Thoughts on Contemplative Life

 


“All things hide a mystery; all things are veils hiding God.”
~ Blaise Pascal


 

bird art by susan hall

Contemplation, art by Susan Hall

 

The vast separation between the good life and the holy life is always far more than we realize. The difference is not evident simply in the exterior activity of life. The generous accomplishments of a good person may outshine the limited works of the holy person. What distinguishes the holy person is the interior quality of a soul seeking God, and this is often not seen so visibly. The good life will always be observable to some degree, but whether or not a life is truly holy can easily be concealed in its essential truth. The most important acts of a holy life take place in secret, within quiet depths of the soul. And these most important acts are the offerings it makes for others. There is no great love of God unless a soul is great in offering itself for others. And this begins in the intensity of its prayer, where God alone sees.

The word holiness ought not to be tossed about too lightly, as though the reality were easily reached. There is a danger that an overworked and casual evocation of holiness as the goal of life reduces the immense challenge of giving all to God to a manageable habit of steady, low-cost generosities. Dorothy Day kept on her bedside table a striking phrase of Dostoevsky that conveys, by contrast, the starker reality of a true offering: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”  It is precisely the harsh and dreadful nature of sacrificial love that makes such love and the offering that accompanies it most fruitful for the salvation of souls.

A task in prayer that must be repeated with regularity: to search for the deeper solitary region of the heart where a single word spoken in silence has more impact on our soul than hours of replete eloquence taking place at the shallows of life.

 

~ A Reflection by Father Donald Haggerty, ‘The Contemplative Hunger’

 

Jesus and Saint Teresa of Jesus art by Maccha chmkoff

Apparition du Christ à Thérèse d’Avila, art by Macha Chmakoff

The Mystic Face

I never try to probe the sky’s blue span:
I never look to deep into the sea
But the dim face of a tragedian
looks out at me.

Neither the night nor day can find a place
where I have not been shaken with surprise
at the white beauty of a holy face 
and two great lonely eyes.

 

~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers), O.C.D.

 

 

Loveliest Blossom

 

woman and the flowers art by Christen Schloe

Loveliest Blossom, by unknown artist

 


You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain.
~ Song of Solomon 4:12



When you are eager in the tiny portion

that is your garden, when you are tying strings
to give the stalks of the sweet peas their balance
so flowers may alight on them like wings
of pastel butterflies; when you appraise
with glowing face the lilies and carnations
(scent is to charm and color to amaze),
I think: she has not found the loveliest blossom.

There is a flower full of mystery
between this wall and that, amid this green.
I found it but to bear it back to secret.
It is a flower God and I have seen,
and I not till I looked at it with Him.

Hidden and unpredictable and shy,
it was not given to be shared, not even with you,
little lover of fragrance.
(Oh, with you least of all!)
Plucked from the soft soil of your unawareness,
uprooted from my silence, it would die.
I keep it then, God’s individual favor,
the private bloom I scent my storerooms by.

 

~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers), O.C.D.

 

The Fragrant Sacrifice of Love

 

Mary of Bethany the unction of Christ art by julia stankova

The Unction of Christ, art by Julia Stankova

In the Gospel of John we read how Mary of Bethany takes a whole bottle of expensive pure nard and pours it out over the feet of Jesus (Jn 12:1-8). This bottle contains a fortune, the costliest and very best that Mary has. When she has poured it out over Jesus’ feet, she dries them with her hair. What a waste! She uses no towel to dry his feet; she uses her hair, herself.

Since that time, there have always been people who feel drawn, yes forced to do as Mary. People, who in their innermost being know that they must give everything, not just what they have, but what they are. They must give their whole self. They must give it all at once. They don’t even ask what purpose it serves. But the whole Church, the whole world, is filled with the fragrance of their devotion.

There is no other incident in the gospel which so clearly expresses the uniqueness of the contemplative life. Those who enter such a life, whether in a monastery or in society, ask no questions about their talents and whether these will bear fruit, nor do they ask whether the contemplative life will develop their personality. All they think about is to give all their love to the Lord, spreading a fragrance everywhere.

~ A Meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.


Radiating Christ

by Blessed John Henry Newman

Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly,
that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through us, and be so in us, that every soul we come in contact with
may feel Your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us but only Jesus!
Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine, as You shine;
So to shine as to be a light to others;
the light, O Jesus, will be all from You, none of it will be ours;
it will be You shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around us.
Let us preach You by our words and by our example,
by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to You.
Amen.


Notes on Contemplation

 

Art by Alfred Glendening Jr. (1861-1907)

Art by Alfred Glendening Jr. (1861-1907)

“I am not asking you so much to gaze upon Christ during your prayer of contemplation as to become aware of the fact that he does not for a moment cease to gaze upon you.” ~ Saint Teresa of Avila

The spiritual hunger of the contemplative can be satisfied only by a full surrender of the soul to God. The longing of the contemplative soul finds its completion precisely in this deeper offering and surrender to God. The manner in which God draws this surrender in prayer is a mysterious aspect of each contemplative life. It has its unique variations in each life, but one essential fact is that a complete surrender of the soul is demanded by the nature of love.
The need to offer all to God becomes a dominant urge within the soul of the contemplative and, indeed, within prayer itself. God in turn seems to find circumstances in which the contemplative soul is faced with this need as the only manner in which it can live out its hunger for God.
The surrender that takes place in prayer is often simply a response to what God has shown as an exclusive option for a soul if it is to plunge ahead in its relations of absolute love for God. 

~ By Father Donald Haggerty, ‘The Contemplative Hunger’