St. Catherine of Sienna warns us not to let our prayers consist “more in words than in affection.” The goal of prayer is for the soul to be “inebriated and set on fire and sated with holy longing, finding herself filled completely with love of [God] and of her neighbors.”
Recognizing that “the soul is imperfect before she is perfect,” the saint recommends that beginners “stay with vocal prayer so as not to fall into laziness.” While saying the words, however, we ought to “make an effort to concentrate on [God’s] love, pondering at the same time [our] own sins and the blood of [God’s] only-begotten Son.”
The driving forces of what St. Catherine calls “mental prayer” are “self-knowledge,” or consciousness of one’s sins, and knowledge of the “charity and forgiveness” of God.
One without the other is dangerous: “For if self-knowledge and the thought of sin are not seasoned with remembrance of the blood and hope for mercy, the result is bound to be confusion”; while the presumption that we are already forgiven exalts the soul in pride.
“The soul, then, should season her self-knowledge with knowledge of [God’s] goodness, and her knowledge of [God] with self-knowledge. In this way vocal prayer will profit the soul who practices it and it will please [God]. And if she perseveres in its practice, she will advance from imperfect vocal prayer to perfect mental prayer.”
Finally, St. Catherine reminds us that “whatever [we] do in word or deed for the good of [our] neighbor is a real prayer.”
Just imagine what would become of us, and our world, if we were all to practice praying, for real!
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