St. Teresa of Avila – The Way of Perfection Chapter 24


Now then, let us speak again to those souls I mentioned that cannot recollect or tie their minds down in mental prayer or engage in reflection. As a matter of fact there are many persons seemingly terrified by the mere term “mental prayer” or “contemplation,” for as I have also said, not everyone walks by the same path.

Well, what I now want to counsel you about (I can even say teach you, because as a Mother, having the office of prioress, I am allowed to teach) is how you must prayer vocally, for it’s only right that you should understand what you’re saying. And because it can happen that those who are unable to think about God may also find long prayers tiring, I don’t want to concern myself with these. But I will speak of those prayers we are obliged as Christians to recite (such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary) so that people won’t be able to say of us that we speak and don’t understand what we’re speaking about – unless we think it is enough for us to follow the practice in which merely pronouncing the words is sufficient. What I would like us to do, daughters, is refuse to be satisfied with merely pronouncing the words. For when I say, “I believe,” it seems to me right that I should know and understand what I believe. And when I say, “Our Father,” it will be an act of love to understand who this Father of ours is and who the Master is who taught us this prayer.

Well, god never allows us to forget the Master who taught us this prayer, and with so much love and desire that it benefit us. He wants us to remember Him often when we say the prayer, even though because of our weakness we do not remember Him always.

Now with regard to vocal prayer, you already know that His Majesty teaches that it be recited in solitude. This is what He always did when He prayed, and not out of any need of His own but for our instruction. It has already been mentioned that one cannot speak simultaneously to God and to the world; this would amount to nothing more than reciting the prayer while listening to what is being said elsewhere or to letting the mind wander and making no effort to control it. There can be exceptions at times either to bad humors – especially if the person is melancholic – or because of faint feelings in the head so that all efforts become useless. Or it can happen that God will permit days of severe temptation in his servants for their greater good. And though in their affliction they are striving to be quiet, they cannot even be attentive to what they are saying, no matter how hard they try; nor will the intellect settle down in anything, but by the disordered way it goes about, it will seem to b in a frenzy.

Whoever experiences the affliction these distractions cause will see that they are not his fault; he should not grow anxious, which makes things worse, or tire himself trying to put order into something that a the time doesn’t have any, that is, his mind. He should just pray as best he can; or even not prayer, put like a sick person strive to bring some relief to his soul; let him occupy himself in other works of virtue. This advice now is for persons who are careful and who have understood that they must not speak simultaneously to both God and the world.

What we ourselves can do is to strive to be alone; and please God it will suffice, as I way, that we understand to whom we are speaking and the answer the Lord makes to our petitions. Do you think He is silent: Even though we do not hear Him, He speaks well to the heart when we beseech Him from the heart.

And it is good for us to consider that He taught this prayer to each of us and that He is showing it to us; the teacher is never so far from his pupil that he has to shout, but he is very close. I want you to understand that it is good for you, if you are to recite the Our Father well, to remain at the side of the Master who taught this prayer to you.

You will say that doing so involves reflection and that you neither can nor want to pray any other way but vocally; for there are also impatient persons who like to avoid any suffering. Since such individuals do not have the habit, it is difficult for them to recollect their minds in the beginning; and so as to avoid a little fatigue, they say they neither can nor know how to do anything else that pray vocally.

You are right in saying that this vocal prayer is now in fact mental prayer. But I tell you that surely I don’t know how mental prayer can be separated from vocal prayer if the vocal prayer is to be recited well with an understanding of whom we are speaking to. It is even an obligation that we strive to pray with attention. Please God that with these remedies we shall recite the Our Father well and not end up in some other irrelevant thing. I have experienced this sometimes, and the best remedy I find is to strive to center the mind upon the one to whom the words are addressed. So, be patient and strive to make a habit out of something that is so necessary!”



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