the importance of mental prayer
St. Teresa of Avila taught that the intensity of one's prayer life coincides with the intensity of one's charity. This is based on solid theology and was confirmed by St. Pius X who taught that the grades of prayer represent the grades of elevation or ascent to Christian perfection. In other words, where you are in your prayer life is a gauge of where you are in your spiritual life. You cannot advance in Christian perfection without advancing in grades of prayer.
the levels or grades of prayer
Through the lives of the Saints and their works, and the efforts of theologians, it is understood that there are nine levels or grades of prayer:
(1) vocal prayer (2) meditation (3) affective prayer (4) prayer of simplicity (5) infused contemplation (6) prayer of quiet (7) prayer of union (8) prayer of conforming union (9) prayer of transforming union.
Advancing in Christian perfection requires advancing in these grades or levels of prayer, among other things. Once you move beyond vocal prayer the remaining levels are all mental prayer which is why St. Teresa referred to meditation as the gateway to mental prayer and is what Paulatim focuses its efforts on. If you are struggling to do even vocal prayer on a daily basis you are only at the beginning of the spiritual life.
what is mental prayer
As defined by the theologian Adolphe Tanquerey, mental prayer is “a silent elevation and application of our mind and heart to God in order to offer Him our homages and to promote His glory by our advancement in virtue.”
a very brief explanation of meditation
There is a method to meditation and there are several variations espoused by different Saints and others. The method described here comes from the book "The Ways of Mental Prayer" by Rev. Dom Lehodey. It consists of:
Acknowledge God's presence, contritely acknowledge your sins, ask God's help that you will pray well.
Apply your intellect to the subject of your meditation. Turning it over. Reflect it back on us. How does it apply to you? How do you live up to this virtue or have fallen into this sin or defect.
This is movements of the will as a result of the considerations. This is not a result of feelings or sentiments but because it is due to God. Love, gratitude, contrition, confidence in His promises.
Flowing from the considerations and affections we make petitions. Maybe it is an increase in a virtues such as humility, increased detestation of a sin such as sloth, or awareness of the suffering of those around us.
Flowing from the considerations, affections, and petitions make concrete resolutions of the will. Specific resolutions for that day. They don't have to be giant life changing resolutions. Did your prayer focus on charity? Make a point to say something nice to that difficult person at work.
Thank God for any graces received, express sorrow for faults committed during prayer ( maybe giving in to distraction ), and ask for blessings on your resolutions.
This an extremely simple explanation of these steps. The Go Deeper section at the bottom of the page will direct you to more information along with the Additional Resources page on this site.