We all know that vocal prayer is communication with God, either privately or in community (at Holy Mass, praying the Rosary, or parts thereof; praying the "Liturgy of the Hours," out loud.) "Vocal prayer differs from mental prayer precisely in this that mental prayer is not possible without attention to the thoughts that are conceived and expressed whether internally or externally. Neither is it possible to pray without attending to thought and words when we attempt to express our sentiment in our own words; whereas all that is needed for vocal prayer proper is the repetition of certain words, usually a set form with the intention of using them in prayer. So long as the intention lasts, i.e. so long as nothing is done to terminate it or wholly inconsistent with it, so long as one continues to repeat the form of prayer, with proper reverence in disposition and outward manner, with only this general purpose of praying according to the prescribed form, so long as one continues to pray and no thought or external act can be considered a distraction unless it terminate our intention, or by levity or irreverence be wholly inconsistent with the prayer. Thus one may pray in the crowded streets where it is impossible to avoid sights and sounds and consequent imaginations and thoughts." (Catholic Encyclopedia, on Prayer).

Mental prayer has no specific form but it is still a communication with God. "Mental prayer is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us," said St. Teresa of Avila, one of the foremost writers on mental prayer. According to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," meditation and contemplative prayer which takes place in mental prayer are "major expressions of the life of prayer" in the Christian tradition. The practice of mental prayer is necessary for reaching the goal of Christian perfection, said Blessed Mother Teresa. "Holiness is impossible without it." All saints, according to St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of Church on Moral theology, have become saints by mental prayer. Thus, spiritual theologian Adolphe Tanquerey concluded that mental prayer is "the most effective means of assuring one's salvation." Mental prayer "takes place wholly within the soul". (Tanquerey)

St. Francis de Sales, in "Introduction to the Devout Life," states: "Prayer opens the understanding to the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly Love—nothing can so effectually purify the mind from its many ignorances, or the will from its perverse affections. It is as a healing water which causes the roots of our good desires to send forth fresh shoots, which washes away the soul’s imperfections, and allays the thirst of passion." Then he goes on, "But especially I commend earnest mental prayer to you, more particularly such as bears upon the Life and Passion of our Lord. If you contemplate Him frequently in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with Him, you will grow in His Likeness, and your actions will be moulded on His. He is the Light of the world; therefore in Him, by Him, and for Him we shall be enlightened and illuminated; He is the Tree of Life, beneath the shadow of which we must find rest..."

I don't think anyone who is not a practicing and solid Catholic, receiving the Sacraments frequently, or who does not have an overpowering love for Our Lord and his Mother, would be able to have a sustained capacity for mental prayer. Mental prayer is part of the progression of an ever-closing relationship with Jesus. Therein lies great beauty, for as we become closer to Him, and we are more frequently graced by His now very noticeable presence in our lives, our prayer life increases also. Mental prayer may then turn into contemplation, but the latter is a gift from God, rather than an action precipitated through our own efforts. Gifts of God, as Mental Prayer and Contemplation certainly are, carry the beauty of Heaven, the intimacy of the Holy Spirit. Isn't that where we are heading, hopefully, as Franciscans, to Heaven?

We find this in Article 52 of the Capuchin Constitutions: "Let us preserve and promote that contemplative spirit that shines in the life of Saint Francis and our forebears. Therefore let us give a greater place to it by fostering mental prayer. Authentic mental prayer leads us to the spirit of true adoration, unites us intimately with Christ, and renders the Sacred Liturgy continually efficacious in our spiritual life. Moreover, that the spirit of prayer may never grow cold within us but be ever more inflamed from day to day, we must give ourselves to its exercise in our daily lives. The ministers and the others to whom the care of the spiritual life is entrusted should take pains that all the brothers make progress in the knowledge and practice of mental prayer. Let the brothers, then, draw the spirit of prayer and prayer itself from the genuine sources of Christian and Franciscan spirituality that they may acquire the eminent knowledge of Jesus Christ. Mental prayer is the spiritual teacher of the brothers who, if they are true and spiritual lesser brothers, pray ever more interiorly. To pray, in fact, is nothing other than to speak to God with the heart; in fact, whoever speaks to God with his lips alone does not pray at all. For this reason everyone should apply himself to mental prayer or contemplation and, according to the doctrine of Christ, the best teacher, endeavor to adore the eternal Father in spirit and truth, striving earnestly to enlighten the mind and enkindle the heart rather than to formulate words."

I included this portion primarily to draw the connection between St. Francis of Assisi and mental prayer. Mental prayer is part of the Franciscan spirituality and thus, applies to all Franciscans. So let's all promote a closer relationship with our Lord, make Our Lord number one in our lives.