I am covninced that the Church is wider than is supposed, that she possesses everywhere children who do not know her and whom she does not know by name. Hence too my deep conviction – not indeed that the gate is not broad or the road wide that leads on to perdition (see Mt 7:13), but purely on account of the prayer of Jesus – of the greater number of the elect.
Charles Cardinal Journet (1891–1975)
The more our body is weighed down with the complexities of our daily and apostolic tasks, the more our soul must be strong, attentive, alive. Without an addition of contemplation to impart the strength and vitality, we risk disequilibrium, not only for ourselves and in congregations but for the Church as a whole. It is thus a deepening of the life of prayer that God invites us to across all the circumstances of life.
René Voillaume (1905–2003)
O Sacrament of true piety, sign of unity, bond of charity! The Lord has given us His Body and His Blood under the species of bread and wine, and as the bread is made out of many grains and the wine from many grapes, so the Church of Christ is made out of the multitude of the faithful united by charity.
Saint Augustine of Hippo
How otherwise could one discern a baptized infant from an unbaptized one, if not by the knowledge that one has been baptized? Yet if, as he ages, the baptized child remains faithful to his vocation, his exterior comportment will allow something of that light which enlightens him to shine forth. If he becomes a saint, that hidden flame within him will be able, in a certain measure, to pass outside and surround him with a bit of that radiance which, according to the [First] Vatican Council, miraculously manifests the divine character of the Church.
Charles Cardinal Journet (1891–1975)
We might be tempted to think that there is no history to the Catholic understanding of contemplation. We might be inclined to imagine that everything has been explicitly known from the beginning. But that isn’t the case at all. Every doctrinal and theological matter has to be ironed out, the details teased out of the original deposit of Pentecost and brought into the light to be analysed, sifted, and tried in the fire. Every question has to be scrutinized and examined. Every answer has to be probed and tested against the experience of the Church, in her hierarchy and in all her members. What is implicit in the timeless gift of faith must be made explicit in time. For example, it was less than 100 years ago that Father Garrigou-Lagrange and Jacques Maritain were fighting for the universal call to holiness being applied also to laypeople and for the truth that contemplation, in some manner or another, forms part of the normal path of growth holiness (love). That battle was won. The documents of the Second Vatican Council elucidate the universal call to holiness, and at the close of the Council, Blessed Pope Paul VI reiterated the primacy of contemplation and presented the Council’s Message to Intellectuals to Maritain himself.
So progress happens (in the sense that what is truly and really contained in the original deposit given by Christ and the Apostles must become more explicit with time).
We’re not locked in a static understanding of Christian life, holiness, love, and contemplation.
Another area in which there has been significant and visible progress (not by destroying or mutating the original deposit of faith, but by teasing it out as humanity goes through time with Christ and the Spirit) is the indwelling of the Trinity in the souls of the just. Around the time of the Council, Charles Journet pointed out a deficiency in catechesis on this point:
Our catechism speaks of sanctifying grace, but scarcely at all of the fact of indwelling [of the Three Persons in the soul in a state of grace], which is of greater value, being the source of which grace is the effect.
So the effect (sanctification and justification) used to be mentioned in detail, but the Source, which is a Living Source and indeed Life itself and Three Persons, was more or less forgotten. Of course, the thought was defined very clearly in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical letter Mystici Corporis, for example:
The Divine Persons are said to indwell inasmuch as they are present to beings endowed with intelligence in a way that lies beyond human comprehension, and in a unique and very intimate manner which transcends all created nature, these creatures enter into relationship with Them through knowledge and love.
So the thought was known, but it didn’t appear in the catechism from which one first learned one’s faith.
This has changed.
Since 1992, Catechism of the Catholic Church #260 cites a prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, in which the indwelling of the Three Divine Persons is referenced and, indeed, focused on:
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.
Elizabeth’s prayer is an explicit call to dwell with the Trinity dwelling within.
So here we have implicit content of Christian faith becoming explicit with time. It is just an example. But it should alert us to the fact that we are on a journey, and the making explicit of the faith is something that, even though they may appear less active, contemplative souls are involved in, too.
I’ve written once or twice about early Muslim mystics who seem to have actually come into a love-relationship with a very Personal God. Here’s another such post. (Note that posts in this vein are not to be taken to mean that the fulness of revelation, and indeed of mystical experience, can be found outside the Catholic Church. They simply serve to show that God gives his love freely.)
Yahya ibn Mu’adh al-Razi (830–871) was a Sufi mystic in Central Asia. He has this beautiful phrase attributed to him:
What a difference there is between him who goes to the feast for the feast’s sake and him who goes to it to meet the Beloved!
And so it must be. There are several ways to apply this saying. Probably the way most congenial to Yahya’s thought itself would be that of the person fulfulling religious duties. Yahya was extremely dedicated and conscientious in religious duties. This was not out of fear, nor our of habit, nor out of any emphasis on the duties for the duties’ sake; it was rather because there, in religious duties, he “went to meet the Beloved.”
Extending that insight into a Christian framework, we may then think of the religious duty that is the “Sunday obligation.” We go to the Eucharistic meeting of the faithful every week. How do we participate in the Eucharist? Is it to meet the Beloved?
The same could be said of our other duties, when we go to “the feast” in the world, wherever that may be. Do we go to a real feast or a real party? Do we go to work and enjoy that? Do we spend some time in recreation? Well, in such situations, too, are we able to go to it to meet the Beloved? After all, as Christians, we know the Beloved is truly present in the providence of events and asking to peek through the veils that cover each human being. Are we trying to meet him, even in these worldly feasts? Is that our motivation?
There are so many different times and places can we go to “the feast,” not for the feast’s sake primarily, but to meet the Beloved. And how different that makes the entire world we experience! May we grow more and more in this reality of going to meet the Beloved in all his beautiful unveilings and “disguises.”