So, you have set aside a certain time every day to converse with God. You are reading short passages of Scripture as a basis for your conversation. You recognize that dryness is a normal part of prayer that even the saints experience.
Meditation on Sacred Scripture is just the beginning. God has much more in store for you. He desires the closest union with you. Now that you have taken the first big step, how can you continue to grow? Let’s explore what you need in order to steadily come into more intimate union with God.
Persevere, come what may
St. Teresa of Avila wrote about the virtues necessary for continued prayer growth. The first virtue is perseverance. In Interior Castle she says to beginners in prayer, “Perseverance is the most necessary thing here.” If you miss a day of mental prayer because you are ill or overwhelmed with unexpected duties, return to prayer as soon as you can. Resist making excuses for yourself. Don’t let being “too busy” break your habit of prayer. God is never too busy for you! If your usual prayer time no longer works for you, revise your schedule. Find something more suitable. Ask others to help you find time to pray. Whatever you do, do not give up.
The second virtue St. Teresa recommends is self-knowledge. In her Life she compares self-knowledge to bread, which you should learn to eat with “every kind of food.” Teresa does not mean you should always be thinking about yourself. Prayer should not become “navel-gazing.” Instead, she urges her readers to examine their consciences as a regular part of prayer. She bids them understand that God is very near to them, even in their souls. This knowledge should lead you to think about him often, to act in a way that is worthy of a person made in God’s image and likeness.
Always remember that your virtue comes through the grace of God. However far you advance in the spiritual life, you can never think of yourself as great, because all your goodness is his gift. Teresa’s self-knowledge is humility. When you clearly see the obstacles between yourself and God you can begin working to remove them.
Finally, Teresa recommends you have great desires. If you are satisfied with mediocrity, you will probably never surpass it. If you wish to reach the highest stages of the spiritual life, you must desire to do so and believe that it is God’s will for you. Yes, to continue growing in prayer, you must desire to be holy.
Is this unrealistic? Is it asking too much? The Church answered this question during the Second Vatican Council, saying, “All the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11). The scarcity of saints is not due to a scarcity of grace. It is due to a lack of the virtues necessary for growth: self-knowledge, great desires, and perseverance. God will grant you the grace to take each step toward himself, one at a time. If you desire other things more than you desire union with God, that is all you will obtain.
As you strive to grow in prayer, make St. Teresa your partner. Ask her to intercede for the virtues she said you would need. Trust God to give them to you. Then gently put them into practice. Let God transform you through a faithful life of prayer.
Note: This post is my February article for The Prairie Catholic. To read the first in a new series on prayer I am writing at SpiritualDirection.com, click here.