PHOTO BY HAMMOND HSN/DESIGN PICS
IF YOU WERE TO ASK ordinary
Catholics whether they ever
meditate, I suspect they might
say something like, ďHardly.
Who do you think I am? Iím
no nun or monk. I say my
prayers; you know, the usual
ones Iíve said all my life. I pray
the Rosary. I even follow along in the
missalette on Sundays, when the priest
is offering the Mass prayers. But meditation?
That sounds much too
advanced for me. I really wouldnít
know where to start.Ē
If these thoughts reflect your own, I
have a surprise for you. Whether you
realize it or not, you have probably
meditated every day of your life. In
fact, you have engaged in contemplation
more than you think. Strange as it
may sound, all human beings meditate
and even contemplate, regardless
of what their beliefs are or the kind of
lives they live.
Let me explain what I mean by meditation and contemplation. One of the
unique aspects of our human natureóthe way God made usóis that we have
the power to reflect upon ourselves and
our persons. In a way of speaking, we
can step outside ourselves and think
about who we are.
This is much more significant than
just looking in a mirror and seeing ourselves.
Reflecting about who we are,
what we believe, our goals in life and so
much more is the result of being made
in the image and likeness of God (Genesis
Animals cannot do that. Granted,
seeing-eye dogs truly amaze us because
of their ability to learn complicated
tasks, be alert to danger signs and so
much more. These wonderful animals
allow blind people to get around, not
just in the home but also almost anywhere
in public. Some dogs assist
wheelchair-using individuals and
enable them to live full lives.
But only humans can reflect, consider
and think about themselves. This
kind of reflection is actually what we do
in meditation. Meditation is part of
who we are as human beings.
Consider a couple of examples: A
mother thinks about what to prepare
for her familyís supper. Itís a special
occasion: One of her sons has been
chosen captain for his eighth-grade
basketball team. The family is rightly
proud for him. And so this woman
plans her familyís supper, even as she
imagines in her mind what would fit
this special day.
She sees herself preparing her sonís
favorite food. She visualizes the table
with her family sitting around it. Everyone
is enjoying the meal and talking
about her sonís new leadership position.
In fact, she might even feel a kind
of motherly thrill as she imagines them
giving her looks of approval for the
meal and asking for seconds all around.
And her surprise dessert is still to come.
All of this happens in her mind and
imagination, even before she actually
begins preparing the meal.
Another example would be a young
couple contemplating marriage: Notice
that word contemplate. Each one of
them is doing some serious reflection
on what the future holds for them as a
When they were first dating, they
were not sure that marriage was in the
offing. But once they fell in love and
began to consider marriage, they began
to reflect, think and, yes, meditate on
their lives together in ways they had
not done before. They try to imagine
how their personalities and values will
mesh with their goals, attitudes toward
work, finances, future children and
even the in-laws.
The truth is that we all
reflect about people, issues
and situations that are important
Revealed Word of God
The meditation I am speaking
about is centered on
things of a religious nature,
for example, God, Jesus
Christ, our relationship to
God and others.
Thereís no question that
the greatest and most available
source of material for meditation
is the Scriptures, the
revealed Word of God. We are particularly
blessed to have the Gospels
of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Why? Because the Gospels reveal to
us Jesus Christ, the Word of God in
the flesh, who had a human nature
and walked on this earth seeking his
fatherís will in all things (see Philippians
Imagine! Meditation does not require
us to study heavy theological tomes
or complicated mystical formulas that
only a religious genius might tackle.
Instead, consider the person of Jesus:
his words, the stories he told and many
of the events that occurred in his life.
Add to that the people who were
touched by Jesus and the people who
touched his life: That gives us a lifetime
supply of material for reflection and
You might wonder about the relevance
of Gospels that are 2,000 years old.
Arenít they about people from a different
culture who spoke a foreign language
and had unfamiliar customs and
Actually, human nature is the same,
no matter how different the times, cultures,
languages or customs might be.
Love is love in any language and in
any era. Hate is hate, sadness is sadness
and faith is faith.
People have always wept and
mourned for their deceased loved ones:
They always will. Sickness and pain are
the same for all people; it doesnít matter
when or where it is experienced.
This means that we can relate to Jesus
and the people he met in the Gospels
because we all share that same humanity.
There are dozens of events, parables,
stories and sermons in the Gospels. We
know many of them, at least in part,
from hearing them so often. These stories
and events are not at all boring.
Rather, they are dramatic and often
For example, who doesnít know at
least the basic outline of the story of the
Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)? Most
people list this as one of their favorite
What about the dramatic incident
in Johnís Gospel about the religious
leaders dragging a woman caught in
adultery before a large crowd of angry
people who seem to be waiting for the
signal to stone her to death (8:1-11)?
For a moment, it appears her life is
about to end. Then Jesus comes to her
defense and the tables are turned on the
Picture the scene at Mt. Calvary,
where Mary Magdalene and the apostle
John stand by Jesusí mother, Mary,
to support her and console her as they
witness the terrible suffering and death
of Jesus (John 19:17-30).
If you have a Bible, or even a New
Testament, you have the Gospels right
There are 35 miracle stories
recorded in the four Gospels, and 25 of
them deal with healings and cures by
There are 30 parables in the Gospels.
Although some of them are difficult to
understand fully, many of them are
very clear, such as the Good Samaritan,
the Rich Fool, the Pharisee and the Tax
Time and Place
Some people may think they need at
least a half hour in which to meditate:
Not at all.
A fruitful meditation may not require
more than a few minutes. Five or 10
minutes could easily provide enough
time to meditate, especially when just
beginning this practice.
The time it takes to say a Rosary
would also be more than sufficient for
meditation. As the practice of meditation
develops over time, you may find
you need more time than you thought
you could ever use.
Naturally, you need a quiet place or
setting where you are alone, with no
interruptions, although you canít always
control those things. You certainly need
not be in a church or a chapel. A couch
in the living room, an easy chair in the
family room or a rocker on the front or
back porch are very appropriate settings
Three Simple Steps
Letís look at three simple steps involved
in meditation: read, reflect and pray.
Material or ideas for meditation can be
a biblical event, story or parable. Some
people like to take a few minutes when
they are free to skim through one of the
Gospels, simply marking short sections
that contain an interesting event or a
story for later reference.
The Gospel of Mark is loaded with
brief accounts of healings and cures.
Matthew has lots of Jesusí sermons.
And Lukeís Gospel has some of the
most popular parables.
Once you find something that
appeals to you or attracts your attention,
read that selection. It is important
to read it slowly and thoughtfully.
Speed is not in any way part of meditation.
In fact, read it several times and even
read it softly out loud to yourself. If
you hear what you are reading, you
will find that the material is much more
impressed on your mind and imagination.
Remember, it need not be a long
passage that you read.
For the purpose of illustration, letís
use the incident in Luke concerning
the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem
(2:1-7). Caesar Augustus has
issued a decree that all people living in
the Roman Empire must be registered.
This means, of course, that Joseph,
a descendant of the house of David,
and Mary, Josephís wife, will have to
travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Thatís a distance of more than 80 difficult
We know that Mary is well along in
her pregnancy. We donít know if Mary
was riding a donkey, but it is a common
image weíve seen all our lives. It is perfectly
all right to use your imagination
and to add to the scene you are contemplating.
At the end of the journey, we know
that Mary gives birth to her firstborn
son, Jesus. Lukeís account is just seven
verses long. But there is a great deal of
imagery and information in that short
passage. Mary herself is just a young girl of 14 or 15. Joseph, her husband and
protector, is walking beside her. And of
course, Mary is carrying within her
body the Word of God made flesh:
Jesus, the Messiah. Thatís all there is to
gathering the basic story of this Gospel
In the second step in this meditation,
you actively enter this scene with your
mind and imagination. Our imagination
is a most wonderful faculty of our
human nature. It is where great art,
music and inventions originate.
For example, you can vividly picture
in your mind Mary riding on the donkey,
with Joseph walking by her side
along a rugged road. They will look
just as you imagine. After all, this is
If, by chance, you happen to have
seen the beautiful movie The Nativity
Story, you might have powerful mental
images of the Holy Family making
their way toward Bethlehem through
But when reflecting, you are not just
observing this young husband and wife.
In your mind and imagination, you
actually join them on the walk. In your
imagination, you enter the scene.
Look at Mary and Joseph. Become
aware of Maryís discomfort being so
far along in her pregnancy. Notice the
look on Josephís face, his care and concern
for his wife and for her unborn
childís safety. He is as worried as any
loving husband would be!
What do you imagine them saying to
one another? What would this young
couple be talking about? Listen with
your heart to their words.
There is still more that you can do:
You too can walk beside Mary while
you talk to her and Joseph. What would
you want to say to Mary? Would you
tell her how much you admire her for
her great courage in accepting the call
given to her by God in her role as
mother of the Messiah? What does she
say to you? Does she thank you for
being by her side?
What would you say to Joseph, who
is so caring and protective of his wife?
Would he say anything to you?
You may be surprised at the exchange
of words between yourself and this
Holy Family. It may be that not many
words are spoken between you and the
couple; perhaps it is just being there
with them, walking with them, expressing
your love and gratitude to them.
Take another example. It is not difficult
to imagine being with the poor
woman caught in adultery in Johnís
Gospel (8:1-11), Could you talk with
her, assuring her of Jesusí protection?
Watch her as she realizes that Jesus is
not going to condemn her. Rather, he
will free her from the crowd, as well as
from her own sins and despair.
How many times has Jesus come to
us to pick us up after a fall and reassure
us of his unconditional love? Imagine
yourself at the Crucifixion: You are by
the cross with Mary. You see the
tragedy, the injustice, the hate directed
In your mind, you are there. You see
and hear all the sounds, shouting and
anger directed at this poor, innocent
Savior. What must it be like for a
mother to witness such a violent and
unjust death for her innocent son? We
realize that Jesus died for each of us.
This is a key part of meditation:
reflecting in your mind on what you see
in the incident you just read from Scripture.
You enter the scene and become
part of it.
If you stopped after the second step,
you would not have completed your
meditation. It might have been a wonderful
religious experience, even with
considerable emotions and sentiments
involved. But there is something essential
that should flow from this reflective
meditation: What did this reflection
mean to you? What can you draw
For example, in the journey scene
of Mary and Joseph, you could thank
the Lord for the opportunity to be able
to walk with Mary and Joseph and the
unborn Jesus to understand a little of
their own fears, concerns and worries
on their journey to Bethlehem.
You might thank God for how privileged
you are to have been given the
gift of faith to believe that such an
event took place.
You might be drawn to reflect on
your own journey and how you may
need to be more courageous in facing
some unpleasant circumstance in your
life, having now realized what Mary
and Joseph faced in theirs.
You might well come to realize that
Mary and Joseph can and do accompany
you on your journey as well.
Every time you receive the Eucharist,
you too carry the Lord within you.
What a privilege to be able to experience
something of what Mary experienced!
You might be drawn to pray for pregnant
women worldwide and pray especially
for women contemplating having
This third step is a chance to make
several resolutions that result from what
you have read and reflected on.
Hopefully, you now understand that
meditation is not something thatís
beyond your ability. Discover what
good can come from reflecting and
meditating on those events and people
we read about in the Gospels. Those
Gospels provide us with a field of marvelous
buried treasure which we can
bring to life within our own hearts.
Keep your Bible handy in a quiet
place to remind yourself how easy it is
James Van Vurst, O.F.M., has written articles for this
magazine and others. In addition to being spiritual
assistant for a federation of Poor Clare monasteries
and a columnist for Friar Jackís E-spirations, he enjoys golf and watercolor