A Profound Form of Prayer
Contemplation is one of the most profound, yet often misunderstood, types of prayer in the Christian tradition. Profound because it plumbs the depths of the human soul and exposes it in silence before the mystery of God. Misunderstood because many of us mistakenly believe it pertains to a select few, not ordinary people like us. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Contemplation is for everyone. It touches something very deep in our hearts. It taps into an important aspect of our human makeup and encourages us to relate to God in the most authentic way possible. We are called to contemplation because all of us long, at some level, to rest in the presence of the Lord. Contemplation is necessary if we wish to share in God’s friendship and be led by his Spirit.How does contemplative prayer fit into Catholicism’s teaching on prayer?
To understand how contemplation fits overall into Catholic teaching on prayer, we first need to shed light on our general human makeup—all in all, we need to address four specific areas that make us who and what we are: the physical, mental, spiritual, and social. Without doing so, we risk losing sight of the important role contemplation plays in our well-being as persons created in God’s image and likeness and as Christian believers who are members of Christ’s body, the Church. We see these dimensions reflected in a number of places in the writings of St. Paul. For example, in 1 Thessalonians, he says: “May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). In Romans and elsewhere, Paul emphasizes the social dimension of the human person: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Romans 12:4–5). Paul makes it clear that we are not isolated individuals but rather complex social beings who relate to one another and to God on a variety of levels. We possess material, bodily needs, an interior life of thoughts and feelings, and deep yearnings for transcendence that points us in the direction of the beyond.
This multidimensional understanding of human existence has important implications for the way we pray. Prayer that is authentic presupposes faith and therefore requires our cooperation with God’s grace. “Everyone receives sufficient grace to pray,” St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696–1787) tells us. We are asked to respond to this grace not merely with our minds and wills but with everything that makes us what we are. Both the Old and New Testaments state clearly that we must love God with our entire being (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37). Since praying to God is one of the primary ways we express our love for him, it’s important to relate to God with all aspects of our makeup and as a believing community.
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