How Can You Improve Your Devotion?
How can you improve your devotion? What should you do about distractions?
Counsels for Meditation, from Finding God through Meditation, by St. Peter of Alcantara
The Third Counsel—Avoid Contrived Devotion
In the preceding counsel, we declared how the understanding is to be moderated and subjected to the will; now we will prefix some limits to the will, out of which she cannot deviate without fault. That, therefore, she be not too immoderate in her exercise, we must know that devotion is never to be secured by sheer force as some do think, who with contrived sorrow do wring out tears and commiseration while they consider the torments of Jesus Christ; for this does rather dry the heart than make it capable of divine visitations (as Cassianus does excellently teach); moreover, this extraordinary force often hurts the body, and by reason of the burden which this violence brings with it, the mind is left so disturbed that it fears to return again to these exercises. When experience teaches that it is the cause of so much trouble, he, therefore, that will fruitfully meditate upon the Passion of Christ, let him not be too anxious for sensible consolation, but let it suffice that he exhibits himself present to his sufferings, beholding them with a simple and quiet eye, and considering them with a tender compassionate heart, rather disposed to entertain that affection which Almighty God’s mercy shall suggest, than that which shall be wrung out with violence; which, when he has done, let him not be solicitous nor sorrowful over what other things God will not give.
The Fourth Counsel—Avoid Excessive Efforts to Manage Distractions
Hence we may gather what attention is to be observed in prayer; wherefore, the heart must not be languishing, remiss, or dejected; but quick, attentive, and elevated to heavenly things. And as it is necessary to come to God with such attention, elevation of the mind and abstraction from sensible things, so it is no less necessary to temper sweetly this attention, that it be neither hurtful to bodily health nor impediment to extinguish devotion. For when any be so intensive to the matter they meditate upon, without any respect to their infirm nature, do oftentimes so dull their brains that they be ruined for other exercises; on the contrary, there are some, to avoid this danger, that are so remiss and lazy in their attention that easily they suffer their minds to be distracted with other idle thoughts. These two extremes, that they may be both avoided, such moderation is necessary, that the head be not weakened with too violent attention nor the thoughts permitted carelessly to wander out of supine negligence; in which thing, we must imitate a good rider upon an unruly horse, who neither holds him in too hard nor loosens the reins upon his neck, but guides him equally, that he gives not back nor go forward too speedily. So we must strive in meditation that attention be moderate, diligently resisting evil thoughts, but not violent with anxiety. We must note also that these things we here speak of are chiefly to be taken heed of in the beginning of meditation; for it often happens that those who are too violent in the beginning do flounder in the midst of meditation, as travellers making too much speed in their setting forth are tired in the midst of their journey.
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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