During Jesus visit to the home of Martha and Mary, Martha was upset that her sister would not help her with the details of serving Jesus. Surprisingly, Jesus corrects Martha. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10: 41 – 42). This gospel passage speaks to you about the gift of contemplative prayer. I want to continue talking to you about contemplative prayer because it is such an awesome gift. You do not have to live in a monastery to be a contemplative. Everyone can be a contemplative. No matter what your profession may be, everyone has the possibility of having a deep relationship with God.
So, what is contemplative prayer? “Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2715). Contemplation is the prayer of the heart and not of the mind. Contemplative prayer may focus on a word or a saying or one may simply be in the presence of God. It is the prayer of the listening heart. The goal of contemplative prayer is to enter in to the presence of God where there are no words, concepts or images. It is the prayer of being in love.
How then do we actually do contemplative prayer? Your contemplative prayer time is going to be a personal journey guided by the Holy Spirit. However, here are some suggestions that may help you.
Choose the quite place. Be still. Focus on your breathing. Pray to the Holy Spirit. Then peacefully repeat a word or a phrase: Jesus; Jesus I love you; Jesus I trust in you; Father; Father, in to your hands I commend my spirit, etc. Don’t continue to repeat the word or the words over and over again. Only use the word or the phrase when your mind begins to wander. Be open to whatever Jesus is asking of you. Focus your gaze on the loving presence of God within you. If you begin to feel embraced by God, be still and be silent. Just allow the Holy Spirit to pray within you. “The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit Himself expresses our plea in way that could never be put in to words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God” (Rom.8: 26- 27).
We have to live counter-cultural lives in a culture that is more and more out of control. Our being anchored in God is the path to recovery. God is moving us away from wrongly clinging to things, people and institutions, other than our life in Him, lived in His Church. He is calling us to detachment, to the desert, in to the night of naked faith. He is calling us to cling only to Him. This journey is difficult frightening at times and even risky. Remember the words of St. Theresa of Avilla; “Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes. God never changes. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God, wants for nothing. God Alone is enough” (Poesias 30)
We have to go through this time of intense purification without falling apart or running off to some island. Through perseverance, we will become the living witnesses of the God of love that will transform the present culture of death into the culture of life. Jesuit Father William Johnston who has written much about contemplative prayer said: “Properly understood, contemplation shakes the universe, topples the powers of evil, builds a great society, and opens the door that lead to eternal life”.
What are the practical steps that we can take in order to incorporate into our busy lives daily contemplative prayer?
First of all, we need balance in our lives. Balance between our being and doing. Excessive involvement in activities and excessive travel are tearing us apart.
Secondly, contemplation requires the capacity to be alone. It is difficult to be alone in our contemporary society. Even when we are alone, the noise of our worries and fears drown out the silence of God’s voice. Many people are incapable of being alone and they immediately feel an obsession to talk with someone on a cell phone or check their email. We all need moments of solitude. In order to be with God, we must develop the ability to be alone with ourselves.
Thirdly, we need order in our lives, working out our daily schedules by setting realistic priorities. Early to bed and early to rise is a wise principle which is still valid today.
Prayer is a gift. (Gen 18: 20 – 33) Abraham is able to pray persistently to God on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because he has placed his trust in God. “When I called you answered me; you built up strength within me.” (Psalm 138:3)
Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians reminds us that it is through the Sacrament of Baptism, that we have received the gift of faith. “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2: 12). Faith allows us to put all our trust in God.
Finally prayer is indeed an awesome gift. “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, and the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11: 9-13). So with confidence let’s ask God for this awesome gift of contemplative prayer.