The History of Christian Meditation

Christian meditation (also known as mental prayer) is simply reflecting seriously on holy subjects. Mental prayer is a more appropriate and comprehensive term for this spiritual exercise which is so highly praised and commended by the saints and so conducive to holiness and perfection. Mental prayer or meditation is something more than mere spiritual reading.

John Cassian (5th century) and John Climacus (6th century) discussed the ways of mental prayer, and many Fathers of the Church gave their own recommendations for it: Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Basil, Boethius, and Bernard of Clairvaux.

From before the middle of the twelfth century, the Carthusians had times set apart for mental prayer. Early in the sixteenth century, the Dominican chapter of Milan prescribed mental prayer for half an hour during the morning and the evening. Among the Franciscans, there is mention of methodical mental prayer about the middle of that century. Among the Carmelites, there was no regulation for mental prayer until Teresa of Avila introduced it, practicing it for two hours daily.

In the mid-sixteenth century Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises, which he used with laypersons, taught methods of both meditating on one's life and of contemplating the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, as a means of becoming more like Christ. His method and that of Sulpice have helped spread the habit of meditating beyond the cloister.

Who Should Practice Mental Prayer?

Since sanctity is for everyone, according to Catholic doctrine, anyone can learn mental prayer. Therese of the Lisieux learned mental prayer when she was eleven years old.

"Mental prayer is not just for priests and nuns, but is for everyone. The youngest of children are capable of reaching great heights through mental prayer,"
A teaching of the Franciscan Friar Minors.

Why is Christian Meditation Special?

Mental prayer or Christian meditation is special because it focuses specifically on Christ. Common meditation topics are the gospels, the Passion of Christ, and letters from the saints. The next step in Christian meditation – that makes it far superior for Christians than Eastern meditation – is a resolution to avoid future sins. Eastern meditation is mostly about inner-calm, inner-peace, and self-enlightenment. Although these things are laudable in and of themselves, they cannot bring anyone closer to Christ. In order to become closer to Christ you must think of Him often and avoid sin.

Why Must We Avoid Sin?

Because sin is a turning away from God. You cannot love Christ and sin at the same time. Therefore, Christian meditation is essential for Christians because it brings you closer to Christ. Eastern meditation, although it has benefits, is absolutely devoid of Christ. Remember, the benefits of this world, even inner-peace and calm, are nothing compared to Christ's promises of heavenly reward.

"As it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Meditation is a Great Means of Salvation

Mental prayer helps us to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him so that we may be happy with Him forever. It helps us to know ourselves and to discover the means of avoiding and correcting our vices, faults, and weaknesses. It reveals to us which sins we are most susceptible to and leads us to pray for more grace to deal with them. Meditation helps us to avoid temptation, to control our passions, and to lead a holy life. It inflames our hearts with the love of God and strengthens us to do His holy will with zeal and perseverance.

Quotes from the Saints about Mental Prayer:

“Meditation, as a part of mental prayer,” says St. Francis of Sales, “is an attentive thought voluntarily repeated or entertained in the mind to excite the will to holy and salutary affections and resolutions."
"We meditate to move the will to pray and to embrace what is good. We study that we may know; we meditate that we may pray."
Father Francis Lasance
“In mental prayer,” says St. Alphonsus, “meditation is the needle, which only passes through that it may draw after it the golden thread, which is composed of affections, resolutions, and petitions.”
St . Alphonsus also says: “We can meditate in every place, at home or else where, even in walking and at our work. How many are there who, not having any better opportunity, raise their hearts to God and apply their minds to mental prayer, without leaving their occupations, their work, or who meditate even while traveling. He who seeks God will find Him, everywhere and at all times. The most appropriate place for meditation, however, is the church, in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament."
Mental prayer was defined by John Hardon as a "form of prayer in which the sentiments expressed are one's own and not those of another person. Mental prayer is accomplished by internal acts of the mind and affections and is either simple meditation or contemplation."
"The practice of mental prayer is necessary to reach that goal. Because it is the breath of life for our soul, holiness is impossible without it. It is only in mental prayer and spiritual reading that we cultivate the gift of prayer." Mother Teresa
"He who neglects mental prayer," affirms Teresa of Avila, "needs no devil to carry him to hell. He brings himself there with his own hands."
John of the Cross once said, "Without the aid of mental prayer, the soul cannot triumph over the forces of the demon."


I hope that you start and continue practicing meditation. Drop the deep breathing and crossed legs. Forget what's popular today. The absolute best way to deeply connect with Christ – according to many holy saints – is Christian meditation! If you want a personal relationship with Christ, other than communing with Him in the Eucharist, the best thing you can do is practice mental prayer. Start with 15 minutes in the morning. You can easily use the Bible or some other spiritual text. But also, you can go to here to find new meditations pre-made for you every day. You can also subscribe to my newsletter to get those same prayers sent to your email inbox. Like a famous saint once said:

"Pray, hope, and don't worry"
Padre Pio

God bless, and until next time ... stay holy my friend

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