Moments for Priestly Meditation
Going deeper into our devotions
Priests pray a lot. We pray and celebrate the holy Mass daily, pray the Liturgy of the Hours five times a day, make prayers of intercession for people who ask us, pray a Holy Hour, and engage in other devotional prayers like the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet.
There are many scripted prayers that guide our daily prayer life. But we also need time for meditation, in which we raise our minds and hearts to ponder the things of God in stillness. At times, the prayers of our regular prayer life can even become occasions for deeper meditation.
What is the present role of meditation in your spiritual life? Do you need more silence? How can you incorporate this time into your daily routine? You might be surprised how meditation can be incorporated into your spiritual life with great ease into the prayers that are part and parcel of your daily life.
For many of us, we celebrate multiple Masses each weekend. Over the years, we have memorized many of the paragraphs of the Eucharistic prayers. This memorization, at times, may lead us to glossing over the words and not considering the meaning of what it is that we are praying. The words of the Mass are worthy of our meditation. Pay attention to the black you read. It’s done amazing things for me and my prayer throughout the different seasons of life and current events.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the words from the Roman Canon took on special meaning: “For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them: for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.”
During a time when people were becoming seriously ill, those words were truly meant by us. I offered this Mass for their health and well-being. I prayed that God would spare my people and help those who were struggling. Even still today, I often think of those with serious illnesses when I pray those words. In 2022, we have gone from the season of pandemic to another troubling season — that of the threat of war and the situation between Russia and Ukraine.
The Mass is full of references to praying for peace. For example, the prayer after the Our Father: “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
This simple prayer repeated at every Mass can be a powerful tool for meditation, perhaps asking the Lord to deliver you from specific evils you are facing or that are present in your community, and especially praying for peace and safety as we await the Lord’s coming.
The prayers specific to seasons and feast days also can become tools for our meditation. Whether it is the collect for Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter, or the Eucharistic prayers for the different seasons and celebrations throughout the year. If your meditation has been dry, try turning to some of these rich prayers and see if they can aid in your priestly meditation.
After Holy Communion
Not only can the Mass provide us a moment for meditation, but after holy Communion or Mass might be another time to pause for prayer. One spiritual writer who has had a profound impact on me was Father Daniel Lord, a 20th-century Jesuit who died in the 1950s. He was a prolific writer, authoring over 30 books, 15 booklets and 200-plus pamphlets.
One book he penned was a devotional titled “Christ in Me” (The Bruce Publishing Company). The prayer book contained over 50 guided meditations that he led for nuns following the celebration of the Mass. Some of the meditations were focused on the liturgical seasons of the Church and others on pious meditative points.
As a Marian theologian, I found his meditations pertaining to reception of holy Communion in union with Mary or in imitation of her quite profound. He also proposed a meditation on Mary’s last holy Communion. Father Lord wanted individuals to enter a period of prayer and meditation following Mass, to allow what had just happened, to sink in, and continue to touch the depths of one’s soul.
In a world that is rushed, and priests are not excluded, the Lord might be asking us to slow down after one of our weekend Masses to engage in a few moments of prayer and meditation. Here are a few helpful meditative points: Consider the priest saints who celebrated Mass and imagine what it was like for them; consider your predecessors in the parish; think about the people who have filled the pews for decades and the needs they’ve brought with them to Mass. These are just a few pious thoughts to begin your meditation after Mass.
A Breviary Pause
On the day of ordination, we made a promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the sanctification of God’s holy people. Much like the Mass, it is possible we have lines of the psalms or canticles memorized. Each year we anticipate some of the readings that come up in the office of readings cycle. Our daily contact with Scripture through the breviary can also be a time for prayerful meditation. Instead of viewing the breviary as an obligation and rushing through it, pause after each psalm to pray or meditate about a verse you just prayed.
When we pray “give success to the work of our hands” with one of the psalms, we can pause, calling to mind the projects or tasks we will undertake, asking the Lord to bring success to them. Another psalm says, “Remember not the sins of my youth.” When we pray this psalm, maybe pause and thank the Lord for his mercy and forgiveness regarding your past, and ask for his help in your current situation. Our daily encounter with the Scriptures through the Divine Office can become a point of contact for prayerful meditation. Pray attentively to the words of the psalms and canticles, pause after each one and spend a few moments in meditation.
Our lives as priests are centered on the Word of God, of which we have become heralds and strive to put into practice what we preach. Our Lectionary-based preaching affords us dedicated time to meditate on the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass. As we reflect on the Scriptures with the People of God, it is imperative that we spend time reflecting on the sacred texts ourselves, allowing God’s word to pierce our hearts more surely than a two-edged sword.
Our lectio divina or imaginative prayer with the Scriptures becomes a springboard for our meditation on the Scriptures and further study of the passages. The passages must be prayerfully engaged by us before we can engage others in their meaning. God wishes to speak to us through the Scriptures, transforming our minds and hearts before we transform the community of faith by preaching the Word.
The Rosary is one of the most popular and important devotional prayers in our Catholic faith. Our Lady of Fátima urged the daily recitation of the Rosary, and many of our parishioners recite it often. As priests, the maternal love of the Blessed Mother is something we need to access to complement our celibate life. She is the Mother of Priests and Queen of the Clergy.
The Rosary is the compendium of the Gospel and affords us opportunities to reflect on the life of Jesus and Mary. One practice I have employed in prayerful meditation of the Rosary is to ask Our Lady to reveal some new insight into the mystery. In this way, Mary who pondered the life of Jesus in her heart helps us to ponder the mysteries. Through the Rosary, Mary wishes to walk us through Christ’s life and open the photo album of his life, telling us about the one whose person we as priests stand in for when celebrating the sacraments.
The Rosary can be helpful in reflecting and meditating on our priestly life. The Annunciation offers us a moment to remember how God has called us in our life and how we have offered our own fiat. The wedding feast of Cana has many points to ponder, from the role of Mary’s intercession in our life to the marriages we have witnessed. The Mysteries of the Rosary also can help us pray for other people, such as expectant mothers when reflecting on the Visitation, or for lost souls that they may return to God with the Fifth Joyful Mystery.
The Rosary lends itself also to imaginative prayer as we envision the scene unfold. Points we could ponder would be Joseph’s presence at the Visitation, or if Jesus appeared to his mother after the Resurrection. If your Rosary praying has become rote and routine, you may wish to change up how you pray it. Any of the Rosary meditations available out there can deepen our appreciation of the mysteries.
Perhaps one by the Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC, could aid your meditation. Praying the Rosary with a clause inserted after the name of Jesus might also help us focus on the mystery. For example, “thy womb Jesus, announced by an angel, holy Mary, mother of God.” The Rosary is a powerful and efficacious prayer and tool for priestly meditation.
Through the Examen
The Examen Prayer proposed by St. Ignatius of Loyola has become a staple of priestly prayer and meditation. It can be incorporated into our compline prayer each night as we reflect on the the day that has passed. This prayer allows us an opportunity to see how God has been at work in our lives and how we have cooperated with his providence or the ways we could have done better. Our priestly meditation may be enhanced by returning to some of the graces of our ministerial life. It could be recalling the day of our ordination and allowing that to be a moment to give thanks to God. Or a special moment of ministry like ministering to a person on their deathbed. Or a pilgrimage or grace received. Returning to that moment can strengthen us, especially at the times we need our souls to be lifted by meditation on previous graces.
Meditation is important to our priestly life and ministry because it will enrich our souls, allowing us to aid the people of God we serve. I also recommend turning to some of the great teachers of prayer and meditation in our tradition, most especially St. Teresa of Ávila’s “Interior Castle.”
Also, be aware of how the Lord might be directing you in your meditation. The Lord can place something on your mind or heart while you are praying before the Blessed Sacrament or while you are driving from point A to point B. What is important is to listen to the Lord’s voice and to follow how he is prompting you. God wants us to spend moments in prayer and meditation, and he also will meet us and help us to incorporate a meditative mind and heart into the spiritual life we already have.
FATHER EDWARD LOONEY is a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, a Marian theologian, an author and host of the podcast How They Love Mary.
Pierced by Love
On June 3, 2016, Pope Francis, in a homily, spoke of some characteristics of an ideal priest. He said: “The heart of the priest is a heart pierced by the love of the Lord. For this reason, he no longer looks to himself, but is turned towards God and his brothers and sisters. It is no longer ‘a fluttering heart,’ allured by momentary whims, shunning disagreements and seeking petty satisfactions. Rather, it is a heart rooted firmly in the Lord, warmed by the Holy Spirit, open and available to our brothers and sisters.”
The pope added: “No one is excluded from his heart, his prayers or his smile. With a father’s loving gaze and heart, he welcomes and includes everyone, and if at times he has to correct, it is to draw people closer. He stands apart from no one, but is always ready to dirty his hands. His joy is born of forgiveness, of life risen and renewed, of prodigal children who breathe once more the sweet air of home. The joy of Jesus the Good Shepherd is not a joy for himself alone, but a joy for others and with others, the true joy of love. This is also the joy of the priest.”