Summary of Contemplative Prayer Leading to Spiritual and Moral Conversion by Fr. Spitzer, SJ

(Click here for a link to this resource)

WHAT IS CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER? 

According to Fr. Spitzer, contemplative prayer is “any form of prayer that is open to direct connection with the Lord for enough time to establish intimacy.” This “intimacy” is a personal familiarity, closeness, and caring – not necessarily a tender or romantic affection.

Contemplative prayer leads to spiritual and moral conversion because…

  • “A person can live for a while both praying and sinning, but eventually he will get rid of one of them.”

THE PURPOSE OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER

“There can be nothing more important than contemplating, affirming, appropriating, and living in this Unconditional Love. This is the purpose of contemplation; indeed, the purpose of the spiritual life itself.”

1ST STAGE OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER: SHORT PRAYER

When starting out in contemplative prayer, keep in mind these 3 principles:

1. Consistency

Consistency is key for any relationship (human and divine) to grow in friendship and love.

Be consistent with the time of day, the place of prayer, and the length of time.

  • Tip: Make the length of time manageable = Not too short (at least 15 minutes) and not too long (or else you might give it up entirely) and give yourself some flex time too (in case you feel drawn to pray more too).

2. Freedom and Grace for Moral Conversion 

  • Tip #1: If you sense the Lord’s presence and feel that He is suggesting something to you (likely via a thought process that culminates in a desirable course of action: “I would really like to (and not I should) be more patient or generous, etc. in certain specific situations”) speak to Him about it and ask for the grace to undertake this change.
  • Tip #2: Don’t expect to feel intimacy with the Lord. Although it can and does occur, frequently it does not. Instead, expect that the majority of the fruit of prayer will occur outside of prayer. 
  • Tip #3: If you feel a sense of guilt or shame when the Lord makes Himself known in the midst of your sinful life, make acts of trust that He only wants what is best for you.

3. Selecting Times and Prayers

Time allocation: Spend up to 75% of your prayer time using “short prayers” that directly foster intimacy with the Lord and 25% for a heart-to-heart conversation with Him.

Some examples of “short prayers”: (1) Snippets of the rosary, (2) Spontaneous prayers, (3) Common Catholic prayers, (4) Some Psalms, (5) Prayer of gratitude.

How to start a time of prayer: Recognize the presence of the Lord by stating words like, “Lord, I know you are here and that you love me” until your consciousness is open to His presence and He begins to fill it. At the very least, consciously affirm that you are not alone.

Adding prayer time: When you consistently and naturally go over your allotted time, add an extra 5 minutes to your prayer time. Don’t add too much time or else you’ll turn your “wanting to pray” into “having to pray”, which will undermine the relationship with the Lord you are trying to cultivate.

Spiritual progress: “If you remain faithful to this contemplative prayer life, whether it be 15 minutes or 45 minutes, you will begin to make spiritual progress – more aware of the Lord’s love for you and even your love for Him, a greater sense of freedom to detach oneself from the world and deadly sins, a greater sense of the Lord’s presence to you during the day, and a transformation in the quality of your actions.”

  • “Regular contemplative prayer is a game changer, because simply being present to the Lord or the Blessed Virgin makes their presence “rub off” on us. Their presence and love transform our hearts precisely in the manner described by John Henry Cardinal Newman – “Cor ad cor Loquitur” – “heart speaking to heart.””

 

2ND STAGE OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER: EXTENDED DISCURSIVE PRAYER

Out of the dozens of prayer forms that can lead to this deeper connection with the Lord (beyond 20 minutes), Fr. Spitzer focuses on his favourite two:

1. The Rosary

The Rosary incorporates the motherly love of the Blessed Virgin into praise and prayers to the three persons of the Holy Trinity in a simple, repetitive, and diverse way. The presence, love, and assistance of the divine persons and the Blessed Mother are evident – which makes it an ideal foundation for contemplative prayer.

  • Tip: Allow the inspiring words, feelings, and intuitions that arise while reciting the Rosary. You do not have to focus on the precise discursive words of the prayer. It is best to focus on having a spirit of giving praise to the Lord or to Mary through the prayer.

2. The Divine Office and Psalms of Praise 

For the most part, the psalms are inspired prayers that manifest a pure love and trust of God, wonder and awe at His creation, an honest portrayal of emotion, a beautiful insight into His providential care, and His desire to lead all of us to justice, virtue, and piety.

  • Tip: Personalize the psalms by changing the impersonal “the Lord” into the personal, “you Lord” = “The Lord is my rock and my shield” –> “you Lord are my rock and my shield.”
  • Tip: If you are not used to the psalms, you might want to start with a few psalms that are familiar and can be said on a daily basis, such as Psalm 8, Psalm 23, Psalm 51, Psalm 103, and Psalm 139.

3RD STAGE OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER: MEDITATIVE AND SILENT PRAYER

This 3rd stage has 3 basic prayer forms:

1. Lectio Divina

Lectio divina is a reflective approach to praying with Scripture by which we enter into the mystery by asking questions and meditating upon certain words or phrases that stand out.

Here’s a link to my blog post on lectio divina (click here).

2. Ignatian contemplation on the Gospels

The point of the contemplation is to be with Jesus in the scene, to recognize the quality of His love for others (as manifest through their reaction to Him), and to love Him in return.

Here’s a link to my blog on Ignatian contemplation (click here).

Here’s a link to Fr. Gallagher’s book on Ignatian contemplation (click here)

3. The prayer of silence

This virtually non-discursive gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus, can only be truly understood by experiencing it.

Examples include: simply resting with the Lord, adoring Him in the Blessed Sacrament, adoring the Lord in an image of the Sacred Heart or a sacred icon, or simply sitting in a sacred place to sense the Holy Mystery of the One who comes to us.

Here’s a link to 9 traits that are common to all authentic experiences of the prayer of silence, also known as infused contemplation (click here).

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