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Holy Wisdom Or Directions For The Prayer Of Contemplation by Ven. F. Augustine Baker

CHAPTER IV. Of the custom of set appointed Retreats for Meditationà

§ 1. Of the custom of set appointed Retreats for Meditation, &c.

§§ 2, 3. For what sorts of persons the said retirements are proper.

§ 4. They are improper for religious persons practising contemplation, especially women.

§§ 5, 6, 7. Except with certain conditions.

§§ 8, 9, 10. How seculars may and ought to make use of and benefit by the said Retreats.

1. Before I quit this subject of Meditation, or treat of the signs by which a soul, after a convenient time spent in the practice of it, may be able to judge of her ripeness for a higher exercise of prayer, it will not be amiss to consider what use or effect in souls by their profession or election aspiring to contemplation, and actually advanced in the same ways, the yearly, quarterly, or otherwise appointed Retreats for more serious meditation may have toward the same end, &c. Now just ground there is to take this into consideration, because experience shows that the said custom has of late been introduced into convents (even of women) professing the greatest solitude in order to contemplation.

2. The clearing of this doubt will depend upon a due consideration of what condition the persons are, and what are the proper ends and uses for which the said retreats and practices of recollection therein were (or ought to be) designed; which, in the first place, in regard to secular persons were: 1. To be an efficacious instrument for one in an imperfect extroverted course of life to be brought to discern the foulness of his soul, the peril of his state, &c., and from thence to procure remorse, contrition, and purposes of amendment.2. Or for a secular person in a less perfect state of life to discern and know God's will concerning the undertaking of a more perfect state; for such recollections (proper for the imperfect condition of the said persons) being practised in solitude, do serve much to the illuminating of the understanding, purifying the intention, and fortifying the will in good purposes and designs.3. By the same the said persons may be well instructed how to serve God better, remaining in the same less perfect state, on which ground they have been worthily recommended by the See Apostolic, and their practice promoted by the grant of indulgences.

3. Next in regard of religious persons, the said retirements: 1. Are very helpful in the beginning of such a spiritual state, by teaching with great exactness the rudiments of mental prayer, and for the same end they may likewise serve devout secular persons of active lives, that are desirous and have the courage, to undertake a more spiritual course.2. In the progress of an active religious life, religious persons, by their many distractive employments and studies, cannot but contract many stains and defects, the which are not easily perceived, and less are they perfectly corrected by the help of their daily usual meditations; and, therefore, such solemn and rigorous retirements were justly esteemed requisite to procure light and grace for the discovering and rectifying such defects and dissipations of the spirit.

4. These surely are the natural and proper ends of the said retirements, as they are usually practised at set times, respectively to each one's particular need. Now in none of these regards can they be proper for persons that in a life of religious solitude do actually practise contemplation, except only in the last point, viz. inasmuch as the said retreats are instituted to the end that religious persons may thereby take the benefit of a more strict solitude, and a freedom from distractive employments, there to enjoy a vacancy to attend to God alone in perfect liberty of spirit. For, indeed, in this regard religious persons of contemplative orders (especially such as are employed in offices, studies, &c.) may oft have need to recollect their dissipated and distracted spirits, as well as others, so that they may do very well monthly (or as occasion shall require) by such retirements to increase their light, and to lay up a treasure of good purposes and advices for the time following, by which practice an use and habitual state of recollectedness may be attained, and provision made that it be not extinguished by future employments.

5. But if the end of such retreats be only to oblige souls to a nice observance and practice of meditation, merely for the foresaid purposes, without any consideration of advancing them in affective prayer, it cannot be imagined what benefit contemplative souls can reap thereby, but rather a hindrance and distraction. For: 1. They are supposed not to stand in need now to learn how to pray mentally, to which kind of prayer the said exercises are but the first imperfect rudiments, 2. Much less do they stand in need of a total change of life, or of doing some extraordinary penitential satisfaction for former crimes, or to learn remorse for them.3. By such exercises, as they are commonly taught and practised, such souls will not learn how well to practise their religious observances in solitude, or to use vocal prayer of obligation more perfectly. For all such exercises, unless they be practised in order to affective prayer, do end in themselves, not being intended to be means to lead souls to higher prayer, &c.4. And in case the persons be naturally indisposed for internal discoursive prayer, what is it that they can learn thereby (which is very ordinarily the case, especially of many religious women)?

6. All things therefore considered, nothing seems to me more improper than the said retreats for meditation for solitary contemplatives, to whom a due observance of the choir is both far more proper and efficacious to all ends pretended to by such exercises than they are. Yea, moreover, great harm may come to souls professing contemplation by them; for so great attention, such an exact performance of nice observances, and such a captivity of spirit is required, that when all is passed, souls thereby ofttimes become disabled to continue the internal prayer proper for them, or to comply with many regular duties. To these we may add the great inconveniences which may come from strict examinations of conscience, repetitions of general confessions, &c., very prejudicial to tender souls.

7. Therefore, as touching contemplative persons, who (living, perhaps, under the conduct of those that are wholly devoted to the active way) shall be obliged to such retirements, and therein to exercises very unsuitable to their state, my advice to them is, that they should keep themselves in as much stillness of mind as may be, and having received instructions for their prayer, let them in practice give as much scope as they well can to their good affections, not much troubling themselves whether the said affections be proper to the matter proposed for meditation or no, nor distracting themselves with reflection upon their prayer, to the end to give an account of it to others. Let them likewise endeavour to preserve all due liberty in spirit in their examinations and confessions, therein proceeding no further than may consist with their spiritual profit, and by all means avoiding such particulars as are likely to nourish fear and scrupulosity, or to disturb the peace of their minds.

8. And as for secular livers, to whom, indeed, the said retreats (according to custom undertaken at set times) may prove of admirable profit and benefit, to the end the virtue of them may not quickly expire, they ought to be careful afterwards to make good use of the lights received in them, and to put in execution the good purposes made during such retirements; for they must not expect by a few days' solitude and prayer to get a habit of sanctity, but only a transient good passion and disposition thereto, which, without future care to cherish and increase it, will quickly vanish, and their fervour will be cooled.

9. Moreover, perceiving evidently by this experience the good effects of mental prayer, they ought to resolve the best they can to allow some reasonable time to the prosecution of it, when they return to their secular vocations, using likewise as much abstraction as their state of life will permit. Otherwise it is to be feared they will not only return to all their former defectuousness and sins, but will moreover thereto add the guilt of ingratitude to God, that so effectually called them from sin; and their following sins will be sins against clear light.

10. Certain it is that if souls shall so rely upon the repeating such retirements, and new taking of the same practices of meditation, &c., as by them to make amends (tones quoties) for all faults past, they will be in great danger to find themselves deceived. For though in itself it be very good to seek all good means to procure remorse and contrition for past sins, yet if a soul, upon a consideration that she has such a special remedy in readiness, shall neglect the care and watchfulness over herself, it is to be feared, and not without just grounds, that that which she takes for contrition will prove to be no more than a natural remorse; for it is not likely that God will shower down His grace upon a soul so corrupted in her intention.

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