Prayer According to Saint Vincent de Paul – Part III

by | Apr 19, 2020 | Formation, Spirituality and Spiritual Practice

Click here for Part I

Click here for Part II

II: The body of prayer

In an attitude of recollection, one meditates on the chosen theme (mystery, virtue, maxim) in order to discover its deepest meaning. Vincent understood the risk of reducing mental prayer to an intellectual or speculative exercise. In reality, the prayer proposed by Vincent harmonizes reason and emotion and thus creates prayerful, thinking and active people. It was for this reason that Vincent exhorted his followers to not lose sight of the presence of God and to follow the three steps of his little method” (CCD:XI:265ff). In other words, through mental prayer, one enters into an affective dialogue with the Lord, inclining the heart to the demands of Jesusword. Through mental prayer, God clarifies the understanding, inflames the will, takes possession of the heart and soul, inspires attitudes and prompts commitments 

Vincent described some of the specifics of his method of prayer: Mental prayer is made in two ways: one by understanding, and the other by the will. Prayer of understanding occurs when, after hearing the reading, the mind is reawakened in the presence of God and then is occupied with seeking to know the meaning of the mystery proposed, in seeing the lesson proper to it, and in producing affections of seeking good or avoiding evil. And although the will produces these acts, this is still called prayer of understanding, because its chief function, which is the search, is done by the understanding, which is occupied primarily with the subject put before it. This is ordinarily called meditation. Everyone can make it, each according to his or her ability and the inspiration God gives (CCD:IX:330). Understanding creates the possibility of becoming more and more aware of the content of meditation and the will stimulates the search for that which is good, true, just, necessary, beautiful … or as Saint Augustine expressed in his letter to Proba: the effect following upon prayer will be excellent in proportion to the fervor of the desire which precedes its utterance. From this integration of understanding and will arises the practical resolution which enables the individual to concretize that which the Lord has inspired.

From the outset, meditation must always be aware of the demands of our vocation and mission, aware of the demand to confront the reality, the hopes and the concerns of those who are poor. Vincent proposed that the Sisters make their resolutions in light of the activities that they will be engaged in during the day. In his conference of August 2nd, 1640 Vincent spoke about fidelity to mental prayer and stated: you should not pray in order to have exalted ideas, ecstasies, and raptures — which are more harmful than useful — but only to perfect yourselves and make you truly good Daughters of Charity. So, your resolutions should be something like this, I am going to serve some poor persons; I will try to go to them with a simple, cheerful attitude to comfort and edify them; I will speak to them as if they were my lords. There are some persons who seldom speak to me; I will put up with it; I have the habit of saddening a Sister on such and such an occasion; I will not do it. She sometimes displeases me; I will bear with it. One Lady scolds me, another finds fault with me; I will try not to fail in my duty and will show them the honor and respect I owe them. When I am with a certain person, it is nearly always harmful to my perfection; as far as possible, I will avoid that situation.” I think that is how you should make your meditation (CCD:IX:26). Again on August 16th of the same year, Vincent spoke about the same theme and stated: Direct your resolutions toward the day’s activities, especially those that will help you tend to perfection and the fulfilment of your Rule, the better to honor God in your vocation (CCD:IX:30). Prayer that is rooted in reality will always take into consideration the challenges of the mission.

1st step: Nature

Reflect on the topic: What is it? What does it suggest to me? In what does this mystery consists, virtue or maxim? What addiction is presented here that I should avoid?

Formulate convictions on the subject, in light of the Word, of the Fathers of the Church, of the living tradition, of Saint Vincent’s intuitions, of the Vincentian heritage, etc. Without firm convictions, the spiritual experience becomes fragile and inconsistent. Here, in a more decisive way, operates the understanding or intelligence of the person praying, that wise and reverent thought, which is directed towards the mystery of God. “Meditate on what has been read, ponder what the author is saying, and consider the object of the points you have for meditation.” (CCD 10, 474 / SV 10, 590).

Example [Jn 15, 9-17 / Conference of Saint Vincent on Charity (CCD 12, 213-225 / SV XII, 260-276)]

Charity consists in welcoming the love of God that makes us capable of loving our neighbor with the intensity of the compassionate and operative love of Jesus Christ.

2nd step: Motives

Engage with courage: What are the reasons that encourage me to live this mystery, to seek this virtue or maxim, to assume this attitude, to avoid this vice?

Convince yourself of the value of the matter in question, such as the need to integrate it into your life and to search for it constantly (in that which refers to what is good or virtue) or to avoid it (if it is bad or a vice). Here, the prevalence is of the will or of the heart, that of the deep feelings and longings that energize existence. It is a question, then, of illuminating the conscience, inflaming the will and awakening the affections, uniting thoughts and desires in view of the goal to be reached, “since the will follows the light of understanding and is led to do what’s suggested to it as good and desirable.” (CCD 11, 360 / SV XI, 406). Given this, Vicente clarifies: “ The second point is that, after having recognized clearly the virtue or the vice to which the subject of your meditation tends (for, if it’s a virtue, the goal of prayer is to get you to practice it; or, if it’s a vice, to root it out), you may see the reasons for embracing the one or avoiding the other.” (CCD 10, 474-475 / SV X, 591).

Example (Jn 15. 9-17 / Conference of Saint Vincent on Charity (CCD 12, 213-225 / SV XII, 260-276)]

– The best way to correspond to the love of God is to develop the capacity to love that He has given us.

– Loving is the grace and challenge of the Christian life. It is what best configures us to the person of Jesus Christ, the model that signifies being truly human.

– It is the dynamic principle of our participation in the construction of the Kingdom and in the transformation of reality.

Third step: Means

Make a resolution:

What can or should I do to bring an inspiration received in prayer into my everyday life?

I should make a Practical resolution that allows the one praying to taste the mystery, to assimilate the virtue, to practice the maxim, to assume a value or attitude, to avoid and destroy completely an evil or vice, in view of the mission and the community. It is convenient to adopt only one resolution per day, with the possibility of taking it up as many times as deemed appropriate (cf. CCD 9, 12 / SV IX, 13). Do not be content with generic resolutions, which do not address concrete situations. St. Vincent warns us: “Still, it’s not enough to make a resolution if you don’t seek some means of putting it into practice. So, when you take the resolution either to avoid a vice or practice a virtue, you have to say to yourselves, Very well! I’m determined to do that, but it’s very hard to practice. Can I do it on my own strength? No, I can’t, but with the grace of God, I hope to be faithful to it, and for that purpose I have to make use of a certain means.’” (CCD 10, 460 / SV X, 572). At this point are included the resolutions and commitments, the breaking apart and reassembling, the efforts and improvements that the person proposes in order to persevere in the good and avoid everything that is contrary to the good. It is the moment that” Affective love must pass to effective love,” (CCD 9, 466 / SV IX, 593). Thus, the practical resolution is presented as an expression of the desire for continual conversion, and is to be lived with the practice of justice and charity.

Saint Vincent warns his confreres, in the aforementioned Repetition of Prayer of August 10, 1657: “it doesn’t suffice to have good affections, we must go further and be motivated to take resolutions to work seriously in the future for the acquisition of the virtue, proposing to ourselves how to put it into practice and doing acts of it. This is the crux of the matter and the benefit to be drawn from meditation.” (CCD 11, 360 / SV XI, 406).

Example (Jn 15.9-17 / Conference of Saint Vincent on Charity (CCD 12, 213-225 / SV XII, 260-276)]

– Bring myself closer to the poor, exercising in myself gratuitousness, listening, compassion and availability.

– Discover creative and adapted forms of intervention in the reality in which I act, combining charity and mission, service and evangelization, human promotion and proclamation of the Kingdom.

– Invest in the development and execution of projects that correspond to the real needs and aspirations of the people involved in order in order to cooperate in changing the structures.

In the conference that he addressed to the Daughters of Charity, on November 17, 1658, Saint Vincent summarized his method of prayer in this way: “Seeing the virtue, you know the esteem you must have for it. And because we can’t see good as good without being prompted to love it, or know vice as vice without detesting it, if you’re faithful to this practice God will grant you the grace to know and love virtue; and thus you’ll say, ‘How beautiful that is! How good it is to love to obey! How good it is to serve poor persons in the spirit a good Daughter of Charity must have!’ As soon as you finish this second point, go on to the third, which consists of the resolutions.” CCD 10, 483-484 / SV X, 603).

In this third step, it can also be useful to highlight a word, phrase or verse that, taken up again throughout the day, motivates and illuminates the resolution.

P. Vinicius Teixeira Ribeiro, CM
Province of Río



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