By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
For a Christian, Pope Francis said at the General Audience, "to 'meditate' is to seek meaning: it implies placing oneself before the great page of Revelation in order to try to make it our own, taking it in completely.”
Therefore, having welcomed the Word of God, a Christian does not keep it closed up inside, because that Word must meet with “another book,” which the Catechism calls “the book of life.” This, the Pope affirmed, “is what we attempt to do every time we meditate on the Word.”
The Holy Father dedicated his catechesis on Wednesday to meditation as a form of prayer.
Meditation is a need for everyone
The Pope highlighted that the practice of meditation has received great attention in recent times by almost all the religions of the world, including Christianity, and is even widespread among people who do not have a religious vision of life.
“We all need to meditate, to reflect, to find ourselves,” he said. “Especially in the voracious Western world, people seek meditation because it represents a high barrier against the daily stress and emptiness that is everywhere.”
He further added that it is a phenomenon to be welcomed, because we possess an interior life that cannot always be neglected .
Prayer is an encounter
The Word, "once accepted in a Christian context, takes on a specificity that must not be erased,” the Pope explained. Here, Jesus Christ is “the great door through which the prayer of a baptized person passes" and the practice of meditation also follows this path.
When a Christian prays, Pope Francis explained, they do not aspire to full self-transparency nor seek the deepest core of their ego. Rather, the prayer of a Christian is, first of all, an encounter with the ‘Other.’
Therefore, “if an experience of prayer gives us inner peace, or self-mastery, or clarity about the path to take, these results are, one might say, side effects of the grace of Christian prayer which is the encounter with Jesus,” he said.
Methods of Christian meditation
Pope Francis went on to note that the term “meditation” has had different meanings throughout history, including within Christianity where it refers to different spiritual experiences. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church helps to trace some common lines by highlighting that “there are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters… But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus.”
In this regard, he highlighted the many methods of Christian meditation: “some are very sober, others more articulate; some accentuate the intellectual dimension of the person, others rather the affective and emotional,” he pointed out.
However, “all of them important and worthy of practice, inasmuch as they can help the experience of faith to become a total act of the person" because people do not only pray with their minds or their feelings.
The method is a road, not a goal
Further illustrating his message, Pope Francis recalled that the ancients used to say that “the organ of prayer is the heart” to explain that it is the whole person, starting from his or her center – not only some of their faculties - who enters into a relationship with God.
At the same time, “we must always remember that the method is a road, not a goal,” he stressed. “Any method of prayer, if it is to be Christian, is part of that sequela Christi [following Christ] which is the essence of our faith.”
Citing the Catechism of the Church, Pope Francis noted that “meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ.”
Christ is not far away
The grace of Christian prayer is that “Christ is not far away but is always in relationship with us,” Pope Francis affirmed.
This is because “there is no aspect of the divine-human person that cannot become for us, a place of salvation and happiness," he said. Thus, “every moment of Jesus’ earthly life, through the grace of prayer, can become contemporary with us" and there is no page in the Gospels in which there is no place for us.
In this manner, thanks to the Holy Spirit, we too are present at the river Jordan when Jesus is baptized, we are diners at the wedding feast of Cana when Jesus gives the best wine for the happiness of the couple, we too witness in amazement the thousands of healings performed by Our Lord. At the same time, “we are the cleansed leper, the blind Bartimaeus who regains his sight and Lazarus who comes out of the tomb.”
For us Christians, the Pope concluded, “meditating is a way of encountering Jesus. And in this way, only in this way, can we find ourselves.”