July 15, 2018
After talking about Christian marriage and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God as expressions of the Christian vocation to live for others rather than self alone, the time has come to talk about that other mode of Christian life that is known as ‘contemplative’.
That nomenclature is unfortunate because it suggests that the other styles of life that Christians live are ‘non-contemplative’. That would be wrong, a non-contemplative Christian is headed straight into trouble.
‘Contemplative’ in this sense means placing an absolute priority upon the daily search for the presence of God in one’s life. Because this search takes time and requires space, the ‘contemplative life’ is most usually lived in a community of similarly committed individuals. Their cooperation in maintaining their life-space and shared work to sustain their life needs leaves each individual with more time for ‘contemplation’ – for this daily and primary search.
The tools of this search are varied in number and frequency of use, but they generally included communal prayer at several fixed times each day, personal penitential practices, obedience to a single rule of life in a single place under a single authority. To us who live ‘in the world’, who rush and never finish -- and often do not keep up, this lifestyle can seem to be more a vay-cation than a vo-cation.
But this is because the frantic and hectic routines of life our familiar lives call for a ‘no’ to self-will and selfishness that is unscheduled without unpredictable. This means that the need for this ‘no’ in a particular time or place can go un-noticed. It may even be absent from some lives for a longish period of time. The structured life of the ‘contemplative’ finds that ‘no’ built right into it. The structure guarantees that it will be there in the same form every day. But the very routine of the contemplative’s ‘no’ can lead to mere rote and lazy ‘obedience’. The lack of structure for the rest of us can lead to fatigue and frustration and something akin to shell shock. Y’pays y’r nickle and y’drinks y’r poison.
As we have seen, I hope, marriage, celibacy for the Kingdom, and contemplative life are all pretty much about the same thing – the search for God and forgetfulness of self. Each way has benefits and pitfalls unique to itself. That’s why some people are called to one way of life and others, to another.
Again, however, the presence in the Church of those whose quest for God is more ‘professed’ and ‘institutionalized’ than it is in marriage or an active, ecclesial celibacy is a reminder that it is precisely this quest for God that distinguishes a Christian marriage from any other coupling, a Christian celibacy from mere bachelorhood. By the same token, these two remind the contemplative that the finding of God is always a discovery or another human. There are two commandments of love, after all: Love of God and Love of Neighbor.
Really, truly and vocationally yours,