Meditation and reflection are two words that express two shades of difference of the same idea. In meditation we consider supernatural things pertaining to our eternal salvation. The soul maintains herself with difficulty in the love and practice of virtue without the help derived from meditation; for when she gives it up, her fervor in piety grows lax, temptations became more frequent and obstinate, often followed by humiliating falls.
You are well aware that the real object of the Christian's life upon earth is to establish God's kingdom in our heart; and this is what forms the object of the second petition that we address to God every day in the Lord's prayer; and since the kingdom of God is entirely interior, as Jesus Christ himself tells us, when He says: the kingdom of God is within us, we should acquire the habit of looking for God in our own heart; but in order to find Him there we must give Him a place in it by meditation and prayer.
The advantages derived from meditation are so numerous and so great, that it is a matter of surprise why it is not more universally practised; for the effects that it produces in the souls of those who are faithful to its practice are so striking that it is easy to discern a man given to this habit from those who are entire strangers to its holy influence. Meditation teaches us to know God and ourself; it lays open to us our faults and vices, their source and fatal consequences and the arms we should employ to combat them. Finally, meditation contributes most efficiently to form our minds and purify our hearts, to fortify the will and develop in us the habit of reflecting.
The knowledge of God and ourself is such an important factor in the work of our spiritual perfection that St. Augustin constantly prayed for it, saying: |Lord grant that I may know Thee and myself.| The pagans themselves well understood the advantage of this most important science, even for the securing of the happiness of this life; since they had the following words inscribed, as a summary of all human science, upon the frontispiece of the most celebrated temple of Greece, know thou thyself. But, alas! this knowledge is as rare as it is necessary; with a mind absorbed by distractions, and a heart harassed by passions, we flee, so to speak, from God and from ourselves.
Where is the Christian that knows God? Do you presume that you know full well what He is, what He has done for you, and what He still does for you every day? Every moment you receive His gifts: your life is due to His beneficence and His love, you are carried in the bosom of His providence as in the arms of your mother, He is continually preoccupied with your welfare, He has done all, created all things for your comfort and happiness; for your sake he has become man, to participate in all the infirmities, weakness and miseries of our humanity, in order to heal them and console us. Every thing speaks of Him, and proclaims His holy name to you. All that you see, all that you hear and feel must recall to your mind some gift of His love, or some effect of His mercy. All creatures in heaven and on earth are like so many voices which, mingling in a harmonious concert, sing to you His praises and publish His mercies.
Do you listen to them? Do they not pass you unperceived like the flitting zephyrs' leaving no trace to mark their passage. Did you ever seriously try to render an account of the attributes of God, and particularly of His goodness and justice? of His goodness to endear Him to all, and of His justice to make Him be feared by all. Have you considered well that to know God is to know all, because He is the Author of all creation possessing in Himself to an infinite degree all the perfections of His creation?
He who does not labor to obtain a knowledge of God can scarcely obtain any knowledge of himself. How is it possible for us to know what we are while we ignore what God is for us and what we owe Him? Oh, how few there are who know themselves! The first condition necessary to secure this knowledge, so important and so precious, is profound humility, which unsparingly reveals the real motive of all our actions, the uncompromising antagonist of our pride and self-love.
Now it is quite evident that he who does not know God does not possess this virtue; for how can a man humble himself before a being that he ignores? At first sight it may seem that there is nothing so easy as to know one's self, -- that this knowledge may be obtained by a close consideration of the heart's operations; but when we give the matter sufficient thought the work does not appear to be so easy. And the number of those who have acquired this knowledge to any noted degree is so limited that we are forced to infer that a knowledge so rare must offer great difficulties.
However, there is one thing certain, namely: that this knowledge is not obtained in the midst of tumult and pleasures, from the seductions of the world or the distractions of life. It is not by fleeing one's-self as we would fly an enemy; by concealing with a complaisant but perfidious veil our defects, to avoid being troubled by their appearance -- always painful to pride; it is not by living a dreamy life of fiction to which the slaves of the world condemn themselves with a deplorable obsequiousness; it is not by continually trying to deceive ourselves and others that we may learn how to know ourselves; and, just as our knowledge of material things increases by the frequency of our relations with them -- for instance we know persons better with whom we are intimately acquainted than those with whom we are comparatively strangers -- so, likewise, in order to know ourselves well, we must live intimately with ourselves, observe closely and impartially all the movements of our mind and heart, frequently descending into the depth of our soul, scrupulously examining our thoughts, desires and actions, sparing no pains to discern well their source and motives; this latter portion of the work is, without doubt, the most difficult, since it is the point at which all the passions unite to deceive us by the most subtle illusions. The best actions are despoiled of their merit by certain motives of vanity, often concealed from our own notice.
The motives by which we are actuated are, relative to our actions, what the eye is relative to our body, -- it is the motive that gives light and brilliancy to our actions. This is the sense in which we should understand our Lord when He says if our eye be simple our whole body will be luminous. Now the great light by which we can clearly see the motives for which we act is meditation.
In the peaceful calm of solitude, and in the silent slumber of the passions, meditation puts us in presence of ourselves, before our own eyes, by which we see ourselves as in a true mirror. Meditation teaches us to judge without prejudice what we have done and to determine with propriety what we should do, by making the experience of the past our lamp for the future, and by converting past mistakes into practical lessons for the present.
The meditative and recollected soul will turn even her shortcomings to good account; seeing her delinquencies, she clothes herself with the mantle of humility, she rises with renewed confidence, and shuns with greater care the occasion of those evils from which she has suffered; she is rarely taken by surprise, a few moments' reflection will suffice for her to determine what is to be done under the circumstances; she is rarely taken in the snare of deception, for she knows that human nature is weak, vacillating and unreliable, and, consequently, she keeps herself on her guard.
Considered from this point of view; meditation is particularly necessary to woman, because, being endowed with a very lively imagination and a tender heart, she is more exposed to illusions which, for the most part, spring from those two sources. Moreover, surrounded as she is, by the seductions of the world; breathing incessantly the poisoned atmosphere of flattery and adulation; waited on by men who seek to deceive her; distracted by a multitude of cares which absorb her soul; lost in a painful detail of trifles; how will she be able to resist the united action of those trials; if she has not contracted the salutary habit of frequently conversing with her own heart by holy meditation and recollection?
The precious habit of meditation makes its influence felt by all the faculties of the soul. It imparts to the mind the love of solitude, assurance and confidence to the judgment, consistency to all the thoughts. It is by reflecting on what we interiorly feel, as well as on what we exteriorly see, that we enrich our intelligence and acquire that cheerful alacrity and firmness of purpose so necessary and precious in the most trying and delicate circumstances of life.
A woman of an irreflective mind becomes an easy prey to her own impressions; rarely ever seeing things in their true light she is balloted from one illusion to another, from one error to another; she believes in every thing, hopes for all that she desires, and desires all that flatters her. Unable to render an exact account either of the thoughts of her mind or the movements of her heart, she acts without aim or motive, governed solely by the caprice of her imagination or the impulse of whimsical humor; equanimity is impossible in the midst of such confusion. All this will have a fatal effect upon her spiritual welfare; for what shocked her some time ago will now fail to make the slightest impression. The bloom of youth will soon fade away, leaving to her only confused souvenirs of those days when, to be happy, it sufficed for her to descend into her own soul, where she always found peace and consolation.
If you wish to preserve in all their integrity the faculties of your soul; if you would not have your life ruled by the caprice of the imagination; contract at an early age the salutary and happy custom of making your meditation. Set apart a special time for it every day, let it be practical, having for its object the spiritual progress of your soul, the sanctification of your life. Lay out in God's presence what you have to do every day, recall to mind the places, persons and things that have been to you an occasion of sin, or a help in the exercise of virtue, in order to avoid the evil accruing from the one source, and increase the influence arising from the other. Never recline your head upon your pillow before having rendered an exact account of the day you have just finished, like the merchant who, every night, tots up his loss and gain, to see what has been the result of the day's transactions. The next day, with the double armour of experience and resolve, you will be better able to avoid what proved noxious before, as well as to do the good that you had omitted. By thus acting you will give to your life a sure direction, a powerful impetus in the accomplishment of all that is worthy of your glorious destiny.