Contemplation


In Fire Within, Fr. Dubay writes as much about contemplation as he does about every other topic put together, but I am only going to devote one post to it. To hear the full story you will have to get the book, or his similar more accessible book Prayer Primer. For the most part, to handle this subject I will let Fr. Dubay's words speak for themselves.

"Over the years I have gradually come to the conclusion that one reason so many people assume that contemplation is reserved for a select few is that they imagine it to be what it is not"(Fire Within p.57). Christ has called us to be perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect. One of the biggest points that Fr. Dubay makes in this book is that growth in prayer and growth in virtue cannot be seperated. We are all called to the heights of perfection in our moral lives, and we are all called to reap the benefits of this by experiencing the heights of prayer. "Advanced communion with God does not happen in isolation from the rest of life. One's whole behavior pattern is being transformed as the prayer deepens. So true is this that if humility, temperance, chastity, and love for neighbor are not growing, neither is prayer growing" (p.59).

So what is this contemplation that we are all called to experience? "Christic contemplation is nothing less than a deep love communion with the triune God. By depth here we mean a knowing loving that we cannot produce but only receive." (p.57) What makes contemplation for the Christian unique is that we are called to communion with a Divine Person, but we can do nothing to force God to grant us contemplation. Contemplation is a gift; it cannot be earned. The only thing that can be done to receive it is to live a more perfect life; a life that is full of generous giving of self.

Being in love with God like the saints is not boring, and the prayer is not always of the same type, even though we will always experience periods of dryness and dullness. These moments are simply preparing us to experience a more pure communion with God, or are letting us know that we are backsliding in our moral life. "In all types of infused prayer there are degrees of intensity, more and less, ebb and flow. There are dry, dark yearnings; slow and gentle enkindlings of love; ecstatic absorbtions and delights; experiences of refreshment, peace, pain, light and insights." (p.60) We experience God in a completely human way. He engages every aspect of our person, and although contemplation is a purely spiritual experience of God, this flows over into our body. But remember that this could create anything in the range of emotional experiences, from an absolute dryness to delight greater than any physical pleasure.

The next question that always comes to mind is, "am I experiencing contemplation?" I cannot tell you for sure, but St. Teresa taught that contemplation began in the forth mansion of the spiritual life (which she defines in her book Interior Castle). Of the people in the mansion prior to the forth mansion, she states that "they avoid committing even venial sins; they love doing penance; they spend hours in recollection; they use their time well; they practice works of charity toward their neighbours; and they are very careful in their speech and dress and in the governance of their household if they have one" (qtd. in p.84). I know, this sounds like the description of a saint, but it is only someone in the third mansion of the seven Teresian Mansions. Do not despair though, because God always meets us where we are. He sees our human efforts, and then He always draws us nearer to Himself than our own efforts could accomplish. He literally "transforms us from glory to glory." St. Teresa is clear that she believes someone who lives a generous life without corner cutting will advance in prayer very quickly. God always gives us the maximum that we can receive.

It is worth noting, to end this post, that which is called by Fr. Benedict Groschel, in his book Spiritual Passages, a "spark"; this is a common experience in the spiritual life. A "spark" is simply an experience of an advanced type of prayer before we are advanced. This is a pure gift from God that is meant to motivate us. Although it is often only experienced on the emotional level, it grants us the same rich purifying graces that the advanced prayer would. The only danger in these experiences is assuming that we have reached this advanced level in the spiritual life because of one experience; remember, our moral life is always the best way to know where we are. It is also dangerous after experiencing a "spark" to spend your prayer time trying to reproduce the experience. God Himself is always the goal of our prayer, not an experience, but a Divine Person who loves us and desires for us to love Him.

I hope this all helps. Sorry that I was a little long winded today. Please comment if anything comes to mind. Thanks for the comments up to this point. I will definitely post something about Mary and our spiritual life after my last post on Fire Within, which will also be my next post. The topic will be how to advance in prayer.

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    # by Andrea - August 5, 2007 at 1:08 AM

    Andrew-

    This is probably a stupid question, but what exactly is contemplation? How is it different from meditation?

    Thanks for all your posts!