St. Peter of Alcantara’s Nine Aids to Improve Devotional Life January 23, 2017Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, catachesis, Domestic Church, General Catholic, Glory, Grace, Interior Life, religious, sanctity, Spiritual Warfare, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.
From St. Peter of Alcantara’s Treatise on Prayer and Meditation, pp. 125-8. Much of the spiritual direction given in his book was obviously intended for this with a vocation to the religious life, and while there are one or two recommendations below that may be difficult for those living in the world, with families to care for and jobs to perform, to implement, nonetheless it is very solid guidance overall, and well worth sharing:
Many things contribute to devotion:
1] Firstly, it is very important to enter seriously and steadfastly upon these holy exercises, and with a very resolute heart, ready for whatever may be necessary, to secure this “Pearl of Great Price.” Certain it is that there is nothing great which is not at the same time difficult. So it is in the devotional life, at least for beginners.
2] Keep guard also over the heart, banishing every kind of vain and idle thought, all alien emotions and love, all passionate and tempestuous movements. Clearly enough, these all impede devotion. Like the violin, if we would play on it, so also the heart, if we would pray and meditate, must be kept well tuned.
3] Keep watch also over the senses, especially the eyes, the ears and the tongue, for through the lips is the heart scattered, and by eyes and ears it is filled with varied imaginings and with much that disturbs the peace and repose of the soul. Hence has it been truly said that the contemplative soul should be as one deaf, blind, and dumb, for the less he dissipates his energies abroad, the more will he be recollected within himself. [A particular danger in this age is the electronic media, formerly TV/radio but now the internet in particular. It is not just straight-up porn/immoral material that is bad for souls. Letting our appetites be engorged in any area – even in entertainment/consumption of news/watching “harmless” programs can lead to loss of control of the appetite in other, more vital areas. The first step to a spiritual calamity, many priests have told me, is too great an addiction to even “good” things one finds on the internet. It is necessary to even limit these good things for the sake of performing some penance and maintaining control over our appetites in all areas]
4] For the same reason, incline toward a solitary life, for not merely does it remove from the senses occasions of distraction and from the heart occasions of sin, but it also invites a man to enter more into himself and to occupy himself alone with God, for to this one is indeed much drawn by circumstances of place, when no alien company finds admittance there.
5] Then, make a practice of reading spiritual and devout books. They serve to feed the imagination and to keep the heart recollected, and they lead men of good will to occupy their minds with what has appealed to them, for what the heart is full of is always the first to suggest itself to the mind. [A strong corollary to #3 above]
6] Keep the thought of God continually before you, and walk always in His presence. Make us e of those short prayers which St. Augustine calls “ejaculations”; they guard the mansion of the heart and maintain, as we have said above, the warmth of devotion. Thus is a man ready at any moment to give himself to prayer. This is one of the most essential principles of a spiritual life and among the best resources for such people as have neither time nor opportunity for fixed prayer; and anyone who bears this counsel in mind and puts it into practice will make great progress in quite a short time.
7] Add to this, continuity and perseverance in these holy exercises, at the time and place fixed, especially night and morning, which, as all Holy Scripture teaches us, are the most suitable for prayer.
8] Practice some austerity and bodily abstinence, a poor table, a hard bed, a hairshirt and a discipline and such like. These things result from devotion and also contribute to it, preserving and strengthening the root from which they spring. [I guess priests today recommend you don’t do physically punishing penances like wearing a cilice or taking the discipline without getting their close approval first, but back in St. Peter’s time, that permission seems to have been more freely given.]
9] Lastly, practice works of mercy. In our own sufferings, they give us confidence before God; they contribute much to the value of our prayers, which can no longer be called mere arid petitions, and they secure for them a reception full of mercy, seeing that they themselves proceed from a merciful heart.
That’s all from St. Peter of Alcantara today. Tomorrow, God willing, I’ll share his ten hindrances to devotion, or ten things Catholics should avoid in order to grow in the interior life.