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St. Teresa, Should I Strive to Quiet My Mind During Prayer?

January 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Meditation, Mental Prayer, Prayer, Teresa of Avila

Dear Saint Teresa,

I have read a number of books on prayer that advocate methods of suppressing, shutting down, or eliminating thinking altogether during prayer.  In one centering prayer book, it said to “let your thoughts go” and that “thoughts are a normal part of prayer.” Even though the book claimed that it was not teaching to eliminate thoughts, in the end, the method taught that we seek a state where thoughts have no impact on our mind or prayer so… Anyway, do you recommend this approach?

I cannot understand how the mind can be stopped. There is no way of doing so without bringing about more harm than good. For my part, those in favor of stopping the mind have never given me an adequate argument for submitting to what they say.

Here are my reasons:

  1. First, in this work of the spirit, the one who thinks less and has less desire to act (in suppressing their thoughts) does more. What we must do is beg like the needy poor before a rich and great emperor, and then lower our eyes and wait with humility. When through His secret paths it seems we understand that He hears us, then it is good to be silent since He has allowed us to remain near Him; and it will not be wrong to avoid working with the intellect. But, if we don't yet know whether this King has heard or seen us, we mustn't become fools. The soul does become quite a fool as when it tries to induce this prayer, and it is left much drier; and, the imagination perhaps becomes more restless through the effort made not to think of anything. But the Lord desires that we beseech Him and call to mind that we are in His presence; He knows what is suitable for us. I cannot persuade myself to use human diligence in a matter in which it seems His Majesty has placed a limit, and I want to leave the diligence to Him. What He did not reserve to Himself are many other efforts we can make with His help, such as penance, good deeds, and prayer – insofar as our wretchedness can do these things.
  2. Second, is that these interior works are all gentle and peaceful; doing something arduous would cause more harm than good. I call any force that we might want to use “something arduous.” Leave the soul in God's hands, let Him do whatever He wants with it, with the greatest disinterest about your own benefit as is possible and the greatest resignation to the will of God.
  3. Third, the very care used not to think of anything will perhaps rouse the mind to think very much.
  4. Fourth, what is most essential and pleasing to God is that we be mindful of His honor and glory and forget ourselves and our own profit and comfort and delight. How is a person forgetful of self if he is so careful not to stir or even to allow his intellect or desires to be stirred to a longing for the greater glory of God? When His Majesty desires the intellect to stop, He occupies it in another way and gives it a light so far above what we can attain that it remains absorbed. Then, without knowing how, the intellect is much better instructed than it was through all the soul's effort not to make use of it. Since God gave us our faculties that we might work with them and in this work they find their reward, there is no reason to charm them; we should let them perform their task until God appoints them to another greater one.

Without any effort or noise, the soul should strive to cut down the rambling of the intellect – but not suspend either it or the mind; it is good to be aware that one is in God's presence and of who God is when in prayer.

St. Teresa of Avila

Adapted by Dan Burke from The Interior Castle, 4:3

PS: You might also be interested in the post “Can Centering Prayer be Redeemed?

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Art for this post on the answer to a question about whether I should strive to quiet my mind during prayer: Teresa of Avila (detail), François Gérard, 1827, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Art for feature image: La transverbération de Sainte Thérèse (The Transverberation of St. Teresa [of Avila]), Josefa de Ábidos, 1672, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Becky Ward

    AMEN!!! How good it is to hear these words again. So much emphasis is put on the method that one ‘should’ use in prayer that we forget what prayer is…….conversation of the soul with God.

    I struggled mightily trying to clear my mind in prayer so that I could focus, as many people tell us we must……..I’ve worked to develop the ‘correct’ ramrod straight posture we’re ‘supposed’ to use in order to achieve good results………..nothing worked for me!!

    Then I read a book where the author suggests that the distractions we receive in prayer are often given us by God so that we may pray for/about them. I might be wrong about the saint here but I think St. Ignatius says something similar. This works for me!! I remember something from a book on Mother Teresa where she says her prayer is sometimes simply remembering a person’s face before God….(while sitting before the Blessed Sacrament.) This speaks loudly and clearly to me as many people and situations play through my mind as I sit in adoration trying to quiet my mind……….now I pray for these souls and issues and have found much peace in doing so…………..which tells me I’m doing something right.

    Too often we forget that everything we have is a gift from God, including prayer……….and there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ method that works for everyone becuase each of us is unique and unrepeatable.

    Whatever form our prayer takes, we will make the most progress in simply opening our heart to our Creator, and listening with trust that He will guide us along the path He’s destined us to walk. He wants this relationship with us far more than we do!

    Peace…………….

  • defiant12314

    why do we always HAVE to BEG like dogs for scraps at the table? especially when our prayers remain unanswered.

    • Dear Friend – It sounds like you are suffering. I will pray for you.

      • defiant12314

        Yes I’m suffering; I feel as if God mislead me regarding my vocation, he is ignoring my repeated pleas for a Job and I feel as if he has abandoned me

        • These are difficult feelings – it must be very challenging for you. Have you ever read or meditated on the book of Job?

          • defiant12314

            Yes I read Job when I thought I was losing my faith in first year of collage

          • Superjoani

            I recently had an exceedingly painful experience that still leaves me feeling utterly betrayed and even abused because our Lord allowed it to be dealt to me. My reason and faith say He is closer than ever and that others have suffered much more than me. But the suffering He demands is far beyond my strength and I think it is only by grace that I get from one day to the next. Years ago I felt God answered my impertinent demands for an explanation as to why humanity must suffer— I learned it is not my place to ask such questions, the answers are beyond my comprehension, and that knowing answers to this question would not help me find Him. Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain” (the end) includes the author’s understanding of God’s words to him …”I will lead you by the way that you cannot possibly understand, because I want it to be the quickest way. Therefore all the things around you will be armed against you, to deny you, to hurt you…” You have probably read it, but if not, it may console you. God will not let go of you.

        • Becky Ward

          Dear Brother in Christ,

          I feel for you……….I was in a situation where I thought God had deceived me for a long time……….I know how much it hurts………and yet, if I could do it all over again I would not ask to be spared the experience. On this side, I see far too much good that has come from it. I offer the following in hope that it will enable you to see St. Teresa’s advice from a different perspective.

          Imagine for a moment that you came into a large amount of money, and although you were set for life financially, you decided to start a business and invited two friends to come and work for you. You provide excellent benefits and working conditions for them and pay them very well.

          Friend #1 is grateful and demonstrates this by putting forth his/her best efforts, putting in a full day’s work, always striving for excellence so that the company will thrive and grow, is patient with customers who are rude…..often winning them over and gaining their loyalty. He works overtime when necessary without complaint and is the first to speak up and offer to take extra work when others are sick or have large workloads. He owns up to his mistakes and tries hard to learn from them…..and he thanks you, and tells you he is grateful for the job, especially since he knows you aren’t obligated to give him the work and yet you go above and beyond the ‘duty’ of an employer in doing right by one’s employees.

          Friend #2 takes full advantage of you and your friendship. He rarely works a full day, either showing up late, leaving early, or taking extra long lunch ‘hours’. He has an attitude that you some how ‘owe’ him the job and that he is doing you a favor by being there at all. Customers complain about his work, and the reputation of the business has suffered because of his attitude and poor work habits. When you try to talk with him he is defensive and sarcastic and even accuses you of showing favoritism toward friend #1 because you recently gave him a new account that will showcase the businesses abilities rather than giving it to him (friend #2), even though he had asked you repeatedly for the job. What he doesn’t know is that the customer on this job is very demanding and is sometimes even abusive to those he hires and you were protecting friend #2 from this sort of treatment because you know this would be a bad situation for him, and despite his attitude and ungratefulness, you still care very much about him.

          How would you feel about these two friends?

          Personally, I would want to lavish attention, praise, gratitude, money, and anything else I could give to friend #1. (It is when we are weak and humble that God lifts us up.)

          And although I probably would have fired friend #2 long ago………………God doesn’t do that with us……….he never gives up.

          I believe our ‘begging like dogs’ is simply an act of humility, which should not be confused with humiliation. Humility is walking in the truth; acknowledging who God is, and who we are as creatures in light of this. Humility is a virtue that helps greatly in ridding our souls of PRIDE, which the devil wants us to be full of.

          Can you imagine anyone more ‘broken’ than Our Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross, watching her son die an excruciating death? Jesus and Mary give us the example we need to follow………..TRUSTING in God’s love and mercy.

          I just learned that the word ‘mercy’ in Latin, misericordia, means “a heart which gives itself to those in misery.”

          I too, am praying for you…………I hope you find peace, light, and understanding.

          God Bless You!

          • defiant12314

            Becky

            I just want to be loved, I want to be held like a little child, I want to be cared for; I want the blessings that God is giving to other people; my friends, acquaitences etc.

            I just want God to stop treating me like a soccer ball – I REALLY tried to be good- there were days when I would spend up to 6 hours a day in prayer, I go to confession at least once a week, Daily Mass and Communion, I used to fast and abstain twice a week, pray 15 decades of the Rosary a A DAY, I gave from my limited means and yet all the Blessings I asked for in FAITH seem to go to other people – did God have his fingers crossed behind his back when he said “ask and it shall be given to you?”

            I want to love God but its hard to love someone who continually treats you to the business end of a 2 by 4- especially since my Father walked out on us 10 years ago and wasn’t the best of fathers prior to that, whilst I was in collage he thought that fartherly duties entailed meeting for a hot chocolate and cake once a month.

            For me Our Father = big bad domminering, narcicist who beats you simply because he feels like it and lavishes favour on others whilst daring you to ask why you don’t recieve the same and demanding that you tell him how good he is . At the same time mother (Mary) doesn’t do anything about it either because she won’t or cant’; I’m so scared.

            WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO in order for him to love me?, what propitiations do I have to make in order for my prayers to be answered, what do I need to do in order to be blessed – I’m at the end of my tether here.

          • Dear Friend. As one who has lived through a tremendous amount of suffering (loss of brother, sister, niece, living through abusive situation as a child, extreme suffering with life threatening illnesses) I can assure you that God is near and has all the love you desire. Your response to your desolation is greatest challenge you face. Your response has and will either increase your darkness or help you to see and know his love. That said, this is not the proper forum for you to find healing. I would strongly suggest you find a spiritual director and engage with them on these very difficult matters. He is real, present and good – He loved you enough to give himself up, as perfect love, and to be scourged, crowned, despised, rejected, and to be crucified for you. There has been no greater expression of love than this one. Your challenge is to receive it, and to reject the darkness. Be assured that you are in my prayers.

          • Becky Ward

            Dan is right………..this isn’t the forum for you to find that you need. But please know that I LOVE YOU……. I care……and I’m praying fiercely for you, as are many others who are reading these posts. Despite how you feel, you are not alone.

            Sending a big warm hug,
            your sister in Christ.

          • frtrue75@att.net

            Dear defiant1234: I am praying for you morning, noon, and night. I will light a candle for you at Mass on Thursday morning. I have not known the pain you so obviously have at this time, but I know God loves you and so do a lot of people you may never meet, including me, but be assured you are loved as a child of God. God bless you. You are loved. You are special. Donald True

      • defiant12314

        PS – I was supposed to talk to my spiritual director on Sunday but he couldn’t make it and he isn’t answering his phone, I tried going to my Parish Priest this morning but apparently it is his ‘day off’

    • FC

      I hope I’m not out of line here. I would like to share with you a thought that came to me today..
      Suffering is the school of Love…I’m sure this is not an original thought..must have heard it somewhere…
      Ponder this..and remember Love is God and God is Love..

    • joan

      When I feel this way I cling to Maurya Simon’s poem (I think entitled “Changing Light”) – “This darkness is a rope, not a prison; not a cell from which I hasten…” It is a strangely hopeful poem about darkness. It can be found online.

  • LizEst

    Good to refresh. Thank you for this…and prayers for those affected by the weather today. God bless!

  • Bot

    The descriptions of prayer that have made the most sense to me I find in Brother Lawrence and Theophan the Recluse to the effect of practicing the presence of God or standing before God with the mind in the heart. Uncluttered and appealing.

  • Ralyge

    Great post. One of my favorite pieces of advice regarding distractions, when the Lord has not yet captured the intellect is from Fr. Groeschell in Q and A on Your Journey to God . He advises”recentering the heart on God” rather than redirecting the mind. Very subtle difference…but perhaps the along the lines of St. Teresa quoted here.

  • Jesusbpraised

    Fruitful prayer is God’s work. Our part is simply to be open and available to Him. And remember that prayer is simply a tete a tete with Someone Who we know loves us.

    • Well said.

      • Jesusbpraised

        Thank you, Holy Spirit and St. Teresa!

  • Jan8790

    No, one should not clear the mind before prayer. Rather, let the praying itself clear the mind. What is important is that the heart itself, while restless and troubled will become peaceful, and maybe even joyful, with effective prayer. It is not what we think that brings about this change, but how much we love Jesus, and how sorry we are for our sins. Have we all repented so effectively for our sins that our choice will be the path of righteousness? If we, during our prayer time do not plan repentance, while we have sin in our heart, it is unlikely that Jesus will respond the way we would like. Remember-it is not what others have done unto us, but what we have done unto others.
    jan8790@live.com

    • Dear Friend – yes – the key issue is that we do not approach prayer with the goal of clearing the mind. We approach prayer with a desire and exercise of the will to focus on Christ. To the degree that we can do so, this is good. We must, as St. Teresa warns, avoid the deception that any focus on a method or a focus on clearing the mind only results in more focus on us than on Christ – it is a natural outcome. Even with the idea that “the praying itself clear the mind” we have to understand that if there is any clearing to be done it happens by God’s action and God’s grace. Our job is simply to turn our hearts to Him as best we can and patiently endure the wandering of our minds with a resolve to turn our attention back to Christ when we realize we have wandered off. He is faithful. If we pursue Him, He promises that we will find Him.

      • Michael Whelan

        ” Our job is simply to turn our hearts to Him as best we can and
        patiently endure the wandering of our minds with a resolve to turn our attention back to Christ when we realize we have wandered off. ”

        This sounds exactly like the instruction of meditation instruction (Buddhist, CP or other) except with the reference to “thoughts” of our Lord. I am not aware of real situations where meditation instructors advise forcing the mind to avoid thoughts. I think this critique is a straw man. There is instruction to observe and let go of thoughts. This is qualitatively different and is consistent with with the path of faith to an interior silence of the heart. Isn’t this where our encounter with or Lord becomes deep and transformative ? Isn’t there a place for this as well as mental prayer?

        • Dear Michael: I am sorry for your confusion. Christian prayer is centered on a real encounter with Christ. It is radically different than the other methods you mention and in fact is person rather than method centric. You might review the post from yesterday entitled “Can Centering Prayer be Redeemed?” In it I describe my personal experience that you note as a straw man. I wish it were true that this is rare or non-existent. If you had more exposure to the Centering Prayer movement you would know that this is very commonly and taught all over the world in this exact way. I have heard this directly from leaders in the movement at the highest levels. Our goal is to immerse ourselves in Christ and allow our minds to be filled with him, and the natural result is that distractions are pushed out by the presence of Christ himself. This happens in degrees through ascetical prayer practices like meditation, and then in infused contemplation God suspends our faculties and draws us to him in ways that are far beyond our efforts.

          • Camila

            Dan, I have never attended a centering prayer meetin. But this conversation is making me wonder, what kind of ‘instruction’ would I receive from a retreat guide that correctly follow st. teresa’s teacging as supposed to a cp retreat? Where is it so similar that there seem to cause so much confusion?

          • Camila – yes – challenging. The problem is that CP proposes a method outside of the context of a sound understanding of the whole of spiritual life. Prayer can never be taught this way with any validity. For instance, if you have never practiced mental prayer, how should you be taught mental prayer? If you have practiced it for some time and are struggling what to do? For a beginner, I might propose that they extend their vocal prayer into a deeper expression of the prayer with greater devotion. If they are ready to begin meditation, I would teach them a discursive method to teach them to reflect on Christ. The popularity of the CP method is, in some way, because it is so overly simplistic… I probably didn’t answer your question, did I?

          • Camila

            I’m a beginner and I want to deepen my prayer life. I feel God calling me in my heart, but I don’t know how to take the next step. There is this very popular CP group at my parish. I go and it seems to offer me the precise ‘next step’ for me to grow. What are little red flags that I can pick up that should alert me to a misguided approach to growth in prayer (without having great formation/reading in the matter)?

            It just seems to me from listening to all the conversation that you pretty much need a lot of prior formation to be able to ‘catch’ the fallacies within centering prayer – for example. If only there was a short cut.

            For example: the simple idea of focusing one word and deliberately seeking all else to be left aside from prayer is harmful because God Himself might be trying to tell you something and if you tell HIm back, ‘No God, I don’t want to hear what You have to say, but You need to hear what I have to say’ obviously the person is missing the boat. The point is to listen to God, to unite our minds and wills to Him. Not to attempt (foolishly ) to try to get Him to adapt to our goals. — this is just an example I made up —-

        • LizEst

          Michael– What Dan has described is commonly done in CP meditation instruction. Many will attest to this.

  • Davidjohnthehermit

    Has any one here ever truly turned their life over to the Spirit of Carmel. One (Parish) Father told me he could not give me spiritual direction because he did not fully understand Mystical Contemplation. And that I would need to find a Carmelite Priest.
    The Dark Night of the Soul, can and does change one’s life

    • Dear Friend – I am not sure if you are really asking a question or making a statement. As well, I am not sure I understand your question if you are asking one. However, I can take a shot at it. As for the current stage of my prayer life, the vast majority of the guidance and instruction I draw from is Carmelite. The only challenge I have with your parish priest’s positive is (though he may have bowed out due to genuine humility) that it is not absolutely necessary for a spiritual director to be living deeply within the illuminative or unitive ways in order direct someone who may in fact be more advanced.

  • Guest

    Now, Dan, this is a wonderful Post. During one of our Cenacle Meetings of the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy, we were given this Book “Praying our Experiences” by Rev.Fr. Joseph F. Schmidt,FSC. That book helped me to realize that some of the thoughts which come to us during Prayers are promptings of the Holy Spirit and, instead of trying to push them away, we should pause and include them in our Prayers. Since reading that Book I have found several evidence that this is so.

    Beck 313, you are one girl after my heart. Let me share a personal experience I had this just last week which confirms this belief. My car had a problem with starting and I bashed it on the neighbour’s wall when I was being pushed to attend 7.00 am Christmas Day Holy Mass before traveling to my rural home with my nephews, nieces and my grandson who had demanded I get out of the City for the Christmas Holiday. When the mechanics repaired the car last week, they disconnected the direct connection of the fan. So come Sunday, I go for the Holy Mass, then proceed to another Parish for the Development Committee Meeting in another City Centre Parish for our rural home Parish. By the time I dropped my friend at her house on my way home, after driving about 8 kms. my car was boiling!!! We had to drown it with buckets of water to cool off the engine so I could get home. I was absolutely sure that I had either blown up the cylinder head gasket, or engine was damaged and the car would need a major engine overhaul. And I told my daughter as much who consoled me that we would attend to the car after she had finished dispatching her three children to their different schools locally and overseas. Now, during the Holy Rosary which we pray on the Catholic Radio at 8.30 pm. the idea came into mind that it was the fan which had been disconnected, hence the intense overheating. After the Rosary my house assistant and I went to check the car and confirmed that, indeed, that what was the cause of the problem. So I knew my Spiritual and Prayer Schedule was shattered until the end of the month when I would be in a position to do the major mechanical work on the car because I cannot walk due to my back problem. But, hey!!! when the Mechanic checked the car on the following day he just re-connected the fan and confirmed that car was OK. I said “Thank you, Jesus. You protected my car so that I would not miss our daily conversations during the Holy Hour Adoration, the Holy Mass and Holy Communion, my Tuesdays’ Divine Mercy Cenacle Meetings and 3.00pm Divine Mercy Chaplet and Adoration.” Yes, I do believe some thoughts which come to us during Prayers are inspirations from the Holy Spirit leading us to where God wants us to direct our Prayers.

    • Becky Ward

      Mary this is an amazing story……..thanks be to God who is so very good to us!

      You take care, and God Bless!

  • Guest

    Jack Hughes, I have just opened this Post and read your tribulations. Beck 313 and Dan have given you very good advice, and no doubt they are praying for you, too. Yes, it is hard at times to believe God is there for you when things get so hard and no respite is in sight and He seems deaf and uncaring about your sufferings. But I assure you God has not abandoned you. All I can ask you is to perservere in prayer. Believe me,He is closer to you than you think. And I am assuring you of this out of experience. For a long time I believed God had abandoned me and my family. He took our first-born son when he was only 3 months old. Then several years later He gave us another son – the boy grew up to be the most humble, lovable and polite son any family would love to have. We were so grateful to God for James. Then what happens? In 1982, when he was 24 years, a darling to his employers, the beloved of his sisters and his friends, he suddenly fell sick. For the next 14 years, James remained in limbo until he died on 22nd December, 1994. I kept asking God questions why He gave us such a Saintly son, then threw him into limbo and with his life unlived eventually took him away from us. You will agree, Jack Hughes, anyone would feel like abandoning God after such a painful experience. But we did not because we believed there was a reason why God did what He did with James and we accepted His Will with humility and remained faithful to Him. But my daughters and I saw God’s gratitude for our accepting His will when my husband fell ill with Cancer of the liver. After 2 weeks in hospital, we took him home at his request, instead of transferring him to a Hospice. When the Priest came home and celebrated the Holy Mass, after receiving Holy Communion, my husband’s pain went away suddenly. For the next three days, as he grew weaker,he was at peace. We marveled at this miracle – thanking God – that the pain which used to make his tears fall involuntarily in hospital, tearing me to shreds inside as I watched him suffer so terribly, was gone. And God revealed His ultimate love for my family and my husband who was such a wonderful husband and father and, like his son, was loved by those he had worked with and those who had worked under him for over 38 years, and all his many friends. After the Holy Mass, the Priest left his briefcase in the house saying since he would return the following day for Mass there was no point taking the Briefcase. But during the Holy Communion, he instructed me to take the Host, dip it in the Chalice, give it to Celestino to take one half, then dip the other half and take it myself. So we shared the Viaticum with my beloved husband. He passed away peacefully in my arms at 5.15 am. Then, the second miracle was revealed to me. Three weeks after the funeral while at Mass, just before the Holy Communion when the Priests hoist the Host with the Prayer “Behold the Lamb of God……”, I wondered what had happened to the extra Host which the Priest had blessed during Consecration since we had shared one Host with my husband. Then a illumination flooded my mind with these words in my head. “Remember Celestino telling you ‘they are singing so well’ at 2.00 a.m. and when you asked him who were singing , he did not answer? I was there and keeping Vigil with him so that I would take Him to My Father Myself”. That is when I realized the Gift of Gratitude God had given to my very good husband and father and our family because we accepted the Cross of James’ illness with humility. Since then, I have believed that the way to Salvation is through the Cross. Christ showed us the way Himself. In conclusion,Jack Hughes, I shall also, like the other commentators here, pray for you. God loves you and have no doubt about that. Accept your present tribulations with humility and soon, He will reveal Himself to you in His own way and reward you for your perserverence in all the pain and tribulations you are undergoing. May the Holy Mary Mother of God who showed us the way of accepting pain as she stood at the foot of the Cross strengthen you and intercede for you.

  • I know this post is very old but for anyone who stumbles across it like I did this morning, I wanted to share some advice I was given some time ago. When we are praying and thoughts float to the forefront of our mind unbidden, interrupting or distracting our prayer, it is often a signal to pray for the person or situation we are thinking of. So, instead of pushing the thought away, grab it, briefly examine it and ask why it has come to mind (if you don’t already know), make the situation or person an intention, and then let it go into the care of God. This has a twofold purpose. We pray for what needs prayer but we also foil the devil’s plans if it is he that is distracting us. For example, once I was at Adoration, trying to pray, but I kept getting distracted by thoughts of an upsetting incident from earlier in the week – what was I going to say, what was I going to , how was I going to respond? Finally, I came to my senses, prayed for the people involved, and asked for guidance. The thoughts tried to come back a few times but I would repeat my request and visualize myself handing it back to God. This advice has helped me so often. I hope it can be a help to someone else.

    • Janet

      Thank you this was very helpful!

  • Alice

    I read with interest your comments and recommendations for reading re: centering prayer. I was recently introduced to another called “Soaking Prayer”. Have you experience with that or can you offer comments:

  • Camila

    “we should let them (our faculties) perform their task until God appoints them to another greater one”

    Isn’t it the case that ALL faculties may be suspended if God so desires. He will however appoint a greater superior task to them. He doesn’t simply reject, deny, or suppress the nature He created. He elevates it to a degree He alone can. Grace perfects nature. Just like faith elevates, and sheds a nobler and higher light into the natural light of human reason.

  • Camila

    I just read this for the Avila course on the saints and thought it was relevant for this post…. (there is NO coincidence!)

    “Whatever we are turning over in our minds, this – and more- is what they (the demons) do. For if they see that we are fearful and terrified, they increase even more what is dreadful in the apparitions and threats, and the suffering soul is punished with these.”

    (now the best part…)

    “However, should they (the demons) discover us rejoicing in the Lord, THINKING about the good things to come, contemplating things that have to do with the Lord, reflecting that all things are in the hand of the Lord, and that a demon has no strength against a Christian, nor has he any authority over anyone- then seeing the soul SAFEGUARDED BY SUCH THOUGHTS, they (the demons) are put to shame and turned away.”

    (capital emphasis is mine)

    Both quotes are taken from St. Athanasius’ “The Life of Antony” page 63. So – emptying our minds is just the kind of the things the demons would love for us to do – for this way we make wide the space and expose ourselves to them… whereas in thinking and heeding to St.Athanasius’ adivce – and exercising our minds with the thoughts of Christ and the good to come and contemplating on the “things that have to do with the Lord” is the medicine given to prevent and ‘safeguard’ our souls against the demons.

    – This is truly splendid!

  • Michaelirish

    Dan
    Thank you for your ministry. I was at first annoyed by what I saw as your judging.
    But now I see much more to your ministry.
    Prayer is at the heart and soul of the life in Christ.
    I am preparing the house so that my Lord can feel at home in my abode,
    St Teresa stresses that we do nothing arduous. Letting thoughts go can be very arduous and very difficult. When I sit or kneel to pray thoughts rush in from all quarters. Often many of them are really ‘good’ like you forgot to help so and so…etc
    I have learned to observe them and not get anxious that they are there.I find they slowly drift away, but come back again. As St Teresa says, I learn not to be anxious. And this is where my mantra, MARANATHA, comes in. I say it not out loud, but silently, repeating it over and over again in humility. This process leads me inner stillness. I believe this is the environment that my Lord opens up to me and my real self to him.
    I have a regular time , thirty minutes morning and evening. It is very freeing and there is no effort when I am in meditation.

    • If you say “Maranatha” “Come Lord Jesus” to the Lord Himself, this is Christian prayer.

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