the history of the Church, her saints have led the People of God ever
deeper into the mystery of prayer and what it means to be faithful to
the Church's teaching on the importance of prayer for deep personal
communion with God the Holy Trinity. In addition to their exemplary
lives, the saints have left a great heritage of writing,
communicating the essentials of their relationship of prayer with the
Triune God. The Church has never ceased to encourage the People of
God to encounter these teachings of the saints and gain wisdom and
insight from the ways in which God chose to communicate himself to
them. Indeed, it is an important part of the life of prayer for
every Christian to seriously engage the writings of the men and women
whom the Church has been given the insight to proclaim saints. In my
conversion to the Catholic Faith, I found great solace in the lives
of the saints and in their examples of holiness and prayer. Because
of my desire to develop, with God's grace, the life of prayer that I
had seen in the saints, I began to read as many of the spiritual
writings as I could find. Two of the saints whose writings I
discovered led me to great growth in the spiritual life. Guided by
the experienced hand of my spiritual director, I found two worthy
exemplars who have since had a very profound impact on my life. The
first is St. Francis de Sales, a French bishop and doctor of the
Church who died in 1622. St. Francis was both the Bishop of Geneva
and a prolific author on the spiritual life for laypeople and those
who were taking the first steps to grow in what he called “the
devout life.” It was his work, the Introduction
to the Devout Life
that had such a great impact on me. The second saint that challenged
me in the life of prayer is St.
Josemaría Escrivá, a Spanish priest and founder of the personal
prelature Opus Dei,
who died in 1975. St. Josemaría began as a diocesan priest, but
later founded one of the largest lay apostolate programs in the
world. Throughout his life he wrote both short pithy sayings on the
spiritual life that were collected into topical handbooks, like The
and The Furrow,
and lengthy spiritual growth tools like his The
Way of the Cross.
Despite these two saints' different backgrounds, nationalities,
eras, and emphases, I have found their writings to have great
congruence. Both emphasize the importance of personal holiness and
conversion premised upon charity. For prayer, both highlight a
meditative method of engaging the Lord, with special attention paid
to vivid imagery and pious speculation: and thanks to their
teachings, my prayer life has shown growth in both reflection and
Frances de Sales' work Introduction
to the Devout Life
is considered to be a classic of the spiritual tradition.
In Devout Life,
St. Francis writes to Philothea, a “soul living in the world” and
invites her to follow the “paths of devotion.”
His introductory note to Philothea, a pseudonym the saint uses as a
stand-in for any God-loving soul, is at the same time moving and an
unwitting paen to pastoral charity and zeal:
have addressed my instructions to Philothea, as adapting what was
originally written for an individual to the common good of souls. I
have made use of a name suitable to all who seek after the devout
life, Philothea meaning one who loves God. Setting then before me a
soul, who through the devout life seeks after the love of God, I have
arranged this Introduction in five parts … .”
this auspicious beginning, St. Francis goes on to define the
different parts of his Introduction.
He describes the divisions as follows: first is conversion, with
general confession and frequent reception of holy communion.
Second is the development of what he calls mental prayer, but which
modern spiritual writers might call meditative prayer: using images
and considerations to prompt meditation on the things of God and
engage in discursive interiority.
Thirdly, St. Francis encourages his reader with respect to acquiring
Next, Philothea is instructed how to avoid the pitfalls and snares
of the enemy and his angels, analogous to other writers' purgative
Finally, St. Francis teaches what might be called the unitive prayer
of resting in the Lord.
is St. Francis' approach to prayer in the second part of his
that profoundly influenced my own prayer life. In the second part,
St. Francis lays out the necessity of prayer in the life of the
Christian disciple, and then he begins a series of meditations that
are designed to guide the reader through considerations about God.
Before proceeding into the substance of the meditations, however,
St. Francis outlines his method of meditation: three points of
preparation that lead to three parts or steps toward meditation.
He teaches that before beginning a meditation, the Christian must
enter into the presence of God.
He writes that to enter into this Divine Presence is to have “a
lively, earnest realization that [God's] Presence is universal; that
is to say, that He is everywhere, and in all, and that there is no
place, nothing in the world, devoid of His Most Holy Presence.”
Next, the Christian should invoke God's Presence by some short
memorized Scripture verse; St. Francis gives several examples from
The final preparatory step is to bring before one's mind's eye the
mystery upon which one will be meditating: the so-called “interior
Having completed these preparations, the Christian disciple calls to
mind certain considerations; these may be prompted by holy images,
Scripture verses, or contemplation of divine realities.
Earlier in the Introduction,
St. Francis supplies ten meditations that can be used to help the
reader engage his mind and soul in these considerations.
The second part, the meditation, is designed to be the lengthiest
part of St. Francis' method.
It is here that the God-loving soul should learn to both listen to
God and direct itself toward the Presence of its Creator and Savior,
which it has already recognize in the preparation to the meditation.
After suitable time meditating, the soul at prayer turns to St.
Francis' final steps: affections, resolutions, and spiritual
In the affections and resolutions, the soul considers all of the
good things that the Spirit has inspired the believer to meditate
upon; at the same time, the soul must also face the deficiencies that
close exposure to God's Presence has uncovered.
Having uncovered these blemishes, the soul resolves to pursue some
course of action or avoid some vice, asking God's help to do so.
Finally, the soul gathers up one or two particularly striking
affections and collects the resolutions God has granted and arranges
them in a memorable way.
In doing this, Philothea is making herself ready to remember the
prayer experience and allow herself to be changed by the encounter
with the Lord.
my own life, I have found St. Francis' method for meditation
incredibly helpful. Coming from a Protestant Christian tradition, I
was unfamiliar with the practice of Christian meditative prayer. Of
course, I had heard of such things in other religions, but it had
never occurred to me that Christians engaged in a similar practice as
well. In my Southern Baptist prayer life, I often engaged God in
conversation vocally: literally speaking out loud to God with
petitions and intercessions for people I cared about or situations
about which I was worried. This primitive—if sincere—form of
prayer did not leave much room for growth, and there was no real
conception of listening to God in the sense that Catholic spiritual
writers describe. Certainly, evangelical Protestant Christians will
describe listening to God in their heart, but many times, this seems
in reality to be a sort of asking God's permission in prayer and then
seeing whether He allows a situation to go forward after the prayer
has been made. With St. Francis' help, I was able to begin
meditative prayer for the first time. After a year or so of using
his method, I was even able to guide other beginners toward
meditative prayer. Though I have moved toward lectio
I have matured as a Christian, I still use much of St. Francis'
method to help prepare me for that type of silent, mental prayer.
the same way that St. Francis de Sales urges the God-fearing soul to
turn toward God's Presence while holding in place a firmly place
mental image of some heavenly consideration, so does St. Josemaría
Escrivá use vivid images to help bring the Christian disciple into a
thoughtful contemplation of Almighty God. One of St. Josemaría's
most famous works is his little collection of spiritual advice, The
In this book, he takes up various topics on the spiritual life and
addresses them with paragraphs containing his insights. While the
whole of The Way
is inundated with prayer, the third chapter of the handbook is
specifically dedicated to Prayer as such.
To begin, St. Josemaría describes slowness and deliberateness:
“Slowly. Consider what you are saying, to whom it is being said and
by whom. For that hurried talk, without time for reflection, is just
The saint re-emphasizes this point with a reflection on St. Mary of
Bethany: “'Mary chose the better part', we read in the holy Gospel.
There she is, drinking in the words of the Master. Apparently idle,
she is praying and loving. Then she accompanies Jesus in his
preaching through towns and villages. Without prayer, how difficult
it is to accompany him!”
St. Josemaría also describes the importance of meditative prayer,
indicating that he, like St. Francis de Sales, places a high value on
this method of spirituality:
in meditatione mea exardescit ignis.
And in my meditation a fire shall flame out.' That is why you go to
pray: to become a bonfire, a living flame giving heat and light. So,
when you are not able to go on, when you feel that your fire is dying
out, if you cannot throw on it sweet— smelling logs, throw on the
branches and twigs of short vocal prayers and ejaculations, to keep
the bonfire burning. And you will not have wasted your time.”
This passage from St. Josemaría also highlights the saint's penchant
for graphic mental images, which he uses over and over to help those
to whom he writes find their connection to God.
Josemaría's commitment to painting a picture in the mind of those he
invites to prayer comes through strongly in his The
Way of the Cross.
Like many spiritual masters before him, St. Josemaría wrote
meditations on the traditional Stations of the Cross that could be
used by the faithful in following along the actual via
within a church; but he also designed them to be used as prompts for
meditative prayer with or without the actual journeying of the
St. Josemaría's stations are designed in three parts: first, the
presentation of the station, with the opportunity to sing the
traditional verses of the Stabat
Next, he presents the reader with a vivid re-imagining, interspersed
with Scriptural allusions and citations, of the historical event that
took place during the station in question.
For example, in the fourth station, St. Josemaría describes what it
must have been like for Jesus to have encountered his blessed mother
Mary along the sorrowful way to Calvary:
sooner has Jesus risen from his first fall than he meets his Blessed
Mother, standing by the wayside where He is passing. With immense
love Mary looks at Jesus, and Jesus at his Mother. Their eyes meet,
and each heart pours into the other its own deep sorrow. Mary 's soul
is steeped in bitter grief, the grief of Jesus Christ. O all you that
pass by the way, look and see, was there ever a sorrow to compare
with my sorrow! (Lam 1:12). But no one notices, no one pays
attention; only Jesus. Simeon's prophecy has been fulfilled: thy own
soul a sword shall pierce (Luke 2:35). In the dark
loneliness of the Passion, Our Lady offers her Son a comforting balm
of tenderness, of union, of faithfulness; a 'yes' to the divine
powerful reflections then lead the reader to consider numerous points
of meditation that serve to present the Christian disciple with small
points of crisis: opportunities to make a resolution to follow Christ
in both specific and general ways.
first encountered St. Josemaría's writing in a gift to me of the The
by a supernumerary of Opus
Later, I discovered the saint's depiction of the Way of the Cross,
and found it to be an even more important impact on my prayer life.
When I pray with St. Josemaría's meditations, I lose myself in the
prayer and find myself walking with Jesus and Mary through the scenes
as the saint describes them. I regularly feel the great weight and
the great consolation of the mediations after the reflections,
leading me to challenge the status
in my life and continue conversion. I found the shortness of the
saint's sayings in The
to be perfect for brief mediation and silent prayer when praying
before the Blessed Sacrament, particularly if I do not have a lot of
time available. I have found that with St Josemaría's help, even a
small amount of time can be enough to enter into God's presence and
entertain the mystery of Christ's redemption.
I have been deeply changed for the good by the approaches to prayer
taken by Saints Francis de Sales and Josemaría Escrivá. Not only
have I sensed conversion in my life due to the prayer that their
methods and approaches have taken, but I have also been able to share
the fruits of my growth in prayer that I attribute to these two
writers with other Christians, helping them, too, to grow. I hope to
continue to follow their example of prayer and holiness to advance my
own spiritual life as a seminarian in the short term; in the long
term, I hope to be able to recommend both of these writers as, please
God, a priest of Jesus Christ.