a short prayer they give thanks for the graces received and ask what they need most at that moment.

This method can last for an entire prayer session, going deeper and deeper into the text repeating it more times. At repetitions the companions can stop instead of at each word at individual expressions or phrases, or they can stop only at words that were significant in the first recital. Other way to prolong the meditation is to take a sequence of prayers, like Our Father, Hail Mary, Soul of Christ, Hail Holy Queen, the Creed and so on.

When we take the words one after the other, there is no need to rush to go on. If one feels a word abundantly significant, he or she might signal it to the companion, and can spend the entire time of the prayer with this word. At the end of the prayer they share how it went. However, if one spends the meditation with one or two words, it is useful to repeat the same text later to give occasion for reflecting also on the rest of the words. The companions might even spend several prayer sessions with one text before choosing another one.

 

258-260.    The Third Method of Prayer: Measured Rhythmical Recitation[11]

 

The companions choose a vocal prayer like Our Father and after an opening prayer as in the Second Method they recite it by the rhythm of their respiration. That means that with each breath or respiration they pronounce one of the words while mentally pray with it. This method helps to make us conscious of our breathing and through it we are reminded of the gift of life or of the spirit in us [12]. As we are breathing in and out we experience sort of receiving and giving the spirit, which is the essence of prayer itself. Through this form of prayer besides reflecting on the meaning of each word, we open up to gratitude for the gift of life and feel actually the dependence on God’s continuous life-giving grace.

The companions might do this prayer personally or can try to do it together, synchronizing the rhythm of their breathing – an experience of their common life also in this symbolical way. However, at the end they can share how it went, and give thanks together in a short prayer.

All prayers that the companions know by heart can be prayed in this way and if they have enough time they can take more then one prayer in a session.

 

 



[1] For example, we mentioned these prayer methods in the introduction to the First Phase [22-44] as part of the many forms presented in the Exercises.

[2] Cf. “Additions” [73-90] 3. and “Notes” [127-131] 5.

[3] Cf. “General Examination of Conscience” in the First Phase.

[4] See the presentation of the Ten Commandments in Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Liguori: USCC-Libreria Editrice Vaticana- Ligouri Press, 1994) Section II of Part III, nos. 2052-2557., pp. 498-611.

[5] “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” no. 1866; see also 1867. Earlier we referred to the seven capital sins in connection with the “root sins” of the Enneagram in the Second Phase. See it there in the “Note and repetitions of the ‘Two Standards’” [148].

[6] See it mentioned in [45] at the beginning of the First Phase.

[7] Rahner, “Spiritual Exercises,” p. 43.

[8] See the application of the senses introduce it in connection with the “Meditation on Hell” [65-71] in First Phase.

[9] See the definition of “conforming” in the introduction to the Second Phase

[10] This kind of meditation resembles the “lectio divina”, a well-known method of scriptural meditation.

[11] We advised to use this method of prayer in the Third Phase when the contemplation of the passion causes a distress so strong that only vocal prayer remains possible in order to persevere without consolations (see the introduction of the Third Phase).

[12] Remember the Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ is ‘ruah’, meaning also breath and wind.