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Is Meditation on Scripture Necessary? How to Pray – Part I

January 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Connie Rossini, Meditation, Prayer, Scripture

Is Meditation on Scripture Necessary?
How to Pray – Part I


After many posts dealing with errors about prayer, I'd like to begin a series on how to pray for the beginner at prayer. Now, before you dismiss this series as not for you, let me define “beginner.” I don't necessarily mean someone who has never prayed before, but someone who would like to learn to pray better. Perhaps you have been praying off and on for a decade and you'd like to become more consistent. Or you've been praying daily, but have a hard time praying beyond ten minutes. Or you've been praying for twenty minutes a day, but you feel like your prayers are half-hearted or otherwise need improvement.

This series is for you. And from my experience, that would include the bulk of committed Catholics.

I hope this series will be very practical and specific, because that is what I myself like to read to help my spiritual life. If you have questions, quibbles, or comments, please post them. They help clarify the message and help us all grow and learn.

This post is titled “Is Meditation on Scripture Necessary?” I am going to share with you some ways to meditate on Scripture in future posts. But first I want to convince you that you should meditate.

We read in the Catechism:

PrayerSchurigImGebet1889The Church “forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.”‘ (No. 2653)

Notice the Church is not suggesting we read and pray over Scripture, or even encouraging us to do so. Instead, She is forcefully and specially exhorting (i.e., urging) us. Should we just ignore Her? Or pay attention?

The Catechism continues:

The spiritual writers, paraphrasing Matthew 7:7, summarize in this way the dispositions of the heart nourished by the word of God in prayer “Seek in reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be opened to you by contemplation.” (No. 2654)

The Church wants to lead us toward infused contemplation, an intimate union with God which He initiates. How do we prepare ourselves? By reading and meditating on Scripture.

Now, there are all kinds of errors about prayer in our day. If you have read my other posts you've heard me talk about them quite a bit. I don't wish to return to speaking of error here. I just want to highlight again what the Church, in the Catechism, says will prepare us for contemplation: reading and meditating on Scripture.

Right now, I am bracketing the discussion about the moral life, and we will come back to that in a future post. We will discuss the necessity of virtue if we wish to grow in prayer. But today I want to stick with the theme of prayer itself.

Returning to the Catechism, we read:

Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower. (No. 2707)

Remember that parable? A farmer sowed grain, symbolizing the Word of God. The first seeds fell along the path and birds devoured it. This symbolizes the Devil snatching the Word away, so that it has no lasting effect on the listener. The second group of people fell away when hardship touched them, even though they had at first received the Word joyfully. The third group was unfruitful, because they were distracted by the good things the world had to offer. (See Mark 4:3-20.)

In other words, if we want to remain faithful, we must do more than just hear the Word. We must be like Mary, who heard the Word and kept it, pondering it in her heart (Luke 1:45, 2:19, 11:28, etc.)

Once more, from the Catechism:

To meditate on what we read helps us to make it our own by confronting it with ourselves. Here, another book is opened: the book of life. We pass from thoughts to reality. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (No. 2706)

Pope Leo XIII wrote in Exeunte Iam Anno:

LeoXIII.By the infinite goodness of God man lived again to the hope of an immortal life, from which he had been cut off, but he cannot attain to it if he strives not to walk in the very footsteps of Christ and conform his mind to Christ's by the meditation of Christ's example. Therefore this is not a counsel but a duty, and it is the duty, not of those only who desire a more perfect life, but clearly of every man “always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus.” (No. 10)

In other words, every one of us must meditate on the life of Christ, and by so meditating, learn to follow His example.

And since I cannot write a post without quoting at least one Carmelite saint, I will finish with these words from St. Teresa of Avila on meditation:

For this is the first step to be taken towards the acquisition of the virtues and the very life of all Christians depends upon their beginning it. No one, however lost a soul he may be, should neglect so great a blessing if God inspires him to make use of it. (The Way of Perfection, Ch. 16)

That should establish meditation's necessity. Next time we will consider what this necessary meditation is.


Art: Im Gebet (In Prayer), F. Schurig, 1889; Portrait of Pope Leo XIII, author unknown, c. 1898; both PD-US published before January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Connie Rossini

Connie Rossini gives whole families practical help to grow in holiness. She is the author of several books, including "Trusting God with St. Thérèse" and her latest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila written with Dan Burke. Besides her blog Contemplative Homeschool, she has started a new site discussing errors concerning prayer, named after her book Is Centering Prayer Catholic? She has written a spirituality column for the diocesan press for nearly ten years.

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  • Everett Pizzuti

    Very well written! I look forward to part two

  • Fr William Barrocas

    A 1000 thanks to you for this new and necessary series to keep THE WORD as part of Our Praying which is Listening to GOD while He listens to us.

    • You’re welcome. I’d love to hear more about this from the pulpit too, Father!

  • Vincent Geffroy

    a topic that comes up again and again. We had that discussion at our prayer meeting this week and the concept of prayer seem to vary from among the individuals. What is prayer? The word prayer has been used with many secular connotations. according to the CC “Prayer as God’s gift

    2559 “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”2 But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart?3 He who humbles himself will be exalted;4 humility is the foundation of prayer, Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,”5 are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.”6
    Why pray? Is Prayer then conversation with our Father in heaven who is in control of everything? looking for guidance? praising Him and offering Him our love?

  • CLudwick

    God’s timing is beautiful as my spiritual director has asked me to begin reading the Gospels and learn to “walk with the Lord”. I want to come to know Our Lord and be much closer to Him. Reading and meditating on Scripture is intimidating to me; I’m very concerned about trying to understand and hear the Word of God properly and as He is speaking to me. Any suggestions on good interpretations?

    I find it difficult to carve time out for true meditation on any reading since my home is small and rarely quiet; my husband has the TV on most of the time. He is not in the same spiritual place as I which can cause some friction. So, I am anxious to follow this series; I so want to learn to make whatever time I have more fruitful. Thank you

    • LizEst

      It sounds like carving out the time is going to be a little challenging, but it can be done: early in the morning, late at night, after dinner, going early to Church for Mass, these are a few examples. It doesn’t have to be large chunks of Scripture at a time. Since your director has asked you begin reading the Gospels, it also sounds like your director is going to help you with your responses to this work. I am happy for you. It’s the beginning of a deeper relationship with the Lord for you. My director did the same years ago.

      • CLudwick

        It is a challenge. I have a Holy Hour and some time in an afternoon occasionally so I will use these as best as I can. Thank you for your support and for sharing the joy you have in the Lord.

        • LizEst

          Holy Hour is a wonderful time and place to meditate on Scripture. God bless you, CLudwick. …and thanks for your kind words. To God be the glory!

          • CLudwick


    • When we “listen” to God in the Scriptures, we’re not looking for private revelations or anything dramatic, just a verse that moves our hearts. What moves you at one point in life may not at another. Just entrust your prayer time to the Holy Spirit and believe that He is leading you in it as you obey your director. It should be very simple and peaceful. You can tell your director next time what moved you and he or she can confirm or clarify things for you. I’ll try to help you with some of your other questions as the series progresses. God bless!

      • CLudwick

        As you and Liz have said, my director and I will be talking about it. Thank you, Connie for making yourself available through this post.

  • Walter PCG

    I live in a multi-religious society and we often get together for meals and other occasions. What would be a beautiful common prayer from a Catholic perspective that can be used without sounding exclusive?

    • That’s a hard question. You want to be respectful of the others without compromising the truth. If you are praying among those who are of different religions, maybe you could try something from the Psalms. Maybe Psalm 8, for example about the greatness of the Creator revealed through His creation.

      • Walter PCG

        Thanks Connie, that’s a beautiful prayer! I like it …

  • Laura Kerr

    Wow! I really needed this. It is so encouraging and inspires me to a deeper encounter with God in my prayer life. I especially loved reading the quote from Mark – how beautifully it spoke to me in a new way. I think I had become like the one who had the seed snatched away by the birds. I had been feeling a little hopeless and alone in my anemic prayer life. The devil would like me to think that if I have already meditated on a particular passage that the nourishment will end there. Not so! Listening and re-reading the same passage with eyes and ears of faith and a humble heart is nourishment and fuel for my earthly pilgrimage. Thank you for this post!

    • You are welcome. This is why I write. I think the best use of the Internet is in supporting one another as Christians, which we can do more easily than ever before. There is no reason to feel alone. There are millions of us striving to follow the Lord. We are the Communion of Saints on earth. I pray God sustains your renewed enthusiasm for prayer.

      • marybernadette

        So true, Connie. It is so important.that people realize they are not alone and that all of us have similar struggles as we journey in our Faith.

      • Joan

        Connie thank you for this post. I am reading during lent A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and Blessed Elizabeth Of The Trinity and I think I read somewhere that Blessed Elizabeth had written a book for her married sister in the secular world. Do you know if any such book exists please?

        • Joan, sorry, I don’t. I googled it, but could not come up with anything. Sometimes, as for Therese of Lisieux, it takes decades before all a saints’ works are translated into English. The Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity (vol. 1) from ICS Publications indicates there were to be 3 volumes, but I can only find 2 that were actually published. So it’s possible the series was left unfinished. Wish I could have been more help.

          • Joan

            Thank you Connie, I understand and really appreciate that you tried to find something out for me. Thank you.

        • LizEst

          Perhaps you are thinking of “Heaven in Faith”, written specifically as a surprise for her sister “Guite” and organized as a type of ten-day retreat. It can be found in Volume 1 of the Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity by ICS, the same volume mentioned by Connie below. It is considered to be one of her major works and was in the form of a notebook or booklet.

          • Joan

            Thank you Liz, that’s kind of you. I will certainly look that up.

  • sonny

    Thank you for this article. This resonates with St Benedict’s spirituality of Ora et Labora, Pray and Work. The Divine Office sets the example of how the Scriptures naturally fit our prayer life.

  • Charles Saliba

    When meditating, reflecting and make use of the mind even simply think on Jesus life and passion,souls who are lost in the dark for a reason or another unaware of Jesus, would comunicate with us in order to receive the information, and as soon as they have the least interest in Jesus they would move into a less darkness environment and from then on it would be more possible for them to andvance more into the light.
    I read the above in a revelation and it does make sense.

    • LizEst

      Kindly, Charles–what revelation did you read that from?

      • Charles Saliba

        A Christian not Catholic.
        Does it make any difference once it’s a Christian.
        Spirits comunicate through intelect for sure.

        • LizEst

          Charles it does make a difference. If the so-called revelation is not in line with what the Catholic Church believes and teaches (and this also applies to those so-called seers which are Catholic), we are not to follow what they say. The best thing to do is to stick with the writings of the Saints, which the Church has canonized. Please provide the name of the “revelation” you are referring to. We cannot assess this if we do not know. Please see paragraph 4 of our Frequently Asked Questions here, especially paragraph 4.11 here:

          • Charles Saliba

            To be honest it is the fact that I didn’t just read it in one particular revelation, which convinced me that it is true. Also through other Catholic revelations, it made me perceive, understand and accept even more this concept. One in particular is God the Father’s revelations to St. Catherine of Siena in A Treatise of Prayer which it is not possible to produce and comment it’s particulars in relation to this phenomenon for the sake of space. I reflected also on a particular statement by God to St. Catherine hereunder:

            For no other reason ought she to leave off prayer, for, during the time ordained for prayer, the Devil is wont to arrive in the soul, causing much more conflict and trouble than when the soul is not occupied in prayer. This he does in order that holy prayer may become tedious to the soul, tempting her often with these words:

            ‘This prayer avails you nothing, for you need attend to nothing except your vocal prayers.’

            Why the devil, opts to vocal prayers? Obvious because souls, would never communicate with something only physical, since they are spirits, and vocal prayers without joining the mind are physical, while holy prayers, vocal conjoint with the mind are spiritual.

            I reflected also on the fact that St Teresa of Avila was not allowed to imagine and meditate on Jesus humanity, and His life, of which she was unique, which is the essential concept according to these revelations.

            The concept that by using the mind while praying would also be a source of information to lost souls,I believe there’s nothing against our catholic belief, in fact it seems to me it is an act of charity, and more encouragement to involve the mind in prayers, even during the day with simple thoughts related to Jesus life in general. When you think of it, it is in line with the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels (“Seek first the Kingdom of God”) and of St. Paul (“Pray without ceasing”). The fact that the devil uses all his energy to defeat us and prevents us furnishing such vital information to desperate lost souls related to their salvation, which without they remain lost in darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

            Jesus affirmed that we must love God with all our heart, and with all our mind.

            What all our heart, and all our mind involve, related to charity, considering also that our soul must commune in all manners possible with our spiritual family as brothers in Christ, while on earth in order to built treasures in heaven? I don’t believe that vocal prayers without joined with the mind to souls in purgatory could be realized.

            Could also God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is a reference also to this communion, since before Jesus’ redemption it was not possible?

            Regarding which revelation it is, I have to search quite a bit, but I will do so.

            I know it’s quite long, so I leave it to your discretion.

          • LizEst

            We are allowing your response this time, realizing that there may be a difficulty with expressing your thoughts in English. Nevertheless, your answer is quite long and not within the parameters we ask of our commenters. So, next time what you write is so long, we will edit it.

          • Charles Saliba

            First I’m grateful.

            In relation to all this, I experienced an amazing consolation yesterday morning Tuesday 9-2-16, while praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary of which I humbly would like to share for the sake of truth, on your permission, even if it is not allowed to be read on your site , as brief as possible and effective.

            Also by now you realized that English is not my native language, so explaining heavenly things it is difficult in my language, never mind in English.

            I have the gifted habit that while reciting my prayers in general, especially while reciting the hail Maries,I also in the same instant join my words with my mind and meditate the mysteries to the extent that I see with my soul’s eyes every detail related to the particular mystery. This is extremely difficult as I would be almost in continuous battle with all kind of distractions, in some cases really bad and I achieve this only as flashes of about two seconds the most.

          • LizEst

            Charles– while we appreciate you sharing with us, we do not post private revelation here on our site. You need to find a spiritual director who is best fit to evaluate and direct your soul. Explain everything to this person and leave nothing out. Sometimes, we can be so sure that something is of God and it is not. That’s why we need the assistance of a trusted spiritual director. You speak of humility. That would be a good step in growth in this virtue. God bless you…and may you have a holy Lent.

          • Charles Saliba

            Grateful again for you advice,and I also wish you a holy lent. Thanks!

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