First, a few words about Billy Graham.
I can remember that, in my youth, I would hear the Rev. Graham and others speaking about “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior.” My reaction was to think that salvation was taken care of by my being part of a “system” of salvation — the Catholic Church. I would wonder, “What’s this personal business?”
The better we know our Christianity, the more easily we see that everything is personal. A personal God entered into human existence. In our baptism, we were united with the personal sacrifice of Jesus. The vitality of our faith depends upon the cultivation of our personal bond with our Savior.
At some time in the late 1980s, a Billy Graham crusade (without the Rev. Graham’s presence) came to Springfield, and I offered an opening prayer at the convention center one evening. Those who made a “decision for Christ” were encouraged to be in touch with a local church — and Catholic churches were envisioned as being in the mix. I remain grateful for the Rev. Graham’s openness to Christians of all traditions, and to members of other world religions.
Surveying different kinds of prayer, I come now to meditation. The word itself may scare us off. We may imagine deep silence, in isolation, for long periods of time.
In fact, meditation can be equated with a mental operation with which we are all familiar — thinking!
We may underestimate our capacity for thinking, although, obviously, we think throughout our waking hours.
We may tell ourselves that, for instance, the thought involved in getting up in the morning and finding our way to work is nothing to marvel at. We suppose that real thinkers constantly produce original thoughts at lightning speed.
In fact, thinking is a slow process. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), in his Summa Theologiae, frequently refers to human thinking as a “discursive” process. By that he means that we proceed from one mental object to another, just as one takes a walk: step by step. A more recent church thinker, Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984), has shed light on the “insights” we are sometimes fortunate to have, as our minds lead us non-systematically to new understanding — as if, for instance, our walking would suddenly bring us to a vista at which various images or thoughts come together and we grasp something utterly new. We just have to remember that we can’t plan an insight, which is a gift in its plainest form.
When it comes to prayer, St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) gave us a tremendous gift in his Spiritual Exercises, which lead the meditating person to consider various events from the Gospels as we ask ourselves how we are to respond to the divine love portrayed in these events.
Let’s compare the thought process we must go through when we intend to cook a favorite dish. We have done this before, but of course we must go through the mental steps. Do I have all the ingredients? What do I do first?
Likewise, when we think about our relationship with God, we step through a number of familiar places. We stay with the thought that God is love. We consider the ways in which we have rejected this love. We give thanks for the grace which has moved us to seek forgiveness. We ask ourselves: How do we respond to the love which has saved and healed us? We very likely find ourselves strengthened in our dedication to our various commitments of love.
Meditation allows us a refreshing walk through the truths which it has pleased God to reveal to us over many years. Don’t be deterred by those who accuse you of being “off in space.” You are thinking. You are enjoying the truths which have anchored your life in God. These truths move you to do very practical things with your life.