A Well Ordered Exterior

Many of the effects of contemplation, like all Christian prayer, involve setting up storage in Heaven (Mt 6:20). They concern the Church and the world at large.

On the other hand, another of the effects of contemplation is to reorganize and reintegrate our whole person. The human being who prays becomes rooted more totally and absolutely in Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and these Three impart a new order and organization to everything about him or her.

That includes the body.

Contemplation is something that happens to persons who are, as we say today, embodied. Perhaps it would be more accurate to note that the body is in the soul (as Saint Hildegard says), but regardless of the way we phrase things, it is true that any reorganization, reintegrating, and reordering of our whole person will involve a reorganization, reintegrating, and reordering of our body also.

This is an effect well known in Christian spiritual literature. The Western Church tends to call it transformation in Christ; the Eastern Church tends to call it transfiguration of the body, in reference to Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Mt 17:1–9; Mk 9:2–8; Lk 9:28–36; 2 Pt 1:16–18). The earliest recorded lives and hagiographies of the saints are replete with examples. Some of the better-known examples include the following: the account of the martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas speaks of a simultaneous “calmness,” “radiance,” and “intensity of gaze which made people avert their eyes”; Saint Antony of Egypt was described as having joy and the disposition of his soul visible on his face and in his movements; and it was said of Saint Macarius of Egypt that, like Moses (Ex 34:29), “the glory of the Lord shone on his face.”

But this Spirit-given transfiguration doesn’t have to be something marvellous and great. It can be something simple. It can be something small. It can “only” be the integration of the body into the Spirit’s goodness. It may simply be something extra in a smile, a comportment, the gestures, the hard-earned physical posture which comes from attention to others, an interiority flowing outwards in the eyes, a non-human confidence lived in humility etched into the lines of the face, or any other configuration of God and human nature in this wounded world – in short, as Saint Jane Frances de Chantal puts it,

a well-ordered exterior, the basis of which depends on the practice of the presence of God.

This organization and ordering of our exterior, our body, our gestures, and everything down to the tips of our fingers, comes from closeness to God. Grace can, if we have eyes for it, be seen. It is invisible but breaking into the visible world. That’s transfiguration, the taking of the body further up and further into the depths and riches of the soul and the Spirit.

Rays of the Sun

chiaralubich1

God’s will is like the sun whose rays are like his will for each one of us. Each of us walks along a ray, distinct from the ray of the person next to us, but always along a ray of the sun. The closer the rays get to the sun, the closer they get to each other. For us too, the closer we come to God, by carrying out the divine will, more and more, the closer we draw to each other.
Chiara Lubich (1920–2008)

The Efficacity of Contemplation

The contemplative or even the one who gives himself to silence for God’s sake, but who has not yet experienced God’s gifts of contemplation, is often met with the question: Why don’t you do something for God? What is your apostolate?

In truth, to have an apostolate of prayer is enough. I do not mean, of course, that one can neglect other duties and parts of one’s state in life, but I mean simply that prayer is indeed an apostolic work. It is a necessary part of the Church’s life, if the Gospel is ever to be preached and if works of charity and justice are ever to be begun. This is why there are communities, like the Carthusian friars or the Carmelite nuns, dedicated towards injecting the blood of prayer into the plumbing of Christ’s Body on earth. It is useful for the Church as a whole.

But even that is hardly enough to answer the question, Why don’t you do something for God? What is your apostolate?

In yet more truth, contemplation makes the individual contemplative soul more active or, if not more active, at least more useful in each of his or her actions. Contemplation acts so as to concentrate or distill one’s actions and words. Each action or word has more power. It makes the care, the concern, and the love greater than they otherwise would be.

Jacques Maritain puts it this way, and this is one of those quotes that has greatly influenced the orientation of this blog:

Jacques MaritainIt is proper to these souls [who experience contemplation and set aside time for it] that they communicate in the work and the dreams of men with as much fervour and intensity (but purified of all worldly interests) as those whose entire existence is fixed at such a level.

(Jacques speaks in reference, one thinks, of his wife Raïssa.) Jacques says, in sum, that contemplative souls give everything human, and also something very divine. They fulfill all the duties of the world, but their activities are not disrupted by worldliness. And doesn’t that make sense? Contemplation cleans us out. It heals us. It focuses us on God and our neighbour, loved with the same divine love. So how could contemplation be a distraction from the world’s need for love, concern, and justice? And how could the contemplative be less effective than his or her fellow traveller on the roads of this world?

It’s inconceivable.

Contemplation is an effective power. That’s true for the world as a whole, invigorated through the invisible ligaments of the Mystical Body of Christ. It’s also true on the level of the individual: “they communicate in the work and the dreams of men with as much fervour and intensity (but purified of all worldly interests) as. those whose entire existence is fixed at such a level.”

Burning and Tender

At St Augustine Church in Manchester, EnglandIn the night of humility into which God asks us to enter, we can encounter the burning power of his Love. And how much more profoundly is his tenderness that pushes himself to give himself to us in the Eucharist. Each time it is like an embrace that pulls us to his heart, at one at the the same time crucified and glorified.
Charles Cardinal Journet (18911975)