So, what is contemplative prayer? "Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2715). 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. My dear friends, a serious life of contemplative prayer is very important for the times in which we live.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Last week we reflected upon the gospel narrative about 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).
As you may recall, I used last Sunday's gospel passage to speak 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 into 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.
Before the Blessed Sacrament - sit or kneel. Gaze into the Tabernacle or look into the Monstrance. Be still. Focus on your breathing. Ask Mary to help you to pray. 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, into 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. Focus your gaze on the Eucharist. Be open to whatever Jesus is asking of you.
At home - sit or kneel. Close your eyes. Again, be still and focus on your breathing. Ask Mary to help you to pray. Pray to the Holy Spirit. As before, repeat a word or a phrase, rooted in the scripture, the creed, a prayer or an aspect of our Christian faith. Do not repeat the word or words over and over again. Remember to use the word only when your mind begins to wander. 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.
My dear friends, a serious life of contemplative prayer is very important for the times in which we live. As I mentioned to you last week, the traditional structures of support such as family life, parishes and religious organizations that have made our lives comfortable and easy, are presently engulfed in confusion and meltdowns. Moreover, 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, into 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 Avila: "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" (Poesías 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 doors 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. When was the last time that we enjoyed dinner with family and friends, or turned off our cell phone and refrained from checking our email at every moment? Excessive work and travel, excessive involvement in sports and entertainment 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 own 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. Spending a quiet time before the Eucharist, reading the Scriptures during a peaceful moment at home, taking tranquil walks through the woods or along the beach all are necessary for our soul. 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 daily schedules for the entire family by setting realistic priorities and minimizing extra-curricular activities for the children are steps that we can take. Early to bed and early to rise is a wise principle which is still valid today.
My dear friends, this Sunday's readings remind us that prayer is a gift. In the first reading 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 pray. Faith allows us to put all our trust in God.
Finally, the gospel passage for this Sunday reminds us that 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, 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).
Father James Farfaglia, the Happy Priest, is the pastor of Saint Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Father has a hard hitting blog called Illegitimi non carborundum. He has also published a book called Man to Man: A Real Priest Speaks to Real Men about Marriage, Sexuality and Family Life. You can contact Father at email@example.com.
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