What is contemplation?

It’s wisdom, loving wisdom. It’s God’s free gift to us to love him and know him. It’s passive on our part. It’s receptive on our part, and it demands a strong prayer life to be sustained. God gives this grace. As a kind of permanent character of our lives, it is not begun without a lot of meditation and, later, painful purification worked by God.

Why do I use the tag “passio divinorum” instead of “contemplation”?

Because I get tired of saying “contemplation” too often. It’s just a word. Words should point to the reality. “Contemplation” points out that this is, in some way, a restful and fulfilling activity. It’s a high activity. It’s what we were made for. “Passio divinorum” is Latin and points out that what we’re really doing during Christian contemplation is “suffering divine things”, experiencing things far beyond our human nature, freely given by God.

The last thing I want is to get bogged down by words. So I mix it up.

Why not say “mental prayer” instead of “contemplation”?

Sometimes I do. Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint Alphonsus Liguori usually use this word. I sometimes follow them. But in general, the word seems a bit dry to me, not exciting enough.

Also, the term can, without context, mean either meditation or contemplation.

What is the difference between meditation and contemplation?

Please see this post or any of a number of other posts on theme.

What do I mean by a contemplative life?

Many people seem to think that a contemplative lives withdrawn from the world. I don’t. Experience has taught me otherwise. When I say a “contemplative life”, I don’t mean a life withdrawn from the world. I don’t mean the cloister.

I just mean that the Holy Spirit leads by graces that primarily aim at contemplation, rather than action, though of course all human lives have an amount of action and should have contemplation. Obviously, in some cases, the balance of contemplative and active graces is hard to judge. But in others, there is a clear aim one way or the other. And a kind of contemplative life is possible both in the world and in the cloister.

I know this can be surprising news! If you are feeling any call to this kind of living, perhaps you’ll find this blog helpful. If you have any questions, please comment.

Why isn’t it enough to just talk about loving Jesus and not talk about contemplation?

This is a hard question to answer. I don’t think the words matter very much.

But, from my own experience, I do really believe that calling things by this name (as is done, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or by Saint John of the Cross) helps us focus our thinking, our desires, and our selves on the reality that we’re looking for. For example, the common dichotomy action–contemplation reminds us that contemplation is not some work to be done. I think this is a very useful reminder in our day and age.

Am I aware that philosophers also talk about contemplation?

Of course. But any natural contemplation (sometimes called theoria on this blog) is not the same thing as this freely given grace from God, which outstrips anything we can do by our own powers. To tell the truth, I like them both, but I prefer Christian contemplation.

Who are some of my favourite saints?

For their writings, I like many saints and blesseds such as Francis de Sales, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Maximus the Confessor, Macarius of Egypt, Alphonsus Liguori, John Damascene, Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Jane Frances de Chantal, Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, Robert Bellarmine, Paul of the Cross, Jan van Ruusbroec, Henry Suso, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Catherine of Siena, Edith Stein, Pope Paul VI, Titus Brandsma, and John of Ávila.

I’m also very fond of the following saints and blesseds: Monica; Anthony of Padua and Francis of Assisi; Clement Hofbauer, Gerard Majella, and Francis Xavier Seelos; Odoric Mattiussi (of Pordenone), a fourteenth-century Franciscan who travelled through Southeast Asia and China; Charles de Foucauld, contemplative in the world who wanted to “see Jesus in all people”; Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, a Thai martyr; and Damien of Molokai, the leper-priest.

Among those whose cause of beatification is in preparation, has been formally opened, or has been accepted, I’m very fond of Jacques Maritain, Raïssa Maritain, Charles Journet, Marcel Văn, and Dorothy Day.

What’s with the header photo: a painted tree?

After northern Bangkok was severely flooded in 2011, one of the universities decided to paint all the dead and dying trees on campus. The Art department took up the task. Various colours appeared. It was a beautiful sight. It was inspirational, too. These trees are symbols of a kind of surprising novelty, value, and permanence in the midst of a harsh, destructive, muddy world. In short, they’re a bit like contemplation thrown into the world.


2 thoughts on “FAQ

  1. I am very blessed to have stumbled across your blog. I am not R.C.
    I am a Canadian Eastern Orthodox and I appreciate our shared roots.
    I also came across Charles de Foucould a number of years ago and love him dearly.
    I am really enjoying reading back through your quotes and comments.

    Prayers for you and all who read this blog


    • Thank you for leaving a message! I think you might have gathered from elsewhere on the blog that I’m also Canadian. I’m from New Brunswick. =)

      It’s nice to hear from you, and I’m glad that something I post about is interesting for someone who is Eastern Orthodox — and who knows Charles de Foucauld. One of my favourite stories about Charles de Foucauld is actually just as much about an Eastern Christian priest. There was an Eastern Christian priest (Catholic or Orthodox, I’m not sure) who once told Father Le Guillou (a Latin Catholic who wrote well about transfiguration of the body) that the photo he saw of Charles de Foucauld was “an icon” burning with love (it was just a photograph). I often think of this when I think of Brother Charles, so I’m very glad to meet an Eastern Orthodox who knows him!

      Prayers for you, too!

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