The Catechism & St Francis de Sales on Meditation

Based upon Catechism paragraphs 2705-08 and St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Second Part of the Introduction.

“Meditation is above all a quest,” as the Catechism phrases it, an expression of prayer that actively engages our “thought, imagination, emotion, and desire.”

The purpose of meditation is to understand what the Lord wants of us, to grow in faith, experience deeper conversion, and become better disciples. Hence authentically Christian meditation is rooted in and focused upon our personal relationship with Christ.

We must carefully distinguish Christian meditation from meditative practices of other religions. We read and reflect upon Sacred Scripture, the liturgical prayers and readings, the writings of the saints, creation, the workings of history, all in order to encounter the Lord. We do not seek an escape, a withdrawal into a semi-hypnotic state, or a concentration upon the self.

Rather, our meditation brings us into the presence of God – not an abstract cosmic force, but the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a personal God Who relates to us on an intimate level. We meditate upon our spiritual readings by prayerfully considering them in light of our own lives.

While there is no one definitive way to meditate, the method of St. Francis de Sales can be instructive. After placing yourself in God’s presence and invoking His help, use your imagination to envision the scene that you’ve read, and put yourself within it.

Consider further any particular point that strikes you, lingering if you find it helpful or moving on to another. Allow yourself to feel the affections and emotions that are stirred up toward God, and make resolutions (as concrete and specific as possible) that you can put into practice that very day.

St. Francis de Sales urges us to offer thanksgiving in our concluding prayers and advises us to gather a “spiritual bouquet” for later:

People who have been walking about in a beautiful garden do not like to leave without gathering in their hands four or five flowers to smell and keep for the rest of the day.

Similarly, we should choose a couple of the best points from our meditation, “think frequently about them, and smell them spiritually during the rest of the day.”

Meditation is also a key component of lectio divina, Latin for “divine reading,” typically involving deep reflection upon Scripture. In the next post, we’ll look at Pope Francis’ tips for lectio divina.