Dan Burke is an award-winning author, writer, and speaker on Catholic spirituality. He has written and/or edited nine books on faithful Catholic spirituality and is the Executive Director and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan is the president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com.
What are the obstacles to prayer? Being able to name them and identify them will help us to, first, be aware of them and, second, begin to take measures to address them.
Nine Impediments to Devotion, from Finding God through Meditation, by St. Peter of Alcantara
As there be nine things which do promote devotion, so likewise there be nine impediments that do hinder the same.
Venial sins: The first impediment of devotion is sins not only mortal, but also venial, for these, although they do not quite abolish charity, yet, at leastwise they diminish the fervor of it and consequently make us less apt to devotion. Wherefore, with all diligence they are to be avoided, not only for the evil they bring with them, but also for the good which they hinder.
Remorse of conscience: Secondly, excessive remorse of conscience proceeding from sins, when it is in extremes, because it does disquiet the mind, weakens the head, and makes a man unfit for acts of virtue.
Anxiety of heart: Thirdly, anxiety of heart and inordinate sadness, for with these, the heart, delights of a good conscience, and spiritual joy of the inward mind, can hardly suit and agree.
Cares of the mind: Fourthly, too many cares which do disquiet the mind, like the Egyptian prefects who did oppress the children of Israel with too immoderate labors, nor will ever suffer them to take that spiritual repose which they should have often had in prayer. Yea, at that time, above others, they disturb the mind, endeavoring to seduce her from her spiritual exercise.
A multitude of affairs: Fifthly, a multitude of activities which take up our whole time suffocates the spirit, scarcely leaving for a man a moment to employ in Almighty God’s service.
Delights and pleasures of the senses: Sixthly, delights and pleasures of the senses, for these make spiritual exercises unappealing and a man unworthy to be recreated with heavenly consolations; for, as St. Bernard says, he is not worthy of the visitations of the Holy Spirit, that seeks after consolation in the pleasures of the world.
Inordinate eating and drinking: Seventhly, inordinate delight in eating and drinking: especially long eating and sumptuous suppers, which make a man unapt to spiritual exercises. For when the body is oriented to excessive pampering, the spirit cannot so freely elevate itself to God.
Curiosity of the senses and understanding: Eighthly, curiosity of the senses and understanding, as to see sights and hear of the new rumors, because these do spend precious time, disturb and overthrow the tranquillity of the mind, distracting it with many impertinences which can be no small hindrance to devotion.
Intermission of exercises: Lastly, a laxity in spiritual exercises, except when they are not omitted or deferred for a pious cause or just necessity. For the spirit of devotion is delicate, which, when it is gone, it hardly returns again, at least with great difficulty. For as trees and plants must be watered in due season, otherwise they wither away and perish, so devotion, except it be watered with the waters of holy meditation, does easily vanish.
Finding God through Meditation, by St. Peter of Alcantara, brings the wisdom of the great saint into your hands. St. Peter directed St. Teresa of Avila on difficult questions she had about prayer and she turned to this work for guidance.
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