Contemplation for Christianity is essential. It is a central activity. The 20 centuries of Christianity have been such a blessing, we received tons of graces and teachings from the Spiritual Masters about “contemplation”.
|Saint John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church (spec. on Contemplation)|
The first part of the 20th century witnessed a very animated debate about it (“acquired c.” vs. “infused c.”) but, for many methodological reasons, it didn’t lead to a final “common agreement “ between the different Spiritual Schools.
What is Contemplation?
We shouldn’t surrender. On the contrary, since it is so vital for our Christian experience of the Risen Lord, we should constantly address “contemplation”, deepen it and mainly practise it. Why so?
Jesus chose us, asked us to follow Him and be His witnesses. “Witnessing” means that we see something, we experience something, otherwise, what would we be witnessing? Concepts? Abstract notions? A set of rules (morality)?
The Apostles themselves where the first witnesses. They witnessed an experience they had: meeting the Lord, not only before the Resurrection but as well, and importantly “after the Resurrection” and after the Ascension.
Saint John offers us in his Gospel a modality of how witnessing happens in the case of the visit of Jesus to a Samaritan town. They listened to the Samaritan woman, then listened directly from Jesus, they had the direct personal experience of His Words, that “tasted” how they are “Spirit and Life”. This is why they said to her (they witnessed): “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42) Their experience of Jesus, of His power, of His words became first hand experience.
John himself in his Gospel quoted Jesus saying that after his Death and Resurrection His followers will have of Him a unique personal experience that other people in the world won’t have: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me” (John 14:19).
“Christian contemplation” is all about this personal experience of “seeing Jesus”.
– Jesus died?
– He rose from the dead?
– He appeared to His apostles?
– He ascended into heaven?
– He continued to be “seen” by his followers?
This is the point! In his Gospel, saint John addresses this great mystery of the “coming” of Jesus. In a very famous homely, saint Bernard said that, as Christians, we believe in 3 comings of Jesus:
1- He came, at the moment of the Incarnation
2- He will come in the end of the world for the final Judgment
3- He comes, discretely, in the life of each one of us, on earth, and we experience His Presence, His Love, His Words, His Graces. This experience lasts from 20 Centuries.
When Jesus comes, we see Him.
– You’ll find yourself asking the same question Judas – not Judas Iscariot – asked, saying: “But, Lord, why [how] do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22)
For the time being you agree that, in the same time:
1- there is an affirmation, a truth: Jesus shows himself to his followers
2- we don’t necessarily know how to explain this “vision”/”experience”
Here is Jesus’ answer, explaining how it happens: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).
As you can see, there are two moments:
1- To love Jesus = to keep His words
2- To experience the Love of God the Father = the Father and the Son come and abide in us.
These two steps define the Christian experience of Jesus, i.e. “Christian contemplation”.
Vision is a major activity of the brain: it uses more tan 60% of the brain’s activity.
“Seeing” is constantly used by us, but this doesn’t mean that we always connect with what we see.
If we connect, we become part of what we see, we sort of “eat” what we “see”. “Seeing” feeds us greatly, and transforms us in the essence of what we see. It slowly shapes the way we see things.
What we see, through light, impregnates us with the “essence” of what we see. The light seems to extract the essence of the contemplated object, and communicates it to us, transforming our soul in it.
We should be careful of what we see and ask ourselves:
– How many hours we spend in “seeing”?
– Are we focused when we see?
– What objects do we intend to see?
– What is communicated to us?
– Did we decided to take on board all what we saw?
We should as well ask ourselves:
– Are we attracted by God as a being to be seen/contemplated?
– Do we spend time in order to learn what is “Christian contemplation”?
– After that, do we spend time “watching God” (contemplating God)?
– Contemplation is nourishment as we said, so, do we eat? or we are often malnourished?
We can’t call ourselves “witnesses” of Jesus and not spend time watching Him, meeting Him… it is simple nonsense.
Jesus didn’t send us to do other things. He invited us to be His witnesses, nothing else. Why and how come did we exchange our main vocation with other empty activities?
A good check up is needed and “contemplation” remains the core of our life.
The two types of contemplation
Contemplating is “seeing”
Two areas of our being can contemplate: the mind/soul and one that belongs to the heart/spirit. The first area is conscious (you are aware of what you are contemplating, you understand it), the second is supra-conscious (it affects us in a deeper, or higher level but still fundamental).
Contemplating is “eating”
Contemplating nourishes the two areas of our being. Contemplation is about receiving God himself in us.
Jesus is our Bread. He came to give us Himself. He does it in two forms (we have them in the Mass):
First food: his Words that are Spirit and Life
Second food: His Body and Blood.
This means that we have two types of contemplation
The Mass in the central moment where we receive these two types of meals. We often don’t have enough time to digest, this is why we extend the digestion that is supposed to take place in the Mass in two activities, one for each type of food:
The first one is contemplating the Word that Jesus wants to give us today. This is Lectio Divina.
The second contemplation: is digesting the Body and Blood we receive, through immersing us in the last Communion we received. That is Prayer of the heart.
Contemplation is a direct contact with Jesus
These two types of deepening allow us to enter in a direct contact with Jesus. 1- A direct contact through a Word He is giving us. 2- A direct contact with His Divinity, through His Body and Blood.
Practising the Lectio divina and the Prayer of the heart is our way to answer to the daily Gift of Jesus. Mind you, we ask for it, we ask for contemplation but we don’t really sit down in order to “contemplate” and feed ourselves. “Give us this day our daily Bread (Jesus, in His two forms).”
Contemplation is an invitation from Jesus
We didn’t invite ourselves to this banquet. Jesus invited us, to come, sit down with Him and listen to Him, and receive Him entirely.
Contemplating heaven, enriching the earth
We do ask everyday: “your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”. This means that we are first invited to contemplate the will of God “in heaven” i.e. “in Him”.
It means as well that after having been admitted to “see” the Will of God “in heaven” we seek the help of God to make it come down, and incarnate “on earth”. It is not enough to “see” the Will of God “in heaven”. We need to receive His Help, in order to “make it happen” “on earth”.
This is one of our greatest tasks in life: to make heaven come on earth, to let the earth be transfigured by heaven.
Mary presides contemplation
The best realisation of contemplation in any disciple of Jesus happened in Mary. Not only that but she is the “mother of contemplation”. She is the only one that achieved it in fullness and with fruits. The Holy Spirit realised in her His will, fully and perfectly, in incarnating Jesus’ Words and His Body and Blood. The Holy Spirit, united in Mary heaven and earth, and this gave us Jesus and continues everyday to give us Jesus’ Body: us.
Contemplating is giving time to God to incarnate
Contemplating is giving time and space in us to God, so He can come and act with us and through us, changing us and the world around us.