Sunday, February 9, 2014

Contemplation's Place in Prayer

It is said that "we pray as we live and we live as we pray." Vocal prayer uses words, meditative prayer thought, and contemplative prayer, love. A seminary professor of spirituality, writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, discusses how contemplative prayer is to be understood by Catholics. It is particularly important today, he believes, that we call on our traditional prayer resources to ask for divine assistance in dealing with living in the most unchristian of times.

Often prayer is not the means of knowing, loving and being more like God but rather as a means to be more successful in our lives. This is, he says, the reason we have to examine carefully our faith life and prayer.

Contemplation comes from the Latin verb 'contemplari,' meaning to discover the will of God and use all our energies in gazing and beholding him. As a Christian, through intuition, we first become aware of  God's presence and then gaze upon him with love. It is not a simple gazing, he says, but one that calls forth admiration and a joy that clasps our souls, followed by knowledge. Contemplation is the love-filled gaze of God and the things of God that absorb our attention. The Catholic Catechism (# 2724) describes it as "...the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love."

There are many varieties of contemplative prayer, but the writer focuses on two: acquired and infused contemplation. As the words imply, the former develops from our efforts, and the latter is given to us as a gift from God.

With contemplation, our life becomes more passive, but not completely, for with the prayer we become more personally intimate with God; we strive to accommodate ourselves more to the way God is calling us to himself by practicing the virtues, by imitating the life that Jesus has shown us.

With our ordinary meditative practices, often called mental prayer, we tend to see little improvement but with the graces of contemplation, we grow closer to Jesus. There are those who see prayer as psychological, others who search for a mental and emotional state of emptiness from which to prayer, but what is forgotten is that prayer comes with the help of the Holy Spirit and not only with our efforts. We are to get rid of our individual egoism, which is a great obstacle in getting closer to God.

"The love of God, the sole object of Christian contemplation, is a reality which cannot be mastered by any method or technique. On the contrary, we must always have our sights fixed on Jesus Christ, who went to the cross for us and there assumed even the condition of estrangement from the Father." --Letter to the Bishops on Meditation  #31.

By our practice of contemplation, we are more closely united to God and our understanding of ourselves; the world is more understandable and clearer, and we are better able to know our roles in society. This is to be discovered not only in the time of prayer but during every day of our lives.

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