According to worldly standards, contemplative life may seem “useless”. Some people may see no purpose in our “sitting around all day”, spending over seven hours a day in church. Of course, at their root, worldly standards are antithetically opposed to Gospel standards. Our Lord said such things as: the one who seeks to save his life will lose it; the greatest will be the servant, and blessed are the poor. Jesus turns everything upside down. So it makes sense that contemplative life doesn’t make sense to our human perceptions. We need to look with the eyes of faith in order to perceive the value of going before Our Lord and remaining with Him hour after hour, day after day. In the end, it is through experience, more than through explanation, that we will gain true knowledge of what contemplative life is about.
The Gospel passage that seems to best express the contemplative life is the story of Martha and Mary (see Luke 10:38-42). This Gospel passage has traditionally been interpreted as seeing Martha as the prototype of those called to active ministry in the Church, and Mary of those called to contemplative life. It is important to note that Martha is not rebuked by Our Lord for her service, but rather for her anxiety, and judgment of her sister. Martha was seeking to conform her sister to her own heart’s desire, to her own standards of seeing and judging things. If Martha had been simply carrying out all she was called to do with love, Our Lord would not have had to address this issue with her. But her focus was distracted from the Lord, Whom she should have been doing her service for, and she became concerned with what she perceived to be her sister’s laziness and lack of service.
The truth is, though, that Mary was serving the Lord, in the way that she was called to. Our Lord had called her to sit at His feet and to bask in His love, and she responded with her whole heart, mind, body and soul. She delighted in listening to His teaching, and He delighted in her delighting in Him. He had come to earth to pour His love upon people, and here He found an open heart. What a joy for Him! Thus, she relieved and consoled His Heart in a way that Martha was not doing at that time. Did you notice that in the Gospel passage of Martha and Mary, Mary does not say to the Lord, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister is busy and distracted with many things? Tell her to sit at Your feet, like I’m doing.” Rather, Mary is lost in love of the Lord; her focus in on Him, and she does not judge or condemn her sister. Not all are called to the same task; each has a particular purpose which God intends, and the best thing we can do is what He has called us to. That is how we will be personally fulfilled, and how the whole Body of Christ, the Church, will function properly.
Our Lord Himself, when He walked upon this earth, spent thirty years at His home in Nazareth, living a relatively secluded life, and only three in active ministry. Contemplative religious life is, in a way, a continuation of this time in the life of Our Lord. The contemplative life is filled with little seemingly insignificant tasks, just as was His life in Nazareth, but when such tasks are done with love, then souls are saved and the Heart of Our Savior is consoled. Notice, too, that when Jesus finally did go forth in active ministry, He was continually going off by Himself to pray, and seek solitude and times of intimacy with Abba Father.
This wounded world needs Jesus. Even if we spent our whole lives in frenzied activity, trying to bring about peace and to untie the confused knots which are found raveled around every part of our society today, we would not accomplish as much as one sigh from the heart, one mere glance of love at our Eucharistic Lord, is able to bring about. It is not us, but it is He who will change our world, He who will bring about the peace we all desire.
– By Fr. Francis of the Redeemer, OSIHJM]]>
A few months ago, I sat in mass hearing in the gospel the words of Our Lord, “I praise you Father, for what you have hidden from the wise and the learned, you have revealed to the merest children”. Our priest mentioned in the homily that the Greek word for “child” means “wordless”, because of how children who are very little do not know how to speak. I praise you Father, for what you have hidden from the wise and the learned, you have revealed to the “wordless”.
Is it not true that when souls spend time silently before Our Lord, they understand something of Him beyond what those who spend their time exclusively studying Him do? That those who spend time in His quiet company know Him in a deeper way than theological scholars who do not?
Mother Teresa in a letter she once wrote to her spiritual children probed, “We may spend time in chapel – but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus – not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Never give up this intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person – not just the idea… Jesus wants you each to hear Him- speaking in the silence of your heart.” (March 25, 1993)
This is what contemplative prayer is. In eloquent simplicity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “Contemplative prayer is silence… or silent love”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2717) While meditation and vocal prayers are invaluable and needed, the Catechism goes on to say that prayer should go beyond them: from “the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him” in contemplation. (CCC #2708)
Though the word “contemplation” sounds like a level of prayer impossible to reach, the opposite is true. It does not require words, writings, or a certain place. It is simply silently keeping Him company with an exchange of quiet love between hearts. Our holy Church regarding contemplation says “One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work or emotional state. The heart is the place of this quest and encounter, in poverty and faith… We let our masks fall and turn our hearts back to the Lord who loves us, so as to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed.” (CCC #2710, #2711)
It is in this loving attentiveness – this state of the heart having domain and the mind being quieted – that our gentle Lord reveals Himself and expands the understanding of our hearts. As good as it is to seek our personal progress, and understanding of His mysteries, wisdom and truth, we must not fail to seek before that our Lord Himself. First pursue Him, directing your hopes and efforts towards union with Him, and you will find the mysteries, truth and beauty that He Himself is.
Come to Him “wordless”, letting your presence speak to Him, and letting His presence speak profoundly to you.
– By Sr. Maria, servant of Abba Father, OSIHJM