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Contemplatives in the midst of the world
Posted By Eric Sammons On November 19, 2009 @ 7:20 am In Spirituality | Comments Disabled
I recently read a great article on contemplation and work . Some might immediately think these two things to be in opposition: do not work and contemplation struggle against each other? How can one be both contemplative and busy with work?
This apparent opposition does have some validity. Traditionally, Catholics have seen monks and cloistered nuns as the models of a contemplative life. They focus their energies primarily towards prayer and thus are able to achieve contemplation. Their lack of distractions help to foster a contemplative outlook. And if there is one thing the modern work world does not lack, it is distractions. I was on a silent retreat this past weekend, and in many ways it fostered this conception: I had no distractions and was therefore able to dig more deeply into prayer, meditation and contemplation. Scriptural passages leapt off the page in ways they never do normally, and insights came to me in prayer instead of the normal distractions I usually encounter.
Yet every Christian is called to a contemplative life, no matter their state in life and not just when they go on retreat. This call to contemplation includes housewives, truck drivers, CEOs and software developers. As Vatican II emphasized, all Christians are called to holiness, and contemplation is part of a holy life. The ways in which followers of Christ practice this holiness depends on their state of life, but there is no delineation in the call to be perfect, as God is perfect.
So how can we be contemplatives in the midst of the world? First, we should ask: what exactly is contemplation? There are many good definitions, but I think I would define contemplation as “looking at God”. As the Catechism states,
Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him. (CCC 2715)
Turning our gaze towards God does not require that we are in a church, nor does it mean that we have to be performing a traditional practice of piety such as the Rosary or Stations of the Cross (although those are all great helps towards contemplation). We can turn our gaze towards God at any time of the day, no matter what we are doing (provided it is not a sinful activity). The article I noted above states:
The discovery of God in the ordinary activities of each day gives our life its ultimate value and full meaning. Jesus’ hidden life at Nazareth comprised “years of intense work and prayer, years during which Jesus led an ordinary life, a life like ours, we might say, which was both divine and human at the same time.” Thus he teaches us that our professional, family, and social life is not a hindrance to praying always, but rather an opportunity to stay very close to God, until a moment comes when it is impossible to distinguish between work and contemplation…
This is what contemplation means: an active prayer without words, intense and serene, deep and simple. It is a gift God grants to those who seek him sincerely, who put their whole heart into fulfilling his will with deeds, and who try to remain in his presence. “First one brief aspiration, then another, and another… till our fervor seems insufficient, because words are too poor… then this gives way to intimacy with God, looking at God without needing rest or feeling tired.” All this can take place, St. Josemaria insists, not only in the periods dedicated expressly to prayer, but also “while we carry out as perfectly as we can (with all our mistakes and limitations) the tasks allotted to us by our situation and duties.”…
Modern society leads many people to live on externals, ever anxious to acquire things, to move around, to look, to distract oneself, perhaps seeking to mask one’s inner emptiness, the loss of the transcendent meaning of one’s life. But we, having discovered the divine call to holiness and apostolate, should have the opposite experience. The more agitated our exterior activity, the more intense should be our inner life, our interior recollection, seeking to dialogue with God present in our soul in grace, mortifying the desires of the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. To contemplate God one needs a clean heart. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Our modern society has made contemplation very difficult, as we have many distractions to fill our minds and keep them from gazing at God. But we can – and we must – turn our gaze towards God in the midst of our normal life and live a life of contemplation. Only then will we be able to “see God”.
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 contemplation and work: http://www.opusdei.us/art.php?p=35819
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