By Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, Sj
Prayer classifications help us to make prayer more meaningful. An example of this is the spiritual ladder of St. Guigo, a mostly unheard of saint. Ange was a strapping young man when I knew him, as he blew into a bamboo cannon to make noise for the fiesta. He explained that his parents called him Ige in honor of St. Guigo of whom few had ever heard. His parents had lost a few babies previous to him and in desperation someone told them of a special intercessor in St. Guigo. He was a celebrated mystic famous for his ladder of spirituality leading to eternal happiness. This was a logical categorizing of progress in spirituality. In the jumble of devotions and theories in spirituality that we practice, a classification of practices is helpful.
The first rung is lectio. Here a spiritual topic is read, read once or three times as the listeners savor the message. We remind ourselves of a doctrine or a saying of our faith. As in the Mass, there are readings of passages from Scriptures and explained by the sermon. During the evangelization of Mindanao in the 16th to the 18th centuries, the Jesuit priest missionaries would have two or three Jesuit Brothers to help them. Most of these did not know how to read so that their spirituality was fostered by this daily reading of Scriptures or some spiritual passage. Here too belongs the practice of reading the Scriptures for 10 to 20 minutes a day. We have so neglected reading the Bible that some new sects are able to claim that we do not know the Bible and that they were the ministers of the Bible. And yet the Bible is our book which we have inherited from the Apostles through the ages.
The second rung of the ladder was oratio, or the prayer of petition and thanksgiving for graces received. This is the common prayer of Christians; who ask God for favors and thank Him for gifts received. We bless the Lord for His goodness in the everyday happenings of life.
The third rung is “meditatio.” This is where we make resolutions. From our prayer we ask what should we do to follow what Jesus wanted us to do. Here we make targets and vows to arrange for a good Christian life and do service to the neighbor, build community, forgive insults and evil done to us by others, and make use of the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist to strengthen our resolve in following the will of God in our case. Up to this point there is a lot of human effort and resolve.
In the next rung of “contemplation” a good bit of effort is no longer within our control. This is where the grace of God comes in to supplement our efforts. These are the moments in which we realize that “God is here.” He takes us by the hand and brings us forward. The only thing that we can do is bless the Lord for his gifts. These are the times when our ascent to spiritual heights no longer depends on us but on the grace and goodness of God. These are the moments we cannot completely understand but are filled with the joy of the spiritual life. The fact is that we are in God and God in us and in our neighbor. What is lacking is our awareness of it, our consciousness that God is within us. He is in our neighbour also; so that any damage to our neighbour is damage against God.
St. Guigo probably borrowed this figure of a spiritual ladder from the desert fathers. It organizes our effort in the spiritual life and provides clarity to where our efforts are necessary and where it is unable to move on forward except with the grace of God. We use our minds in the lectio, sometimes called lectio divina; we use our hearts in the oratio; we use our will and determination in the meditation; and finally we cooperate with God in trying to move us forward in holiness and love.
In the end we know we need to pray. We should set some definite time every day for prayer like reading the Scriptures for 10 to 20 minutes a day. We need the Mass and communal prayers but we also need personal prayer; and community participation and fellowship, which is also a form of prayer.
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