Since I’m reading Harton’s Elements of the Spiritual Life for class, and it’s such a goldmine of spiritual insight, I’m going to write on another of Mr. Harton’s topics — his discussion of Ignatian Prayer. He expounds on how this method of prayer fits nicely into Catholic practice and engages imagination, intellect, affections, and will. I will briefly take you through the Ignatian method the way Harton takes his readers through.
“Prayer is a serious act, the approach of the soul to the eternal God, and as such it should be prepared for with the greatest care,” Harton begins his discussion of our first step, preparation. Preparation has three parts:
1) Remote – This is “the constant effort to keep one’s life habitually in harmony with one’s prayer.” A wise man once said that our lives should match our theology. And so it is with prayer. If we are seeking union with the Holy and Eternal God in prayer, our lives should be pure and humble. Harton says three things are of fundamental importance here: Mortification (see last week’s blog), Habitual recollection, and Humility.
2) Proximate – This is consideration of a particular subject on which you will meditate in prayer. Harton says to choose something the night before, like a passage of Scripture, and read it, then let it sink in while you sleep. Upon rising, you will get right to prayer, of course!
3) Immediate – Commencement of the meditation itself. Here, one recognizes the presence of God and detaches oneself from all that is not God. “Holy Spirit, help me to pray” is an advisable way to begin.
(Harton goes on with more subcategories here, but I don’t want to spoil the entire book for you.)
Next is the exercise itself. The memory, the intellect, and the will are involved.
1) Memory - Recall your subject of meditation
2) Intellect – Here one reflects in detail on the object of meditation — be it the crucifixion, resurrection, one of God’s characteristics, or whatever one chooses. Harton warns against getting too scholastic: “The object of these considerations is not to think things out or to work out theological problems to our own satisfaction, but so to reflect upon the truths of our holy religion that they may become part of ourselves and issue in the activity of love.”
3) Will – Harton calls this the “real centre of the meditation.” Here, the will turns from meditation on a subject and turns toward God in love and meditates upon His very Being.
After this, Harton says, “The colloquy with God to which the soul has now been led should itself give rise to a resolution.” He says to stay away from general and abstract resolutions like, “I will love God more,” and make something “practical and concrete.” It is also unnecessary to make a new resolution at each time of prayer. One may need to work at the same thing for quite some time.
“The Meditation should end with a quiet gathering up of the fruits of our prayer.” Ignatius advises a time of “examen” in which pray-ers reflect on their spiritual lives and what they’ve experienced throughout the day. Harton concludes by commenting that, though the Ignatian method can become complicated we should not overthink it. “Learn to pray by method, but do not be a slave to the method by which you learn.”
This is a simplified way to practice the Ignatian method, but I think it gets the gist of it across. I hope it at least sets some groundwork for those of you who have never attempted it before. Happy Praying.
1. All quotes taken from F.P. Harton, The Elements of the Spiritual Life. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1960).