Ignite the Gift of Faith with the Gift of Contemplative Prayer
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CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Faith is an immense gift from God. It is through the gift of faith that we are able to see the invisible in the visible world. As we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, "Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen" (Hebrews 11: 1).
When we pick up the Bible and read it, it is faith that allows us to see that this not an ordinary book, instead, it is the very word of God: inspired and without error.
When we gaze upon the Tabernacle, it is faith that allows us to see not ordinary bread, but the Jesus, the Bread of Life.
When we look upon a Catholic priest, it is faith that allows us to see through his human frailties and see him for who he is: an Alter Christus, another Christ.
When we see our neighbor, it is faith that permits us to see Jesus in every person.
When we gaze upon the mountains, the valleys, the oceans and the sky, it is faith that allows us to see the beauty of the Creator.
Faith is a gift. It is a gift that we receive through the Sacrament of Baptism. But, faith needs to be fed and it needs to be proclaimed.
Faith is nourished through a serious spiritual life and through the thoughtful study of our Catholic Faith.
Faith must be proclaimed. "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops" (Matthew 10: 27).
A number of years ago, my spiritual director turned my spiritual life upside down. He introduced me to the gift of contemplative prayer. I must admit that at first I was a bit hesitant to journey into this unknown way of praying, but upon my spiritual director's gentle insistence, I made the decision to take him seriously.
It is a decision which has been one of the most important decisions of my almost twenty-five years as a Catholic priest.
Contemplative prayer is an immense gift that needs to be rediscovered during the Year of Faith that we have just begun.
Anyone today who affirms "I believe" is a survivor.
We have survived a modern history of wars, death camps, persecutions and terrorist attacks. We have survived scandal after scandal and the disappointment of institutional collapses both in the Church and in society.
We have survived our dysfunctional families and a secular culture which is increasingly anti-Christian.
Contemplative prayer is essential for the times that we live in so that the gift of faith may be re-ignited and burn ever so brightly.
We may be tired of believing.
Contemplative prayer will renew us and allow us to believe anew.
So, what is contemplative prayer?
The Catechism of Catholic Church defines contemplative prayer with these words: "Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more. But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God. Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2712).
Contemplative prayer is not a method of prayer. Instead, contemplative prayer is a free, unmerited gift of the Holy Spirit. Any baptized Christian can receive this gift and every baptized Christian should ask for this gift.
"Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him" (Luke 11: 9-10).
Contemplative prayer? Who me? Isn't that something for monks and cloistered nuns?
Contemplative prayer is for everyone.
But, speaking of the monastery, how would you like to have a spiritual life as described by John Cassian (c.350 - c.435)? "It is not easy to know how and in what respects spiritual tenderness overwhelms the soul. Often it is by an ineffable joy and by vehement aspirations that its presence is revealed. So much so that the joy is rendered unbearable by its very intensity, and breaks out into cries that carry tidings of your inebriation as far as a neighboring cell.
Sometimes on the contrary, the whole soul descends and lies hidden in abysses of silence. The suddenness of the light stupefies it and robs it of speech. All its senses remain withdrawn in its inmost depths or completely suspended. And it is by inarticulate groans that it tells God of its desire. Sometimes, finally, it is so swollen with a sorrowful tenderness that only tears give it consolation."
Older works of spirituality distinguished between acquired and infused contemplation. Acquired contemplation considered the personal human actions that the individual can do during prayer time. Infused contemplation was the name given to the moment when God takes over and all human intellectual activity ceases.
Modern authors no longer make this distinction. Contemplative prayer is seen as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
"And in this way one comes to the sacred emptiness and detachment from thinking which characterizes the mystical state. There may come a time when even the word Jesus is no longer necessary because a total unitive silence reigns in the heart; and here again one is in nakedness and darkness with no other light than that which burns in one's heart" (William Johnston, S.J., The Inner Eye of Love, p. 95).
There are two methods of prayer that prepares and predisposes us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer. The first, and most effective method is Centering Prayer and the second method is called Lectio Divina. Let us consider both methods next week.
In the meantime, let us continue our journey during this amazing Year of Faith. "With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started" (Hebrews 12: 1).
Father James Farfaglia, is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics. You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org.
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