Saturday, September 12, 2020 –
Today we cover the last of our three expressions of prayer CONTEMPLATIVE (INTERNAL) PRAYER. This is probably the most difficult of the three to understand because it not saying prayers (vocal) or thinking about God’s Truth (meditative).
The absolute shortest definition of contemplative prayer is simply being with God. Or, as Saint John Vianney puts it, “I look at Him and He looks at me.”
Since our standard sources for easy-peasy definitions do not specifically cover contemplative prayer, we are going to go to a couple of different books. Remember, I mentioned this yesterday to give you all a heads up! We will start with Outlines of the Catholic Faith:
II. THERE ARE TWO OTHER DIVISIONS OF PRAYER.
A. Mental and vocal.
1. Mental prayer is either meditation or contemplation.
ii. Contemplation is the resting of the will in God. Contemplation is an exercise of love. Emptying our minds of thoughts, we try to focus our wills on God in an act of love.
iii. Contemplation is a particularly advanced form of prayer. Some of the mystics have written about it, e.g., St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross. (The Leaflet Missal Company, Outlines of the Catholic Faith, p.66)
Already we begin to see that contemplative prayer is not your ordinary prayer time. Let’s confuse things for a moment with another definition, this time from Catholic Dictionary:
CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER: In general, that form of mental prayer in which the affective sentiments of the will predominate, as distinct from discursive reflections of the mind. Or again, it is that prayer which looks at God by contemplating and adoring his attributes more than by asking him for favors or thanking him for graces received. (Father John A. Hardon, S.J., Catholic Dictionary, p. 109)
Umm…WHAT!? Them’s some $5 words they got going on there. Let’s break it down:
Contemplative prayer is a form of mental prayer where you look at God and adore Him. Your emotions (feelings) lead you, rather than your thoughts (reflections). You are not asking for favors or thanking Him, but allowing yourself to be totally in His presence.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a much longer section on contemplative prayer vs. vocal or meditative, probably because it is the most difficult of the three to understand, but that is just my opinion. If you want the entire section, see paragraphs 2790-2719. I, however, will not put the whole section here. Rather, I will attempt to pull out the easiest parts of each paragraph to wrap our head around. Spoiler alert: it is still going to be a large chunky-chunk. #SorryNotSorry
2709 What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa answers: “Contemplative prayer [oracion mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” … In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord himself.
2710 …One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter. One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state…
2711 Entering into contemplative prayer…[w]e let our masks fall and turn our hearts back to the Lord who loves us, so as to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed.
2712 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…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.
2713 Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty…Contemplative prayer is a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, “to his likeness.”
2714 Contemplative prayer is also the pre-eminently intense time of prayer. In it the Father strengthens our inner being with power through his Spirit “that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith” and we may be “grounded in love.”
2715 Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”…This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart…and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.
2716 Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith, the unconditional acceptance of a servant, and the loving commitment of a child…
2717 Contemplative prayer is silence…In this silence, unbearable to the “outer” man, the Father speaks to us his incarnate Word, who suffered, died, and rose…
2718 Contemplative prayer is a union with the prayer of Christ insofar as it makes us participate in his mystery. The mystery of Christ is celebrated by the Church in the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit makes it come alive in contemplative prayer so that our charity will manifest it in our acts…
2724 Contemplative prayer is 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. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.
In contemplative prayer we are not saying the Our Father prayer or thinking about Christ teaching the Our Father to the Apostles. We are loving our Father, hearing our Father, being in silence with our Father, gazing at our Father, and allowing our Father to love us as only He can.
When life is going nuts, the kids are screaming, work is blowing up, and the washer goes kaput is not the easiest time to pray, but it is precisely the time we need to stop and turn our gaze to God. It is in the worst moment that we really need to fix our hearts on the Lord and open ourselves to hearing Him. If the sky is falling around you, it is going to be extra difficult to say a Hail Mary or meditate on the Passion of Christ, but you can take even the briefest of moments to simply BE in God’s presence. Let Him gaze at you as only our loving Father can!
A lot of people find contemplative prayer extremely unnerving because of the silence of it, but also because you are absolutely 100% emotionally naked in front of your Lord. You are not hiding behind the million of thoughts racing through your head or a stream of prayers coming out of your mouth, but sitting silently in the presence of your God. Simply put, you are loving Him and being loved by Him.
And on that deep note…over the next few days we are going to cover the forms of prayer.
Mother of the Church, pray for us!