Tuesday, May 17th, 2022

‘Ibi fixa sint’: A Sermon for the Fourth Week after the Octave of Easter

The collect for this weekend confirms my thesis of last weekend. Then, I suggested that without meditation, the Catholic soul becomes weak and therefore vulnerable to damage and loss during times of trial. Today, we hear the Church pray: ‘Give us to love what You command . . . so that, amidst the changing things of the world, our hearts may be fixed where true joys are.’ So yes, the Church says it better than I did: meditation gives us fixity of mind and heart, despite the instability of life.

With that in mind, it behooves me to say something practical now about how to meditate. The many ascetical traditions of the Church have given us methods. In no way would it be possible or helpful to summarize them here. And let me be quick to say that methods are good only insofar as they help us. But there are some general things to be observed. 

1. We must quiet the body and the mind as best we can. Obviously we who live outside of cloisters are at a disadvantage; we must do the best with what stillness is available to us. But we must be very serious about taking what we can get of it. This can be done even as we work, or drive or walk. But we need some degree of exterior stillness and much interior stillness if we are to meditate. The first principle of meditation is to make a clear space for clear thought. 

2. We must also decide ahead of time what we are going to meditate about. In religious houses, it was often the practice to prepare the topics of one’s morning meditation the night before. We needn’t do that, but the principle is very sound. We will waste time in prayer if we begin without knowing where we are going. How to do this is fairly simple. Perhaps we remember something we heard at Mass on Sunday. Perhaps some point from a spiritual book or the episode from the life of a saint is something we would find helpful to return to. Even the memory of a holy picture or some detail of sacred art can be a prompt for meditation. But whatever the subject is, determine it before you begin to meditate.

3. To that end, reading is more or less essential to the process. But allow me to be quick to say that I do not mean the reading of treatises or sitting for hours. Few of us have the time for those things. Any text of Catholic orthodoxy, an old prayer book—but especially the texts of your missals—all of these are places to look. A paragraph–a mere sentence–is enough to provide us with the raw material of meditation. 

4. Lastly, we do well to remember that the goal of meditation is not to solve a riddle or produce an insight—still less to produce a feeling. Meditation is discursive, indeed: but we are not trying to prove ourselves to God. Meditation is good in itself because its object is good in itself. We are placing minds before God in a determined way, and we leave the results to him. After all, in the baptized, prayer is first an activity of God in us; he is the first mover. All of this is to say that the prospect of meditation should never discourage us or scare us off. We are dealing with a simple pondering over divine things.

Beloved friends, we cannot live without today’s collect. In the face of the cascades of suffering which human nature is forced to bear, we cannot live without the prayer sung by the Church today: ibi nostra fixa sint corda ubi vera sunt gaudia. Yes, our hearts have to be elsewhere. But not elsewhere in the sense of some vaguely apprehended utopia; nor some state of painless, sentimental nirvana. The place spoken of by the sacred liturgy is real, concrete, certain. The state of eternal friendship toward which we are tending is a place of beauty, clarity, peace, justice, order, and thanksgiving. These are the vera gaudia. And we must ponder them often if we are to be saved.

{ Art Credit: Padre Sebastiano (c 1904-1906), John Singer Sargent; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York } 

Homilies & Sermons