Let There Be

In Bangkok

In her Book of Merits, Saint Hildegard of Bingen has Mercy say,

If someone is broken, I’m there. If someone hurts, I listen. Why? Because I take the first Let there be literally.

In other words, to be is not separated from relationships. “Let there be light” means an interconnection between this light and other things and other attributes. “Let there be creatures in the air” relates them to other created things. They are not cut off. The first virtue of neighbourliness is to be, to exist with others.

Contemplation is a Night

Jacques Maritain Contemplation itself is a night wherein the soul forgoes the use of distinct ideas and all formulated knowledge, passes beyond and above the human mode of concepts to undergo divine things in the infused light of faith by means of love and all the effects God produces in the soul united to Him by love… like a ray of darkness for the intellect.
Jacques Maritain (1882–1973)

Easter Day 1946

VanDuring his novitiate year with the Redemptorists in Hanoi, Marcel Văn, under obedience to his spiritual director, wrote down his Conversations with Jesus. On Easter Day 1946, there are some gems! It’s almost as if this is an Easter present to us all, any year and many years later.

I’m going to simply bring up some of the wonderful points in this long written meditation.

These two nuggets from Easter 1946 are very amusing in their childlikeness:

  • Marcel asks why his Little Jesus speaks to him “so seldom”, and Jesus says that today Marcel is busy talking with his brothers, “so you must listen to them. If you always remained absorbed in listening to me, who would put up with you?” (Nobody has a sense of humour like our God!)
  • When Marcel indicates that he might do something of his own initiative, Jesus both comforts and threatens: “You must remember that your will no longer exists [and we, Jesus and Marcel, have the same will]; so, if you willingly take away my will from me, I am going to force you to return it. Be careful!” Don’t take anything of Little Jesus’ from him! ^^

And there is a beautiful reflection on being children of God and having confidence throughout our spiritual journey:

Young children have only one fear: that is not to have their parents near them. They know that in the presence of their parents they have nothing to fear. If they are guilty of some fault they count on the presence of their parents who will intervene to protect them…

It is simply through lack of confidence that one does not succeed in acting with simplicity. If one had true confidence, one would be naturally simple.

Simple with God, simple with our neighbours. Because God loves us infinitely. God is an infinity of Love, and this love is the entire base on which every last spirit and atom of the universe is made, on which it rests, and from which it springs into being. To open ourselves to this, to cast out fear, and to find love, as simple as Love is in God, is progress in life.

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What is the Difference Between Meditation and Contemplation? (In the Easter Vigil)

Detail of the days of Creation: At the Shrine of Mary Velangkanni in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Detail of the days of Creation: At the Shrine of Mary Velangkanni in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

In the Easter Vigil, we always have a reading about the Creation of the world (Gen 1:1–2:2). God made light, made a dome in the sky, gathered the waters, made several lights in the sky of day and night, made creatures in the waters and in the dome of the sky, brought forth living creatures on the earth, and made humankind in the image of the Blessed Trinity.

Would it surprise you to know that, even at the very beginning of the Bible, the inherent nature of our spiritual journey – with its reality of meditation and its reality of contemplation and its distinction between the two and the progress from one to the other – is mentioned? That is the opinion of Saint Francis de Sales. In fact, he considers this a way of “great devotion” to recognize the difference between meditation and contemplation: to find it in the Book of Genesis.

What does this Doctor of the Church see? At the end of each day, God looks over the individual work, as one expression of the divine goodness and sees that is is good; this happens on the first day, on the second, third…

till at length, all the universe being accomplished, the divine meditation is changed as it were into contemplation… The different parts considered severally by manner of meditation were good, but beheld in one only regard together in form of contemplation, they were found very good: as many little brooks running together make a river, which carries greater freights than the multitude of the same brooks separately could do.

Contemplation is a single, simple view: “indeed, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Meditation is piece-by-piece, examining one work at a time. It is less simple. It is – and what it sees is – still good! But it is more complicated. When all the pieces have been seen, or enough of them so that our will and our intellect come to want to rest in the simplicity of the whole, it is a simple view that predominates: and what the view is is – and what the view sees is – very good.

Contemplation is simple; meditation is piece-by-piece. Meditation involves a mental work to go from one piece to another – whatever those pieces may be: parts of creation, imaginings of incidents in the Saviour’s life, details of one particular mystery of Salvation, the words of a Hail Mary, a writing composed or read before the Blessed Sacrament. Contemplation sits and, with a divinely given simplicity, rest, and peace, sees something bigger and more together.

Having come this far, it is worth quoting briefly the advice of Francis on contemplation and meditation; he says, if you fall into simple contemplation of Jesus and the Trinity, don’t force yourself away from it and force yourself back to meditation, works of the mind, works of the will, efforts in prayer:

Wherefore, when you shall find yourself in this simple and pure filial confidence with our Lord [which is contemplation], stay there… without moving yourself to make sensible acts, either of the understanding or the will; for this simple love of confidence, and this love-sleep of your spirit in the arms of the Saviour, contains by excellence all that you go seeking hither and thither to satisfy your taste [in meditation]…

These are differences between meditation and contemplation.

And all this can be seen, says Francis, “with great devotion” in the Story of Creation.

Actually, in the Easter Vigil, we can go further. If I may say so, the whole structure of the Liturgy for the Easter Vigil reflects the structure of the Story of Creation – and thus reflects the structure of meditation and contemplation in the spiritual life. Why do I say this? The Old Testament readings enumerate several and individual events in the history of Salvation. Meanwhile, when the sanctuary is flooded with the simple light of the Gospel, everything condenses into one: Christ is risen. This is a reiteration of the Creation Story and of the meditative–contemplative spiritual journey: several, and then simplicity. And this does not detract from the History of Salvation or the enumerations of meditative understanding. Of course not! For they, too, “are good” like in the Genesis story. But are they “very good”? Well, that simple word, focused on the whole in a divinely given simplicity, comes for contemplation, and, in the overall structure of the Easter Vigil, for the Gospel.

The truths of contemplation are everywhere in the Church, if we look and know what to find.

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