In the first part of An Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales points out that devotion and charity are inseparable. Devotion requires purification from mortal sin, affection for sin, and imperfections.
In the second part of the book, St. Francis describes the practice of prayer in the devout life. Prayer opens our mind and will to God. It helps to purify the soul.
St. Francis especially recommends mental prayer drawn from the contemplation of the life and Passion of Christ. We should begin all prayer, whether mental or vocal, by placing ourselves in the presence of God.
St. Francis suggests four methods for placing ourselves in the presence of God: first, realizing in a lively, earnest way that God’s presence is universal; second, calling to mind that God is very specially present in our heart and mind; third, dwelling upon the thought of Christ looking down upon all people from heaven; fourth, picturing Jesus at our side.
However, when the Blessed Sacrament is there, then this Presence is no longer imaginary, but most real.
Having placed ourselves in the presence of God, we should invoke His divine assistance to make a proper meditation. We can also invoke our guardian angel and those saints most especially connected with the subject of meditation.
Depending on the subject of meditation, the practice of “composition of place” may be used to set forth the mystery.
Composition of place is “simply kindling a vivid picture of the mystery to be meditated within your imagination, even as though you were actually beholding it. For instance, if you wish to meditate upon Our Lord on His cross, you will place yourself in imagination on Mount Calvary, as though you saw and heard all that occurred there during the Passion.”
According to St. Francis de Sales, meditations are “certain considerations by which we raise the affections to God and heavenly things.”
“Meditation differs therein from study and ordinary methods of thought which have not the Love of God or growth in holiness for their object, but some other end, such as the acquisition of learning or power of argument.”
Meditative considerations should lead to affections and resolutions. St. Francis writes, “You must not stop short in general affections, without turning them into special resolutions for your own correction and amendment.”
Resolutions should be practical and concrete. We should strive to retain them on our return to active duties.
We should make three acts at the conclusion of meditation: first, an act thanksgiving for the graces received during meditation; second, an act of oblation to offer our affections and resolutions; third, an act of intercession for the fulfilment of our resolutions and for the needs of others.
We should select a few points from meditation to dwell on them from time to time during the day. If we experience dryness during meditation we may use vocal prayer or a spiritual book to help us meditate.
A nun went to St. Teresa of Avila in great discouragement because she thought she could not practise mental prayer. The saint asked the nun how she tried to pray. She told St. Teresa that she merely said over and over again the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary,” thinking of Our Lord in some scene of His Passion.
On further questioning, St. Teresa found that in her vocal prayers the nun enjoyed pure contemplation, and occasionally God lifted her to perfect union with Himself. If prayed well, the rosary can become pure contemplative prayer.
Meditative reading is one of the methods of mental prayer. St. Benedict set apart two hours each day for reading Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Fathers. We listen to God in holy reading.