How to Meditate on Christ with Humility
“Limitations or dullness of thought is because we close the inner door of self through fear of ridicule. Thus we lock the soul away from its God, Who is the giver of all good thoughts. Cease to limit the soul in its quest to think good thoughts. Cease to limit the soul who soars aloft in imaginative realms to search for God, for a free soul dost not know limitations nor dullness in meditation. A lively meditation is life in God!
Every garden in the night within its shadows so dark and clear should reveal to us our Lord in prayer. If we listen closely, we may hear the sobbing of a broken heart for us who live without a care.” —Gems by Cora Evans
Pride and the Life of Prayer
As men, we have a dual nature, being composed of body and soul. We possess our bodies in common with the brute animals, but we share in the intellectual nature of God and the angels through our rational soul. It is by means of our rational soul that we possess the powers of the intellect and will that enable us to converse with Our Lord in meditation. Through the aid of our senses that perceive the natural order wrought by Divine Wisdom and through the enlightenment of God, “Who is the giver of all good thoughts” and the Source of all truth, our intellects arrive at the contemplation of Divine truths. Through the assistance of God’s grace, our wills are then moved to acts of love of God, the ultimate object of our contemplation.
While our dual nature by means of its sense powers can lead our minds to contemplation of Divine truths through their perception of the created order, it can also be an obstacle on account of its disordered and rebellious passions and its preoccupation with worldly things. The possession of the moral virtues by means of diligent effort and mortification, and ultimately by the gift of grace, liberates the soul from the fetters of vice and evil imaginations and gives it the freedom to engage in the contemplation of things Divine. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas,
"For the act of contemplation…is hindered both by the impetuosity of the passions which withdraw the soul's intention from intelligible to sensible things, and by outward disturbances. Now the moral virtues curb the impetuosity of the passions, and quell the disturbance of outward occupations." (Summa Theologica IIa IIae, Q. 180, A. 2)
The virtue of humility is especially helpful in the life of prayer. As Cora notes in the excerpt above, “Limitations or dullness of thought is because we close the inner door of self through fear of ridicule.” Fear of ridicule is rooted in pride and an excessive love of self, which are eradicated from the soul by the virtue of humility. The soul that is plagued by pride and the inordinate love of self sees the world around him and even his very relation to God through a distorted lens that refers everything back to himself. The fear of ridicule has this effect particularly strongly. The person who fears ridicule believes that the eyes of all are focused on him, and fails to see that all good things come ultimately from God, not from our own effort or merit.
This includes all of the truths that our minds arrive at in contemplation, for as Cora notes, God is the “giver of all good thoughts,” and the teacher of all truth, according to St. Augustine in his On the Teacher. Divine truths can only be known through the supernatural gift of faith. If we fear ridicule from others on account of the lowliness of our thoughts about Divine things, we incorrectly locate the source of these thoughts in ourselves and our own intellectual abilities instead of in God. This prideful attitude “locks [our] soul away from its God” by closing it to the gift of Divine thoughts offered to us by God and His grace when we meditate. By recognizing that we and our own efforts in prayer are nothing without the assistance of God, we open ourselves to the enlightenment from God that frees our souls from darkness and enables our minds to arrive at Divine truths.
By developing such a habit of surrender to the power of God instead of to our own abilities, we place our lives in much more capable hands. We thereby combat not only pride and the fear of ridicule, but also the plague of anxiety: for the soul that truly trusts in God will not be anxious about worldly affairs. By liberating our minds and hearts from anxiety, we are freed from a primary source of distraction and limitation in prayer.
How, then, should we combat the evil tendencies of pride and self-love? We must pray ardently for the grace of humility. Our progress in the life of virtue is dependent upon the free gift of God’s grace; to neglect to pray for the gift of grace is to deprive ourselves of help in our growth in virtue. However, lest we fall into presumption, we must also actively strive for humility as if growth in virtue depended entirely on our own efforts. We must constantly mortify our pride by gratefully accepting daily humiliations as gifts from God. By accepting such humiliations instead of obstinately defending ourselves, we develop the habit of detachment from worldly esteem. Then we will no longer be plagued by the fear of ridicule, but will rather maintain a blissful equanimity in the face of humiliation.
We also must firmly instill in our minds a recognition of our total dependence upon God. We must constantly be mindful of the fact that all of our virtues and accomplishments come from the power and gift of God, Who disposes all things and distributes all graces in accord with the unfathomable wisdom of His Providence. To glory in our accomplishments as if they proceed ultimately from our own excellence or merit is to fail to recognize our true relation to God. Therefore, when we perform a virtuous action or accomplish some praiseworthy thing, we should remember to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving to God Who is the source of all good things.
We should also constantly fight the temptation to despise our neighbor on account of the personal excellences that we may possess to a greater extent than him. God, in His Providence, distributes different gifts to different men according to His own Wisdom, and only holds us back from the edge of the pit of depravity through the free and unmerited gift of His grace. Whenever we are tempted to despise our neighbor, we should pray that God give him grace, even a greater amount of grace than He has given us.
Consoling Christ amidst the Darkness of Sin
When Christ prayed in agony in the garden on the dark night of the sin of Judas, He felt the weight and saw the awful darkness of our sins, our willful pride, and the consequent mental darkness, by which we are guilty with Judas of the death of God Himself on the Cross. However, we can alleviate Christ’s suffering by liberating our minds from the darkness of pride and from the oblivion of a carelessly unreflective life lived without the awareness of our dependence upon the grace and enlightenment of God. We can thereby unite ourselves to Christ more perfectly in contemplation and in acts of love proceeding from our greater knowledge of Him. While God possesses perfect happiness independently of our good works, we can see our ardent attempts to attain humility and loving contemplation as consolations offered to the Heart of Jesus that shed its Blood even through the very pores of His skin for the many sins of the careless world. In the midst of the spiritual and moral darkness of the world, we should not neglect to frequently retreat into the inner garden of prayer to offer to Our Lord the consolation of communion with a loving, trusting, and humble soul.