Dr. Brant Pitre chats with Father Dave about his new book, “Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus.”
Father Dave asks Brant to explain what we mean when we use the term “spiritual life.” “When I talk about the spiritual life,” Brant responds. “What I’m really trying to describe in this book is what the saints and the mystics and the spiritual classics, like the ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ by St. Francis de Sales have said about the process of spiritual growth. That begins with our baptism and then ends at the very last moment of our life. It includes the life of prayer and life of the Sacraments, the life of the Mass and liturgy, and things like that. But it’s very specifically focused on [the question] how can I grow in my relationship with Christ through prayer and growth in virtue?”
“I wanted to take what I had done in other books, which is look at what Jesus has to say about it, and focus our attention on spiritual growth from Christ himself… Jesus is the ultimate spiritual master. So, what does he teach about the standard topics that you’ll find in the spiritual classics? Things like vocal prayer, meditation, contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina… also, the examination of conscience, capital sins, as well as the opposing virtues of humility.”
Father Dave asks Brant to define prayer as Jesus would. “When I think of prayer, I think of primarily saying my prayers, or what the saints will call vocal prayer. This was a very important part of the law and life of Jesus as a first-century Jew. He would’ve prayed set vocal prayers every day. He would’ve prayed the Shema probably three times a day. That’s the passage from Deuteronomy, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.’ He also would’ve memorized and sung the Psalms. So we start with vocal prayer, using words to communicate with God… then there are other forms of prayer like meditation and contemplative prayer. In my experience growing up as a Catholic, I always thought that if I said my vocal prayers then I’ve done my job. But when you start to read the spiritual classics, you’ll notice for example, St. Theresa of Avila says that meditation is a matter of life and death for all Christians. It’s the foundation for growth in virtue.”
Brant points out that Jesus would have meditated on the law of the Lord as it is written in the Psalms. “The Hebrew word for meditate means to groan or to sigh. So it’s not just reading the law or reading Scripture. It’s pondering it, sighing over it, longing to take it into yourself in order to let it transform you. There’s already a tradition of meditating on Scripture that goes back to Judaism itself, and then we see Jesus and the apostles continue that in the New Testament. According to the Old Testament itself, the basic life of prayer is to meditate on Scripture to read it every day and to ponder it.”
Originally published on January 13, 2022.