…Contemplation, Action, Liturgy & Life…

The word “contemplation” is given various meanings according to the way it is used or the person who uses it.  One definition of it is that “contemplation is a fixed gaze on truth accompanied by wonder and love.” . . .  We are all meant by God to become contemplatives in one way or another, whether we live in the world or in a monastery.  We are meant by God to grow gradually more and more contemplative.  We may not be destined to any unusually high form of contemplation, but we are meant to achieve an awareness of God in which love and wonder are found.
It may sound rather far fetched to say that we ought all to become contemplatives.  But then it is no farther fetched than what God said when He told us we were to love Him “with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength.”  If you love God with your whole mind, you certainly have a sense of great wonder at His glory and power and goodness and beauty beyond anything created.  And if you love Him with your whole heart as well, you certainly gaze on Him with wonder and love.  And gazing on God with wonder and love is contemplation.  And that is what our mental prayer and our worship in the Liturgy and our Christian living should lead us to.

Some modern preachers are always speaking about love for one’s neighbor.  It is very much needed.  Many people are in great need of help and many of us could do much more for them, but we must never put our neighbor in God’s place.  We are not meant to worship fallen man.  We need to keep God always before us if we are to make our service of our neighbor a real action of the love of Christ acting through us.  It is Our Lord’s love that we have to spread.  We serve people by being Christ for them.

It is, of course, necessary for us to have a plan of life in which we fulfill all our duties in their proper order and according to their relative importance.  We must not give so much time to prayer that we have no spare time for serving others, or at least we must not give so much time to prayer alone with God that we never serve our neighbor, but we should try to make a prayer out of our service of others by seeing God present in what we do.  There is a proper balance to be struck between the time we give to others for God’s sake and the time we give to God alone in mental prayer.  Both have their place in our lives.  The proper relation between the two will vary with different people according to their vocation, but there is no conflict between them.  We do the will of God all the time, and our private mental prayer with God alone will give us the inspiration to serve others, and we shall serve them in the presence of God Whom we see in them, and thus make our service of others also a prayer.  Action becomes prayer when it is done for God and done in His presence of which we are at least vaguely aware.

To be a contemplative you have to have a very great sense of the majesty and power and goodness and beauty of God.  You have to feel entirely humbled in His presence.  You have to have a sense of awe and mystery as you approach Him.  This awareness of the awe-full majesty of God, of His dazzling brightness, has to be balanced with a realization of His tender love and condescension.  It is His delight to be with us, but we must be careful not to lose that sense of awe and mystery when we take part in the Liturgy . . . In the old days, the people were kept too remote from what went on at Holy Mass, and the recent changes were needed, but the faithful must not substitute for the silent admiration from a distance, which they used to have, an over-familiar and careless attitude now that their full part in worship so close to the altar has been clarified.  We belong with God; He wants our activities; but He deserves our deepest reverence on all occasions.

If we keep up our private mental prayer and become contemplatives more and more by degrees, the fixed gaze of love and wonder that we give God in that prayer will lead us to a cheerful gaze of love and wonder for God and His children surrounding Him in the Liturgy.  Our wonder and love for God will center on Jesus, and Jesus unites all His members with Himself in the Liturgy and in life, doing something through them and together with them and in them.  In the Liturgy Jesus as Man is doing something in His members and not only for them.  With them He worships God the Father and gives Him glory and takes away the sins of men.  He did all this on His own on Calvary, but He does not do it alone in the Liturgy; He needs you and the other faithful present to do it.  A person who is only aware of himself and God at Holy Mass is not doing well at all, because we have to act as a Church and not as a lot of independent and isolated individuals. . .

Our spiritual life is all one life but has many parts.  The chief part is the communal celebration of Mass, and the best way to celebrate Mass is a contemplative way with the whole Mystical Body in mind, a way in which we are wide awake to the wonder of sharing in what is taking place in the whole assembly of faithful people, an action in which Our Lord Himself is dominant, but not apart from His members.

There is no conflict between action and contemplation in a holy life, and there is no conflict between private contemplative prayer and the different communal contemplation of God in action which we share at Holy Mass.  In a holy life, action becomes contemplation without ceasing to be as active as ever.  In a prayerful life, the silent adoration of private mental prayer gives light to the adoration and service we give God as conscious members of a group at Mass, and the worship of God at Holy Mass is the highest and most worthy action that exists on earth.

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