From time to time, in Catholicism, we hear people talking about contemplation. The concept is at once clear and yet vague.
– “Clear” in the sense that it seems to allude to the existence of the possibility for some to “see” something divine. “Clear” also in the sense that we know that since God is transcendent, that the divine is out of our normal reach, that this gaze is given by God, we cannot really make it happen at the snap of our fingers.
– “Vague”, because we have very little information regarding the fact of “how to contemplate”, and to know if it is for everybody.
As a consequence, going further with the discussion on contemplation and talking about two types of contemplation will seem even more “alien” to us.
Some will add that since “Contemplation is given by God”, when we pray we should aim for it. They might also add that the way to practise it is to take a text from the Scriptures, read it, meditate upon it, pray and ask for God’s help, with the result that you might enter into a state of contemplation. But when you ask the direct question: “can you define this state of contemplation?” different answers will be forthcoming, going from, “Jesus talks to you through the Scriptures”, to “maintain silence, be there with Him no matter what results”. Some might even venture to describe other manifestations or feelings during “Contemplation”.
Despite what some young historians say today, the great paradox is that contemplation is still not clear in our minds. In order for it to be crystal clear, we need a practical presentation about it, explaining its intrinsic dynamics: how it functions, how we can implement it and where and how the Holy Spirit works in us when we are supposed to be contemplating.
Note: All these issues are clarified in the teaching of the School of Mary. To verify this one just has to go back to the Solid Foundations Course’s teaching on Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart and to their respective books, articles and videos.
There is another facet regarding contemplation that now presents itself. If today one happens to practise Lectio Divina, one will hear about “contemplation”. Guigo the Carthusian talks about: reading, meditating, praying and contemplating. It is obvious that if one hears about “Contemplative Prayer” (or “Jesus Prayer”, or “Silent Prayer”, or “Mental Prayer”, or “Prayer of the Heart”), one will hear about “contemplation”. Dionisius the Pseudo-Areopagite, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross do speak about Contemplation.
But is it really the same contemplation we are talking about?
The Roots and the Branches
From the start God has taught us to say: “Give us this day our daily bread”. We know and believe that Jesus is our true Bread given from the Father (see John 6). Consequently, we can say in truth that, seen from God’s perspective, our being needs to be fed in at least two ways: by Jesus’ Word and by His Body, that is, the Eucharist, namely, his entire Being.
Which areas in us are fed?
- Our Conscious soul: mind and will, the “branches” of our being.
- The supra-Conscious soul: the spirit, the deep “roots” of our being.
Note: We can take also another example which is the summit of a mountain, above the clouds, from where we can see the Sun (the spirit), and all that is below the clouds (conscious soul and body).
Being our Divine Bread given to us from the Father, Jesus is partaken, given, communicated to us in two different forms:
1- His Word, and
2- His Body and Blood, and included in this are His Soul and His Spirit – His Divine Nature in verity.
In real terms we see this actuated when,
1-He Preached (words and deeds)
2- He gave himself to us during His Passion (Death and Resurrection).
These are two important moments where Jesus communicates Himself directly to us. They allow us to be his “contemporaries” at the time of his Ministry.
Proceeding from this, then, we see that the Mass itself, source and summit of our spiritual life, is essentially composed of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, allowing us to be contemporaries of these two essential aspects and moments of Jesus’ Ministry and communication of His Being to us.
“The liturgy of the Eucharist unfolds according to a fundamental structure which has been preserved throughout the centuries down to our own day. It displays two great parts that form a fundamental unity:
– the gathering, the liturgy of the Word, with readings, homily and general intercessions;
– the liturgy of the Eucharist, with the presentation of the bread and wine, the consecratory thanksgiving, and communion.
The liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist together form “one single act of worship”; The Eucharistic table set for us is the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of the Lord.”” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1346)
He himself summarised this twofold experience by saying: he who keeps my Commandments (the implementation of what was heard in the Liturgy of the Word), the Father will love Him (a new wave of love is triggered), and we will come and dwell in him (the Eucharist). The following quotations aptly illustrate this:
“The one having My commandments and keeping them, he is the one loving Me. Now the one loving Me will be loved by My Father. And I will love him, and will show Myself to him.” (John 14:21) “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and will make a home with him.” (John 14:23) “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10)
In order to understand the two moments, we can set out these verses as follows:
|First type of Contemplation||Second type of Contemplation|
|“The one having My commandments and keeping them, he is the one loving Me. –>>||Now the one loving Me will be loved by My Father. And I will love him, and will show Myself to him.” (John 14:21)|
|“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, –>>||and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and will make a home with him.” (John 14:23)|
|“If you keep My commandments –>>||you will abide in My love” (John 15:10)|
As can be appreciated, contemplation is a necessity, because contemplation is another word for “manducation” or “ingestion”. To put it plainly it is about “eating”…“receiving”…”being nourished” by God. During contemplation Jesus, who became flesh, gives himself to us in two forms: a “Word to be put into practice” and the “Eucharist to be received and lived, allowing it to nourish our deepest roots”.
Furthermore, contemplating profoundly resembles the process of eating. It is vital because it nourishes us and allows us to grow and be transformed into Jesus. But we need to learn how to “eat” Jesus’ Word and Jesus’ Body. This is why a proper teaching on the two types of Contemplation is necessary and vital.
In this sense there are two specific types of contemplation, not to be mixed, even if they are interrelated and they nourish and boost each other:
1- A specific type of contemplation that is the “ingestion” of His Word, that is, listening to a clear word He wants to give me every day and putting it into practice on that same day. Some call this feeding process: Lectio Divina.
2- A specific type of assimilation of his Body received during the Eucharist, keeping our entire being open, exposing the depths of our being in a movement of total oblation of ourselves – the gift of ourselves – to His Body, with Him nourishing essentially the supra-Conscious part of our being. Some call it: Prayer of the Heart, or Contemplative Prayer, Silent Prayer, Centring Prayer, or Jesus’ Prayer.…
Each of these “ingestions” is a unique and a totally sacred moment, a prolongation of a Sacrament. Yes, today we talk about the Sacramentality of the Proclamation of the Word, that is, the sacramentality of the Liturgy of the Word, where we hear a sound (i.e. the reader’s voice) but listen to Jesus’ Voice, Jesus Himself talking during the Proclamation.
“He [Christ] is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church.” (Vatican II, SC7)
It is very important to understand the existence of two and not one type of contemplation for the following reasons in order,
- not to mix their moments of practice,
- to benefit from the unique power of each, but even more importantly,
3- to understand that each type and moment of contemplation boosts the other tremendously.
Lectio Divina’s Contemplation immensely boosts the Contemplation of the Prayer of the Heart and makes it become profoundly fruitful, and the Spiritual Director can witness an acceleration in spiritual growth, to reach the normal speed of growth. Lectio Divina, being the most challenging way of prayer because it directs us towards a real daily conscious conversion, has a heightened effect on the Prayer of the Heart. It is true also that the work of God during the Prayer of the Heart in the roots of our being always becomes harder to endure, because the Prayer of the Heart allows us to entrust ourselves totally to the powerful and unique action of the Holy Spirit in these very roots. Both are needed. Just as it is impossible to have the one without the other, so too one part of the Mass cannot exist without the other part.
The entire life and experience of St. Teresa of Avila is an illustration of this boosting effect. True she never taught or practised Lectio Divina but since she did not have full direct access to the Scriptures, she offered us what was available to her – an equivalent to it – that is, the practice of the Evangelical Virtues, which intrinsically sum up Jesus’ Life and Example: Humility, Detachment and Charity. Her entire life and teaching are living proof of this. (For greater details see the following article and the Extract at the end of this article)
Since we are talking about two types of Contemplation, one related to the Liturgy of the Word and one related to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we also need to remember that along the lines of this distinction, we need to consider the existence of two ways of saying the Rosary. The actual vocal one we say (along the lines of the Liturgy of the Word) and another one, more silent, along the lines of the silent moments that follow our Communion, or the moments we go back to our Communion in the Prayer of the Heart in order to allow all the power enclosed in the Eucharist to unfold and nourish our being. (For greater details see this article)
Concluding this short article, as we can see, there are two types of contemplation and not one. They are different from each other, like the two parts of the Mass, but it always consists of the one Eucharistic Table: Christ Himself offered to us in two different forms (Word and Body).
Finally, in light of this let us draw from the immense richness that Christ living among us is imparting to us. The Risen Lord is among us, He makes Himself Present to us, sacramentally, during each Mass. Let us open our ears and our hearts, our mind and will, and also our spirit, to receive Him and be transformed into Him, by the active power of the Holy Spirit. Let us “see” Him present during the Mass, let us hear his voice in the silence of our hearts and let us receive Him into our hearts and keep Him in our hearts, active and luminescent.
Let us entrust this teaching to the secure Hands of Our Lady, who leads us to the fullness of Her Son, our Bread. Amen.
In order to illustrate the relationship between Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart in Carmel, here is an extract from the book “Lectio Divina at the School of Mary”, Jean Khoury, pp. 180-184:
e) Lectio and Carmel
We would like to say a word here about the Carmel. This will be mainly of interest to those who belong to this spiritual family or practise mental prayer. The Carmel, especially after the Reform introduced by Saint Teresa of Jesus, accentuated mental prayer. But Saint Teresa herself, despite her ardent desire, did not easily have access to Scripture.
| A bit of history|
“The historians all recognise that Teresa of Avila was never able to read the Sacred Text in a partial or complete Bible, neither in Latin (which she did not know) nor even in Castilian. She could therefore only have access to the Holy Scriptures through her “prayer books(…)”. It seems that the Castilian translation of the Bible was taken out of circulation because of a certain excess. “The Index of Toledo (1551), then that of Valdes (1559) and finally that of Quiroga prohibited the publication and reading of the Bible in the vernacular “. This may be the reason why the Lord appeared to her and told her that he would be her living book: “When they prohibited the reading of many books in the vernacular, I felt that interdiction very much because reading some of them was an enjoyment for me, and I could no longer do so since only Latin editions were allowed. The Lord then said to me: ‘Don’t be sad, for I will give you a living book.’ I could not understand why this was said to me, since I had not yet experienced any visions. Afterward, just a few days later, I understood very clearly, because I received so much to think about and such recollection in the presence of what I saw, and the Lord showed so much love for me by teaching me in many ways, that I had little or almost no need for books. His Majesty had become a true book in which I saw the truths. Blessed be such a book that leaves what must be read and done so deeply imprinted that you cannot forget!” (The Life 26,5). The Lord appeared to her in 1559 (Index of Valdes), when other spiritual books were withdrawn. We can conclude with the words of Fr. Jesus Castellano: “Even having to recognise that the Saint’s contact with the Word of God has been fragmentary, sometimes veiled by Latin and impoverished by the lack of a global vision of the biblical message, we must recognise the determining weight that it has in her spiritual formation and her magisterium.”. Generally speaking, during the period of the “devotio moderna”, spirituality found a form of prayer that replaced Lectio Divina. Mental prayer became a pious exercise independent from “spiritual reading”, i.e. which was no longer nourished mainly by the Bible; this lasted well into the 20th century and up to the beginning of the “return to Sacred Scripture”.. We also know that Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus did not have access to all of the Scriptures in her Carmel in Lisieux. This was a common in the Carmels of women until the 1950s.
This explains why Saint Teresa of Jesus does not talk about the Scriptures in her writings or, more precisely, why she does not introduce them into her teaching on prayer. This silence leaves us unsatisfied. Today it is impossible to read her works without introducing this correction: What would she have taught if she had had access to the Bible? The Way to Perfection would certainly have been modified, in the sense that the element permitting “the check and checkmate” of the Lord would have been formulated differently since listening to the Lord through Scripture, allows us to give ourselves to Him by conforming our will to His. Thus, in Lectio, it is easy to find the three virtues of Saint Teresa of Jesus: humility, fraternal love and detachment which propel us forward to the gift of self, and still more.
By contrast, Scripture is very present in the works of Saint John of the Cross. He does not, of course, indicate a precise method for meditating it. But taking his inspiration from Guigo I the Carthusian and the patristic heritage of the entire medieval period, he says: “Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation”. His writings reveal a steadfast reading of Scripture as well as a deep understanding of it, which can only be fruits of this practice. A method of reading the Scritpures can be deduced from The Ascent of Mount Carmel book II chapters 19 to 22. Fr. Louis Guillet, o.c.d., in his posthumous work, presented a beautiful interpretation of these four chapters: he considered in a new and deep way Saint John’s reading of the Bible. In fact the works of Jean Vilnet and other authors have been incomplete in this area.
When browsing through the first official treatise of the masculine Reform on prayer, we find that the author, Juan de Jesus-Maria (Aravalles) attributes an unexceptional place to reading as did the monastic tradition. In this sense he did not innovate. He follows the same movement: 1. Preparation – 2. Reading – 3. Meditation – 4. Contemplation – 5. Thanksgiving – 6. Petition – 7. Epilogue. But nothing is said of the scriptural text! Is it really obvious that the text to be read and meditated is that of the Scriptures? Juan de Jesus-Maria does not indicate this. Certainly, Saint Teresa of Jesus applied a similar method in the inner organization to be used in prayer. A fairly popular trend, with crystallized methods of prayer, enriching spiritual life, had taken root in Spain. In her writings Saint Teresa of Jesus did not deal with the question of which books should be meditated. Nor can she speak about Scripture itself, for the reasons we have already mentioned. Nevertheless, the place Juan de Jesus-Maria attributes to contemplation in the whole process of prayer is very important and manifests the good beginnings of the Discalced Carmelites, even if the way of treating the question is classical. Let us also note that, in his work, he refers neither to Saint Teresa of Jesus nor to Saint John of the Cross, in any case not explicitly.
All in all, the absence of a treatise about Scripture as a means of sanctification at the time of the Reform of the Carmel, can today be considered a lacuna. Today each Christian can have a Bible (with introductions and notes), there is a tendency to meditate the readings of the Mass, and it is impossible to leave Scripture aside. But it is necessary to explain its relationship to prayer. Today we are the beneficiaries of a great grace and we should take advantage of it, and hope that the Bible will have its proper place in the Carmel.
To conclude this point, we may say that in the Carmelite Order no resolve has been made concerning a particular manner of meditating Scripture independently from mental prayer. Mental prayer does have its place in the daily schedule, while the reading of Scripture is left up to the discretion of each religious. Carmelite nuns may do this during their hour of spiritual reading or after Compline. A precise teaching on the meditation of the Word, equivalent to Lectio as we have presented is, is not given; this is so because reading was included in the prayer times. The attachment which St John of the Cross had for Scripture remains as a personal approach rather than a “norm” or a “method” for life .
 Cf. Emmanuel Renault, “Thérèse d’Avila, aux sources d’eau vive, Lecture du Nouveau Testament” (Paris: 1978), p. 8.
 Cf. Emmanuel Renault, ibid., p. 7.
 “Aun teniendo que reconocer que el contacto de la Santa con la Palabra de Dios ha sido fragmentario, velado a veces por el latín y empobrecido por la falta de una visión global del mensaje bíblico, hay que reconocer el peso determinante que tiene en su formación espiritual y su magisterio.” (Jesus Castellano, “Espiritualidad Teresiana”, in “Introducción a la lectura de santa Teresa” (Madrid: 1978), pp. 126-7.)
 “Ma all’epoca della ‘devotio moderna’, la spiritualità trova una forma di preghiera nuova che si sostituisce alla Lectio Divina” (G.M. Picasso, in: “La preghiera…”, p. 755-69): “l’orazione mentale” diviene un esercizio di pietà indipendente da una “”lettura spirituale”, che non si alimenta piú principalmente nella Bibbia, sino a che nasce, nel sec. XX, un “ritorno alla Sacra Scrittura” (P. Visentin, in: “La preghiera …”, p. 909-14).” (Jean LECLERCQ, art. “Lectio Divina”, in: “Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione”, vol. 5 [Rome: 1973 sq.])
 We explained this expression above.
 Saint John of the Cross, Maxim 209 / Dichos 162.
 We would also like to indicate two chapters that are often forgotten which open a way in St. John of the Cross’ teaching for an understanding of a particular aspect of Lectio Divina: first: The Ascent II, Chapter 26 “Which treats of the intuition of naked truths in the mind, explaining how they are of two kinds and how the soul is to conduct itself with respect to them.” Secondly: Chapter 31 “Which treats of the substantial words that come interiorly to the spirit. Describes the difference between them and formal words, and the profit which they bring and the resignation and respect which the soul must observe with regard to them.” Contrary to all other chapters, in The Ascent of Mount Carmel Book II, St. John of the Cross in these two chapters allows his reader to accept the “naked truths” and the “substantial words”. He says that the “naked truths” are Union itself (see chapter 26). However, he never says that they come exclusively or more commonly through Scripture. Usually, while teaching the Prayer of the Heart, he rejects the attachment to any supernatural lights that fall into the conscious mind. Unfortunately, since his aim is to offer only a teaching on the Prayer of the Heart (Mental Prayer) the Saint does not develop ex professo a method of practising Lectio Divina. It is up to us to use these two chapters more shrewdly. Each one offers only a type of grace that could be received during Lectio Divina, but they do not necessarily describe its daily practice.
 Louis Guillet, Seigneur, augmente en nous la foi (Saint-Foy, Quebec, 1994) pp. 89-154.
 Jean Vilnet, Bible et mystique chez Saint Jean de la Croix (Paris, 1949).
 Juan de Jesus-Maria (Aravalles), o.c.d., Traité de l’oraison, translated from Spanish by a Carmelite nun (Marseille, 1939).
 Francisco de Osuna, Bernardino de Laredo, Alonso de Madrid, Pedro de Alcantara, Luís de Grenada, Juan de Avila, and Bernabe de Palma were among the most famous and prolific authors.
 In Chapter 26 of The Way to Perfection she talks about the possibility of reading a book in Castilian. She says: “a good book”, and that is all. But she also states that she prefers the words of the Gospel: “I have always been fond of the words of the Gospels – uttered by the very lips of the Lord – and have found more recollection in them than in the most carefully planned books” (The Way of Perfection, Escorial manuscript 21, 4). She says nothing about this.
 In a Carmelite post concilairy document we find the following statement concerning the bond between Lectio and mental prayer: “A certain time shall also be devoted to ‘Lectio Divina’.” Our Rule states, with perspicacity, that there is an intimate rapport between the meditation of the Lord’s Law and the continuous vigilance in prayer, and it asks us to preserve this good in our lives. Now, our Founders in a certain way expressed this precept of the Rule in their lives, esteeming it very highly (Saint Teresa of Jesus, The Life 35, 5; C 21, 4; Conceptos, porl. And c. 1; Saint John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, prol.; The Living Flame of Love, prol.) and considering it as the supreme criterion of the truth of personal salvation (The Lif 25, 13). Saint Teresa was indeed persuaded of “all the harm that comes to the world from its not knowing the truths of Scripture in clarity and truth” (The Life 40, 1). Vatican II encourages us especially to observe this rule in our lives: “let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.” (Dei Verbum 25; ibid. 2, 2, 8).
An interesting effort was made in this sense by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello, o.c.d., in an article published in Summer 1991 in an American journal: “Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer”; see also Fr. Filippo Bettati, o.c.d., and Fr. Armando Rosso, o.c.d., Lectio Divina al Carmelo (Milano, 1999).
 In the various regions of the world the daily Missal, the liturgical calendars and monthly publications of the texts of the Mass have become very popular.
 We will deal in greater depth with the place of Scripture during prayer in another book.