If the salvation of society depends, in the long run, on the moral and spiritual health of individuals, the subject of contemplation becomes a vastly important one, since contemplation is one of the indications of spiritual maturity… You cannot save the world merely with a system. You cannot have peace without charity. You cannot have social order without saints, mystics, and prophets.
A Merton Reader, ed. by Thomas P. McDonnell, p.375
One of the greatest and most persistent temptations facing those of us who are called to the contemplative life is that of feeling that we are wasting our time, that we are sitting (kneeling, lying…) around in our homes, our convents, our “quiet spaces” doing nothing, while our infinitely more useful sisters and brothers are out there on the street feeding the poor, visiting the sick, preaching the Gospel. Unlike most temptations, this one doesn’t seem to lessen no matter what we do, or however much we pray. It is one of our enemy’s best pieces of craftsdemonship, too, since it appears to come straight from Scripture (e.g. Matthew 25.31-41).
We need to be clear about this: contemplation is a work of God, not a self-improvement project. It is a definite calling, and one which our Lord himself valued deeply (Luke 10.37-11.5) during his time on earth. Scripture is in fact peppered from Genesis to Revelation with calls to prayer, and “saints, mystics and prophets” walk its pages in throngs.
The Third Order Society of St Francis puts it like this
Tertiaries desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, whom we serve in the three ways of Prayer, Study, and Work. In the life of the Order as a whole these three ways must each find full and balanced expression, but it is not to be expected that all members devote themselves equally to each of them. Each individual’s service will vary according to his or her abilities and circumstances, yet each individual member’s Personal Rule of Life must include each of the three ways. (The Principles, Day 13)
Faithfulness to our calling is difficult. We must not expect it to be otherwise, I think. Jesus himself appeared to find it very difficult (Luke 4.1-13; 22.39-46) and, as I suggested the other day, temptation is part of our following, part of the way of the Cross.
I am so grateful that for me, at least, the Jesus Prayer is not only my principle means of contemplative prayer, but it is, so far from being a mantra or a means of “zoning out”, the deepest prayer for Christ’s mercy in whatever circumstances…
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…