Marian Virtue Series: Constant Mental Prayer

Constant Mental Prayer: what it is, what it isn't, and tips to pursue this important virtue every day.

This post is a part of a Marian Virtue Series, running every Wednesday and Friday. It will conclude on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. If you are just joining the series now and want to learn more you can start here: Introduction to Marian Virtue Series.

Previous Blog Article: Surpassing Purity at The Lemke Lodge.

Next Blog Article: Universal Mortification at Coffee and Pearls.

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“Won’t you take me as your child of light? Break me if you must, I do not care, ’til every breath I breathe is a song of praise, every heartbeat is a prayer.” Randy Stonehill, Every Heartbeat is a Prayer.

Coram Deo. 

That was the theme for orientation week when I was a freshman at an Evangelical college, pretty much forever ago now. Someplace, maybe at my parents’ house, I still have my bright yellow name tag with that phrase splashed across it in a bold, jazzy black font. A lot has changed since I wore it; marriage, 8 children, and a faith journey I did not expect. One thing that is the same since those days, though, is my desire and struggle to live out that theme: Coram Deo.

Coram Deo means “in the presence of God.” The idea is to live before the face of God, aware of His presence and in constant fellowship with Him. This is the same foundational concept as the fifth Marian Virtue in our series: Constant Mental Prayer.

Constant Mental Prayer

Constant prayer can sound a little intimidating if you are thinking of a narrow view of prayer, of simply verbally addressing God. Once, I heard someone refer to constant mental prayer as the activity of going through your day, continually mentally reciting a prayer such as the Our Father or Hail Mary.

If that works for you, well, you do you, friend. If I didn’t die of monotony, I’m pretty sure I’d burn the pork chops, get into a car wreck, or yell at some miscreant child, “BLESSED ART THOU! I MEAN KNOCK IT OFF!!” Mom points: 0.

I don’t think that’s what is meant by constant mental prayer, thankfully.  In an interview with Zenit, Fr. Jacques Phillipe says this (emphasis mine):

It would be better to say interior prayer instead of mental prayer, because in our modern culture, the word “mental” is associated with thoughts — as something cerebral — whereas this form of prayer is more an affair of the heart, instead of reflection. St. Teresa of Avila said that it is not an act of thinking much, but of loving much.

Interior prayer is not a question of technique. It is not a process that can be controlled because it is a meeting with God, who infinitely surpasses anything we can achieve through our own efforts.

What must be essentially understood is that there is no method, but an interior attitude. For interior prayer, there are three principles: a true desire for God; the confidence that God will allow us find that which we are looking for; and finally, humility: To accept our poverty and to wait for the goodness and love of God in all things.

And, St. Therese of Lisieux says:

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy.”

And finally, Padre Pio says this:

“Prayer is the oxygen of the soul.”

Our bodies are not always consciously breathing. But we live in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, upon which we always depend. This kind of prayer is the same – we’re not always talking, not always thinking. But we should be always striving to live in an atmosphere of love, friendship, and devotion to God as we go about our other activities.

Prayer in Mary’s Life

Constant Mental Prayer is, of course, a gift of grace – something that we strive for and ask for God’s grace in our hearts, and cooperate with that grace when we find it.

Fr. Phillipe’s thoughts on mental, or interior, prayer also help me understand how Mary, a wife and mom with daily earthly responsibilities, could still possess this virtue without neglecting her family. Her moral perfection means that whatever else was going on, she was aware of and happy in God’s presence, like we might enjoy the presence of a friend or spouse even when we are consciously focused on another task. We can know for sure that the graces given to Mary filled her with those three principles of interior prayer that Fr. Phillipe mentioned: a true desire for God, confidence in God, and her profound humility.

Constant Mental Prayer for the Rest of Us

So how can we cultivate this virtue in our lives?

Practice. While the idea at hand is one of a constant state of interior prayer, that doesn’t exclude other forms of prayer. In the book Ordinary Path to Holiness, R. Thomas Richard compares stages of prayer to stages of growth and development in other areas of our life, with spoken prayers being the first stage (but a stage that we never outgrow!). A regular practice of spoken prayer is absolutely necessary to our being able to begin to live Coram Deo – before the face of God.

Accomplishing this can be really hard. We’re all busy, some more than others, and it can be really, really difficult to squeeze that time into our day. That’s legit. I’m not going to guilt trip anybody and say that you need to be devoting such-and-such an amount of time to be truly striving after this amazing virtue. That’s between you and God. Listen to the Spirit, and if that doesn’t get you where you want to be, chat with your priest. He might have some good ideas.

Time isn’t the only challenge to pursuing prayer. Unconfessed sin, dryness, laziness, and even heartbreak can cause us to shrink back from trying to connect with God. We all have these problems, but don’t live there. That’s like trying to save yourself from strangling by holding your breath.

One way in which I try to pursue this virtue is to try to say a Morning Offering first thing when I get up, devoting everything that happens that day to God and offering it up to Him.  This frames my whole day, and helps me remember what it’s really all about. (Psst – I offer a free printable of a Morning Offering prayer as a free gift when you join my email list! 🙂 )

Mary, Untier of Knots, pray for us!

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3 thoughts on “Marian Virtue Series: Constant Mental Prayer”

  1. Wow I love your post on Constance Mental Prayer! Sometime I find it difficult to be in the presence of God when I pray (with all the distractions around me). I am confident using the 3 principles you mentioned, I can change my prayer life. Thank you so much

    1. I’m so glad! The Church has so many rich traditions and wise saints to learn from and grow in prayer. Sometimes I feel like my conversion was like finding buried treasure! 🙂

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