Monday, December 05, 2011

The life that is most truly and wholly ours…

The contemplative finds God not in the embrace of “pure love” alone but in the prophetic ardour of response to the “Word of the Lord”: not in love considered as essential good but in love that breaks through into the world of sinful men in the fire of judgment and of mercy. The contemplative must see love not only as the highest and purest experience of the human heart transformed by grace, but as God's unfailing fidelity to unfaithful man…

The contemplative life will therefore need to be understood... in terms of living experience and witness...

Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame Press, 1998) p.133

I think this cannot be emphasised strongly enough. We need to understand that our life of prayer, especially if we are called to the contemplative life, is not a solipsistic, “self-actualising” activity, or some kind of relaxation technique aimed at producing a pleasant, stress-free state of mind, still less a quest for psychedelic experience. The contemplative vocation is a call to battle, a call to prophetic witness, and to a life lived in the shadow of the Cross.

We cannot all be, like Thomas Merton, widely published and influential in and beyond the religious life. We are not all called to martyrdom like Maximilian Kolbe or Charles de Foucauld. God does not call us to imitate others, except possibly his Son or his blessed Mother, he calls us to the life that is most truly and wholly ours. We may be surprised, when we ourselves arrive at the throne of grace, to discover that some of the most highly blessed of the saints in glory are those who were most easily overlooked in their life on earth. It is enough to serve in the place in which God has placed us, married or single, in work or out of work, in sickness or in health, in a village church or in community, as a humble if prayerful servant like Brother Lawrence or in the life of a Doctor of the Church.

God’s call to us is a call of love; to love someone is to desire most passionately all that is good for them, all that leads them home to love Itself. Even for us humans the purest love is like that—what must God’s love for us be like? Perhaps we can see, if we live our lives in the light of the Cross…

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