What Should You Pray about?

(photo: Register Files)

St. Peter of Alcantara encourages us to pray using the Creed. Let's look at why. What role does the Creed play in prayer? What purpose does it serve as we turn to meditation?

The Subject Matter of Prayer and Daily Meditations, from Finding God through Meditation, by St. Peter of Alcantara

Having taken notice of the utility of prayer and meditation, we will now declare the matter about which meditation is to be conversant; for seeing it is ordained to this end that the soul of him that meditates may be excited to the fear and love of God and the keeping of his commandments, the matter of meditation ought to be such as does next dispose to this end, and scope. And, although every creature and the whole Scripture itself be able to minister this matter unto us, yet speaking generally, the mysteries of our holy faith contained in the Creed are most efficacious and profitable to attain unto this end. For these on the one side contain Almighty God’s benefits, the latter judgment, the pains of hell and the glory of paradise; all which, like sharp pricks do spur us on to the love and fear of God. On the other side, they comprehend the life and Passion of our Lord and Savior, which is the spring and fountain of all our good.

These two things contained in the Apostles’ Creed, for the most part yield matter of meditation; and therefore, I think, prayer and meditation ought chiefly to be conversant about them, although every one in particular may have certain points, which may more specially inflame and excite the soul to the love and fear of God. Being, therefore, persuaded with this reason, that I might the better conduct young beginners and untrained soldiers into this way of mental prayer and that I might give unto them altogether prepared and (as it were to little children) foreshowed matter of meditation, I have selected two kinds of meditations, almost taken out of the mysteries of our faith, the one serving for the morning, the other for the evening; that as the body is commonly fed with two meals, so the soul may be strengthened and nourished with two spiritual reflections, by the meditation and consideration of heavenly things. Some of these are of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, others of the mysteries of our faith, as I said before. But those who do not have the opportunity to meditate twice a day after this manner, they may use them, to wit, they may take to their consideration the seven former meditations in the one week and the latter in another week; or they may chiefly insist upon those of the life and Passion of our Savior; although the other be not to be neglected, especially in the beginning of a soul’s conversion, to whom they are proper, when the fear of God, contrition, and horror of sin is chiefly to be regarded and sought after.

Summary of Meditation Elements

To aid the reader we have here repeated St. Peter’s six elements of meditation to be utilized with the daily meditations that follow.

  • Preparation: First, before we apply ourselves to meditation, it is necessary that our mind and soul be diligently prepared for this holy exercise; as the strings of an instrument, except they be beforehand well tuned, will never make a pleasant melody.
  • Reading: After preparation ought to follow the reading of some holy mystery, according to the distribution of days in the week, which in young beginners is chiefly necessary until with continual use and custom matter of meditation offers itself unto their memories.
  • Meditation, Giving of Thanks, Oblation: Then insist upon the matter to be meditated upon. To meditation we must join devout and sincere giving of thanks to God for all his benefits; then a general oblation of all the life of Christ for recompense of any benefit and our own works to the honor and glory of God. 
  • Petition: Last of all, petition, which is chiefly called prayer, wherein we desire all things necessary for our own salvation, of our neighbours and the good of the whole Church.

NOTE: In the text of the book, what follows are meditations for each day of the week. I have included here only the Thursday material for today's post.

A Meditation for Thursday—On the Last Judgment

This day you will meditate upon the last judgment, to the end that you may stir up in your soul two principal effects which every Christian soul ought to have, to wit, the fear of God and hatred of sin. Place, therefore, first before thine eyes, how terrible that day will be wherein all the litigious causes of the sons of Adam shall be decided and a final end put to the processes of our whole life, and what shall be ordained of those for all eternity shall be publicly pronounced to the view of the whole world. This day comprehends in it all the days of all ages, past, present, and to come, and exacts a severe account of all the actions of all men, pouring out all the fury upon men, heaped up together from forepassed ages; because then the torrent of Almighty God’s vengeance shall overflow beyond its limits, rushing with a greater violence, by how much more it was the longer detained and at once shall overwhelm all iniquity from the creation of the world. Consider, secondly, the dreadful signs which shall go before this day. For our Savior says: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars” (Lk 21:25).

And all creatures of heaven and earth shall tremble, understanding their ruin to be at hand. Men also, as our Savior says, worn and withered away, perceiving the horrible raging of the sea; and they themselves scarce a hair’s breadth distant from death. Seeing also the mighty risings and inundations of the water; and by these conjecturing the calamities and misery these prodigious signs threaten to the world, will be amazed with such a horror that they will be without life, without voice, without colour or human shape; they will be dead before they die, dreading their damnation before the sentence be pronounced, imagining the future pain by their present distemper. Then everyone out of exceeding fear will be so solicitous of himself that he will nothing regard others whosoever they be, parents, or husbands, or wives, or friends, or companions.

Imagine, thirdly, the universal deluge of fire which shall go before this judgment; that dreadful noise of the trumpet which one of the archangels shall blow, wherewith all the people of the whole world shall be summoned together in one place, making their appearance before the judgment seat; and last of all, that dreadful majesty, the supreme Judge of the quick and dead, shall assume to himself upon this tribunal. Fourthly, consider what exact account shall be required of everyone. Holy Job says: “Indeed, I know it is so, and that man cannot be justified, compared with God. If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one for a thousand” (Job 9:2–3).

What then shall become of man when God shall begin to handle him according to the rigor of his justice, when he shall speak to his conscience inwardly? O wicked and perverse man, what have you seen in me, that out of the height of impiety, despising me, you should join with my enemies? I have created you according to mine own image and likeness; I have illuminated you with the light of faith; I have seasoned you in the Christian faith from your infancy; I have redeemed you with my own blood; for your sake I have fasted, watched, prayed, undergone tedious journeys, sweat blood, and endured many more miseries in the course of my life; for the love of you, I have suffered persecutions, injuries, blasphemies, and the very Cross itself. This Cross is my witness, these nails my witnesses, which you seest imprinted in my hands and feet; to conclude, heaven and earth that did behold my Passion are my witnesses. How I have drawn your soul. How I have redeemed you with the ransom of my precious blood.

How have you esteemed this precious pearl bought by me with an inestimable price? O generation of vipers, why have you chosen to serve my enemy with a great deal of pain and neglected your duty towards me, your Creator and Redeemer, which you mightest have performed with a great deal of pleasure? I have called you and you would not answer to my vocation. I have knocked at the door of your heart and you have refused me entrance. I have stretched my arms upon the Cross and you have not regarded me; you despise my counsels, promises, and threatenings. Pronounce, therefore, ye angels, the sentence, and be judges between me and my vineyard. “What is there that I ought to do more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it?” (Is 5:4).

What will the reprobate and scoffers at divine mysteries answer? They that have hissed at virtue, derided simplicity, and observed better the laws of the world than of God; they that have stopped their ears at the voice of God; they who have contemned his divine inspirations; they who have been rebellious against his commandments and ungrateful for his benefits. What will those libertines say, who letting themselves loose to all vices, have lived as if there were no God at all or that he did not regard the things that are done below? What will those say, who have followed their commodities, lust, and pleasure for a law? “What will you do in the day of visitation, and of the calamity which cometh from afar? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory? That you be not bowed down under the bond, and fall with the slain?” (Is 10:3–4).

Fifthly, consider that terrible sentence which, after judgment, the supreme Judge pronounces against the wicked; which he will thunder out with such a dreadful noise, that at the sound thereof, the ears of the standers-by will ring, as the prophet Isaias says: “His lips are filled with indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire” (Is 30:27). For what flames can be so ardent as those words: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41). Every word of which sentence is full of bitter torment. For who is able to comprehend what this separation is, what curse, what fire, what society, and, finally, what eternity, to which the wicked are adjudged by force of this sentence? 

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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