Laypeople with a Primarily Contemplative Vocation

Jacques and Raïssa Maritain

Two laypeople who emphasized contemplative vocations

To conclude my thoughts for Vocations Week, I want to mention a vocation that is close to my heart: a predominantly contemplative (not active) life lived at the heart of the world by a layperson.

The first question anyone asks is whether it is possible.

Of course it’s possible. With God all things are possible.

Is it likely? Perhaps not so much. The normal daily bread of the layperson involves a lot of action.

However, what determines whether a way of life is primarily active or primarily contemplative is not external appearances. What determines whether a way of life is primarily active or primarily contemplative is the balance of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit offered to the person by the times and the seasons. A predominantly contemplative life is a life where the Holy Spirit leads primarily by the Gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge. It would be foolish to tell the Holy Spirit that to try to do this with a layperson is a bad idea. So, let’s not try to tell the Holy Spirit that.

We can’t say that a lay vocation to contemplative life is impossible. But it really is difficult.

The dispositions required for large amounts of time for silence are hard. The dispositions required for enough stability and community, while keeping such silence, are hard. The dispositions required for (what I think is a necessary) regular participation in Eucharistic activities, such as Mass and Adoration, are hard. Not everyone has these opportunities. Not everyone could create them if they tried.

We have here a vocation that is, perhaps, rare and hard but possible. But at the end of the day, the possibility is witnessed to by those small but persistent and prophetic religious orders of contemplatives immersed in the world. They’ve led contemplatives lives in the world: why can’t we?

What support is there for anyone with a predominantly contemplative lead from the Holy Spirit?

  • I know of the Charles de Foucauld Lay Fraternity (Lay Community) (blog here and guidebook here). The association can trace its direct inspiration to Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who died almost a century ago, but, like most aspects of Christians engaging the modern world, it’s still relatively new and under a lot of development.
  • Some support may be available as a Benedictine oblate, depending on one’s circumstances.
  • One might become a secular discalced Carmelite (“a contemplative in the world who is called to be a witness to the love of Christ to others”).
  • One might get practical experience as volunteer with an organization like Heart’s Home International, which offers lay volunteers the chance and formation to live a contemplative life in the world and with the poor for a year or two.
  • I’ve tried to make this blog a small place of resources, encouragement, experience, and sharing for “contemplatives in the mud”.

Are you aware of any other support for leading a primarily contemplative life as a layperson? Are you aware of any other ways to lead a primarily contemplative life as a layperson?


14 thoughts on “Laypeople with a Primarily Contemplative Vocation

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  6. Gethsemani Abbey in KY has an group of Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani (LCG). You need to live near them to fully participate in the formation process. Another I know of is at St. Leo’s Abbey in FL. They have a pretty active Oblate program.

  7. Well, how about starting something supportive? How about a Lectio Divina group at your parish? Or sharing what you know about the gift of Contemplation or on meditation / mental prayer, at your parish? The same week I submitted a proposal to my pastor to do talks on the gift of Contemplation based on Scripture and Saints Teresa and John, in a totally unrelated event I was asked to join a prayer group that meets bi-weekly. One of the prayer group members noticed I spend lots of time after daily Mass with my eyes closed. She asked me if I would teach her what I am doing. I talked a short bit to her about mental prayer then told her I’m waiting to hear from Father about giving talks about prayer at the parish. At our next prayer group meeting which was a few days ago she asked me to repeat what I said to her. The next thing I know I’m going to give the prayer group the talks on Contemplation! This is a good thing for me to do it first in front of 8-10 people before giving it to a parish group because I have almost no speaking experience! I really believe that God wants to give the gift of Contemplative Prayer to everyone and will support efforts you have to teach what it is and the ground work necessary to receive the gift; first in living the gospel with generosity and 2nd to make yourself available via prayer time. And now you have your own, local support group!

  8. Pingback: “Contemplative in the Mud” | SOUL FOOD MINISTRIES

  9. Consider the position of a widow: “Spirituality for Widows–June 10, 2013 by Ronda Chervin, PhD
    In the New Testament, widows flourish in their ministry as they draw close to Christ and to Christ’s people. They are free to follow the Crucified One … Concerning widows in the early Church … some of them constituted the first form of consecration in the Church!”
    I am a widow who decided to consecrate the rest of my life to God even before my husband died of cancer in 2012. Now a member of a covenanted community, I consider my home my “domestic monastery.” I have ample time for solitude and silence, daily Adoration and Holy Mass, the rosary, in depth spiritual reading or Lectio Divina. My ministries are maintaining my Church’s website as well as my own spiritual blog, and I often have the opportunity to teach others about prayer on a small group level or parish level. Retirement and freedom from family responsibilities opens the door for an ever deeper prayer life of consecration and commitment to Christ.
    The only requirement is the will to do so.

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