We must stand up for the rights of our neighbour who is suffering from injustice. We must defend them all the more vigorously because we see Jesus present in them. This undoubtedly is our duty because of our love for others for Christ’s sake. We have no right to be ‘sleeping watchmen’ or dumb watchdogs [cf. Is 56:10]. Whenever we see evil we must sound the alarm.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916)
Have a love that goes with special preference towards the humble and the poor, remembering that it is directly to Jesus that the smallest act of kindness and love is addressed when it is done to the least among his brothers and sisters. Welcome them with respect and love, be all the more considerate towards them, for they are the suffering members of Jesus’ body.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916)
Read and re-read ceaselessly the Holy Gospel… so as to always have before one’s mind the actions, words and thoughts of Jesus, in order to think, speak and act like Jesus, to follow the examples and teachings of Jesus, not the examples and ways of behaving of the world. So easily do we fall into this latter, as soon as we take our eyes off the Divine Model.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916)
The majority of the year is Ordinary Time. The majority of the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were lived in Nazareth. Both can be barely seen: few major festivals in the year, and few major remembrances of the divine life in Nazareth in the Scriptures. Yet they comprise the majority. They comprise the vast majority.
Indeed, of the life in Nazareth, the most significant external happening seems to be Mary’s visit of Elizabeth and the sanctification of John the Baptist. But all this happened without words and without to-do. Mary went. She spent time. Jesus, from all eternity, chose this silent way to overflow peacefully his life, by mere presence almost imperceptible, into the life of his holy cousin: the sanctification of the greatest figure of the Old Covenant happened by mere communication and diffusion of the good, without preaching, without miracles, without the grandest and most obvious of things to see. The Visitation by which John the Baptist was made very holy was simply one event of many in the average run of life.
Under the radar it all passes, except for the keenest of spiritual senses… and even then, through no fault of our own, we may miss it. It is by an almost imperceptible diffusion, radiation, and overgrowth of good from within pushing towards the outside that Nazareth has any meaning. Jesus lived, worked, sweated, prayed, interacted with his neighbours: and what did it amount to? Not even the Gospel writers tell us in any detail. But undoubtedly, since even one of Jesus’ actions could have been enough to redeem the whole human race, all that, if we were to write down all the things that Jesus did in Nazareth alone, “I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25).
For isn’t that the Gospel? God became man and man became God in the person of Jesus. This is that great mystery of Nazareth – and of Ordinary Time, if we may say so – that Charles de Foucauld clung to all his life: Jesus lived on earth, in a concrete place, with concrete neighbours! And into such a small space, the infinite flowed, diffused and radiated outwards. Perhaps we didn’t see. But it happened. This mystery has never been plumbed to the full in Christian history. Blessed Charles de Foucauld and those who love him, the philosopher Jacques Maritain, Saint Francis de Sales and the Visitandine spirituality, are just some examples of those who have stared into this mystery for years and years, never to exhaust it (for Saint John the Evangelist tells us that we never shall). Jean-Pierre de Caussade SJ, spiritual director to a Visitandine community, comments along similar lines and condenses much into few words:
There are remarkably few extraordinary characteristics in the outward events of the life of the most holy Virgin… Her exterior life is represented as very ordinary and simple. She did and suffered the same things that anyone in a similar state of life might do or suffer. She goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth as her other relatives did. She took shelter in a stable in consequence of her poverty. She returned to Nazareth from whence she had been driven by the persecution of Herod, and lived there with Jesus and Joseph, supporting themselves by the work of their hands. It was in this way that the holy family gained their daily bread. But what a divine nourishment Mary and Joseph received from this daily bread for the strengthening of their faith! It is like a sacrament to sanctify all their moments. What treasures of grace lie concealed in these moments filled, apparently, by the most ordinary events… Sacrament of the present moment! Thou givest God under as lowly a form as the manger, the hay, and the straw.
This “sacrament” of the present moment of Nazareth is simply that the infinite is bursting into the finite at every place and time in history. And God knows that our finite eyes will never see it all. Did we even catch all that happened in the Visitation? Yet that was but one of the most visible events in thirty years of the Holy Family’s life in Nazareth, that obscure town from which nothing good was thought to come (Jn 1:46). But even there, even then – indeed especially there, especially then – this “sacrament” of the present moment came to be, burst forth, and diffused and radiated outwards in ways unpredictable and not totally perceptible to human minds.
I’ve been asked a few times whether I have any plan for being a contemplative layperson, that is, a layperson with a primarily contemplative vocation.
The short answer is no.
The long answer is, in fact, long. It would begin by me saying that I don’t have a plan, because, ultimately, God throws all our plans away. Passing through the dark night of the spirit means letting go of all our plans, all asserting of our own “personality,” and the like. God will purify all the deepest roots in us, including our attachment to particular forms of prayer or apostolate — so how could anyone have a definite plan? The lack of any plan gets even worse when we think of the multitude of duties, various and numerous, that press on each individual layperson. So the long answer is that, no, I don’t have a plan.
But what I have always wanted to do with this blog is to highlight the main themes of a contemplative life lived in the world, as far as I can understand them. Some of those themes are contemplation, silence and time for prayer, life with our neighbours, seeing Jesus in our neighbours, being a standing delegate to pray for those who need prayer, the Eucharist as sacrifice and as bond of unity, the necessity and central place of love, living with the Church of Heaven and the Church of Purgatory even though we yet are on this earth, learning detachment and living through a seemingly endless “dark night,” learning to rely on the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit which blow where we cannot calculate, embracing our weakness through which God manifests his strength, accepting with confidence the divine Providence which manifests his divine Will for us – and so on.
Those are some themes. And if one looks at the tag cloud on the right-hand side of the blog’s main page – those themes are there, with varying emphasis. Also there are the contemplative souls who, it seems to me, have a lot to say to laypeople in particular: Charles de Foucauld, Charles Journet, Jacques Maritain, Francis de Sales, John of the Cross, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Brother Marcel, Catherine of Siena, John of Avila, Edith Stein, René Voillaume, and many others.
So – I dare not have a plan. Many people have asked, but no matter how many times I am asked for a plan, or an idea for a kind of “lay contemplative” novitiate, or the like – I do not think I could ever come up with an adequate answer. What I do hope, instead, is that the original plan for this blog can be useful. I hope God’s providence can use the array of posts, tagged and not very well ordered, for anyone wishing to explore contemplative Christian themes. Read and be informed. Be determined. Don’t give up. Trust where the Spirit leads in life, in reading, in reflection, and in prayer. I propose no other plan than this. =)