Six steps outlining St. Francis deSales’ method of meditation – good for beginners and for experienced pray-ers.
“I like reading meditations, but I don’t know how to do one myself….” Does that sound familiar?
Honestly, I used to feel that way.
Then I found that St. Francis deSales, in Introduction to the Devout Life, lays out a wonderful outline that taught me how to spend an entire hour in Eucharistic adoration (nearly) distraction free!
I want to share these steps with you, so you can try it too.
Maybe you only have a few minutes, or maybe you have an entire hour on your hands; either way, these steps form a great framework to developing a deep, meaningful, personal prayer life.
Let’s take a walk through the format for meditations (and keep an eye out for the printable at the end!)
1. Presence of God and Invocation
As is true with all prayer, you must start your meditation by placing yourself in the presence of God. You can either do this physically, by visiting a church, or mentally and spiritually if praying at home.
St. Francis makes four recommendations on how to place yourself in God’s presence:
- Consider that “God is in all things and all places.” This is a great start when meditating outside, in nature, under the stars; you can begin by recognizing God’s presence in all the beauty we are surrounded by. Or maybe you are somewhere not so perfect; you can remember that God is even there, waiting to heal it with his mercy, and sustaining it in existence.
- “He is present…in your heart and in the very center of your spirit.” While the first consideration looks outward, this one turns your eyes inward. You can begin your meditation by reflecting on God’s presence within yourself, in all your strengths and weaknesses; He is here, loving you.
- “Our Savior in His humanity gazes down from Heaven on all mankind.” Jesus rose bodily from the dead and ascended into Heaven. You can imagine Him looking down on you, and watching over your life.
- “[Imagine] to yourself the Savior…as if He were near you.” You can picture in your mind Jesus sitting right here next to you, holding your hand or with his arm around your shoulder, just waiting to hear all you have to say. He will talk to you lovingly like your best friend.
When you begin your meditation, you will choose just one of these ways to place yourself in God’s presence.
Once you place yourself in God’s presence, either physically or spiritually and mentally, you must invoke his assistance in your time of prayer.
You can ask our Lord – or Our Lady, the Saints, Angels (I usually invoke the Holy Spirit) – to share their thoughts and inspiration with you and to guide your meditation.
Step one to meditation: place yourself in God’s presence, and invoke His assistance.
2. The Subject
It is very helpful to pick a subject right away to be the focus of your meditation. The focus can be a “scene” from the Scriptures, or an attribute of God, or a virtue you wish to know more about.
If you choose a scene, you should begin by “pictur[ing] in imagination the entire mystery you wish to meditate on as if it really took place here before you.”
For example, if you wish to meditate on the crucifixion, your thoughts may go like this: “I imagine myself standing at the foot of Your cross, my Jesus. Your mother Mary is here beside me, gazing on Your anguished face. Your breathing is labored; You cry out, ‘It is finished!’”
You can take as long or as short as you need to imagine the details of the scene. It may be helpful to read the scene from scripture before you begin to imagine, so that your thoughts accurately reflect the subject.
If you wish to meditate on an attribute of God, you may want to use imagery.
For example, if you are going to meditate on God’s mercy you may say, “My God, Your mercy is like an ocean that swallows up my sins, never to be found again.”
Sometimes, a mental picture is not adequate, and your subject may be more abstract. If this is the case, you may find it helpful to turn to the Catechism or another source to learn more about the subject.
For example: “Fr. Hardon defines four aspects of modesty: humility, studiousness, dress, and behavior.” And then consider each aspect in turn.
Step two: choose a subject and imagine it vividly.
When you make considerations, ask Jesus what He is trying to teach you about your subject.
Now, to clarify, this is not the time to apply these lessons to your personal life. Rather, this is when you should raise your heart to God, and let your inspiration flow from His example.
You may say, “Jesus, you showed so much forgiveness on the Cross. The man who lived a life of sin was saved by Your mercy. All he had to do was make one simple act of Faith.”
In your considerations, you should let yourself be led.
- You can open your heart to thoughts and inspirations of God’s majesty, pouring out the words He gives you.
- You can open your mind to the lives of the Saints, and the ways they glorified God.
- You can open your intellect to the written words of others, and reflect on what those mean in a general sense.
Step three: raise your mind to God by considering what the subject is showing or exemplifying. Let yourself be led and inspired by what God is trying to say to you.
4. Affections and Resolutions
Considerations should lead you naturally to think of ways you want to apply these newfound lessons in your life.
If you are contemplating the forgiveness of Jesus, you may wish to be more forgiving.
If you are considering modesty, you will desire to be more modest. So, you cry out: “Jesus, I wish to forgive as You forgave on the cross,” or, “I wish to exemplify the fruit of modesty more fully in my life!”
These cries from the heart, these loving intentions are called affections.
Your affections may include:
- desire for heaven
- zeal for the salvation of souls
- imitation of the life of our Lord
- awe and joy at the majesty of God
- sorrow for sins
or anything else that your heart is moved to cry out to God. However, your affections must be brief, and move swiftly into resolutions.
A resolution is a specific and particular way to apply the affection to make improvements in your personal life. If you wish to me more forgiving, you must state a specific way that we will do this.
For example, you may say, “I have been holding a grudge against my friend, but every time I think of the offense she caused me, I resolve to push it away, to pray, ‘I forgive her,’ and to call to mind a good quality about her.”
St. Francis deSales says that by making very specific resolutions, “You will correct your faults in a short time.”
The movement through steps 3 and 4: Considerations and Affections and Resolutions, may be circular. You may consider one aspect of your subject, feel moved to praise God and resolved to act on it, then consider another aspect of your subject, and similarly be moved to praise again, and resolved to act in a specific way because of it.
You must not specify the amount of time spent in each, but let God take the lead and direct your affections and resolutions.
Step four: let your heart cry out its affections to God, and state specific resolutions to make personal improvements in your life.
Your conclusion is a way of slowly exiting your intimate time with God and returning to the tasks of daily life. It is your time to say your goodbyes, and assure God that you will continue thinking of Him throughout the day.
St. Francis deSales says a good conclusion to your meditation must consist of acts of:
- Thanksgiving: for your time here, for your resolutions
- Offering: you must offer your affections and resolutions to God, trusting that he will give you the grace needed to carry through
- Supplication: hand-in-hand with offering, we must ask God to bless our resolutions that they may be fruitful.
These three acts may be brief, and may even be combined in one line: “God, thank You for showing me your forgiveness on the cross and for moving my heart to treat my friend with forgiveness; I offer my resolution to You and ask You to bless it that I may faithfully fulfill it.”
Ending your meditation like this sums up the result of what you reflected on, and invites God to continue to be present in the rest of your day.
Step five: wind down by recapping your meditation with thanksgiving for all the graces and inspiration God has given you, offering Him your resolutions, and asking Him to bless them and see them to fruition.
6. Spiritual Bouquet
The spiritual bouquet is perhaps the most important part of the meditation.
Your union with God must continue past your time in formal prayer. As St. Francis deSales says, “People who have been walking around in a beautiful garden do not like to leave without gathering in their hands four or five flowers to smell and keep for the rest of the day.”
Your spiritual bouquet should be something that will help remind you to think of your time in meditation all day long. It may be a particular word, a particular image, a particular phrase, or anything else meaningful to you.
You should do your best to keep this thought in mind frequently throughout the day, and renew your affections and resolutions whenever you think of it.
For example, you may use the phrase “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” along with a mental picture of Jesus healing the sick and forgiving sinners as a spiritual bouquet for a meditation on forgiveness.
Step six: collect a spiritual bouquet, and keep it on your mind to help you revisit your meditation throughout the day.
Keep in mind: these are not rules, just a basic outline to get you started and help you stay focused. Once you get comfortable, you will see that these steps flow naturally.
However, always remember: allow the inspirations of God to come first – if He leads your heart and mind somewhere else, follow it! And if you start to get distracted, return to these steps where you left off.
May God bless you and your time in prayer and reflection!
Here is an example of a simple meditation that follows all six steps:
(Step 1) My Jesus, You look down on all your children with love. Please look down on me now and inspire my thoughts.
(Step 2) I imagine myself standing at the foot of your cross. Your mother Mary is here beside me, gazing on your anguished face. Your breathing is labored; you turn to the good thief, saying, “This day you will be with me in paradise.”
(Step 3) Jesus, you showed so much forgiveness. This man who lived a life of sin was saved by Your mercy. All he had to do was make one simple act of Faith.
(Step 4) I wish to forgive as You forgave on the cross. I have been holding a grudge against my friend, but every time I think of the offense she caused me, I resolve to push it away, to pray, ‘I forgive her,’ and to call to mind a good quality about her.
(Step 5) My Jesus, thank You for showing me your forgiveness on the cross and for moving my heart to treat my friend with forgiveness; I offer my resolution to You and ask You to bless it that I may faithfully fulfill it.
(Step 6) Throughout the day, help me recall the words You taught: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and remember the lessons You taught me during my time with You today. Amen.
Download this printable and have it with you when you pray!