by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Our Sunday morning Prayer Team was meeting in the small chapel in the Christian Living Center where there used to be a convent many years ago, on the grounds of Saint Helen Parish, where we worship. After we had prayed with some people, we were talking about God's Love. And we were talking about the gift of contemplation, an inner life with Jesus. And I thought, really out loud, how great it would be if I could somehow tell the Faithful about the special Grace of such a gift, for it is a very rich gift. In the old days, when most Catholics went to Church daily, the "Inner Life," or, "The Life of the Soul," were terms more frequently heard. But now, when statistics tell us that only 28% of Catholics come to Church, some of the mystique has left. Our Church is one of mysteries, since most tenets of the Faith are just that, faith. We believe. We do not question.
In order to discuss contemplation or an inner-life relationship with Jesus, I've incorporated a set of eight papers written when I was a monk with the Monks of Adoration¹, and slightly adapted these for the purpose of this reflection. Interior or contemplative prayer is an intimate prayer life with Jesus, with God, with the Holy Trinity. Despite the notion that such a life state is only for devout monks, friars and nuns, God in His infinite love beckons all people to have an interior life with Him. In discussing this topic with you, I want to credit the late Bishop, Dr. Joseph Gross who lived in Germany from 1866 to 1931 and while Bishop of Leitmeritz made many visits to religious orders of contemplative sisters. After his death, friends of the Bishop gathered together his notes and carefully wrote down the conferences with the sisters and all this was published in the United States at the start of the Second World War in a book called, “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum.” This book, published by Bruce Publishing Company [then] of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, seems to be in the public domain since it has no copyright notice in it. What it, fortunately, does have, is a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur. This reflection will frequently quote passages from this book and thus unless otherwise noted quotations will be from this particular book.
The book is subtitled, “The Radiance of the Holy Eucharist in the Religious Life.” It is quite clear that Bishop Gross had an extraordinary devotion to Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. “When we are called upon to speak of the Holy Eucharist, our Divine Lord’s greatest act of love and the sublimest of Mysteries, it would be more fitting to fall upon our knees in humble prayer than to attempt to put our thoughts into words.” Jesus outdid Himself in proving His Divine love for us, His love that has no limit, by the institution of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Mass. We have now the opportunity by a gift of God, to form an intimate relationship with Him. It is difficult for me to conceive such an intimate friendship given the current state of the world; the relationship we’re trying to form is similar to that of the most “tenderest mother and the most loving child,” as Bishop Gross defines the relationship between the human heart and Almighty God.
“Jesus is really, truly, actually present in the Blessed Sacrament, in Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He is really present — not in the sense that your dead father is with you when you look so affectionately at his photograph. That is merely a representation of him. Jesus is not with us in this fashion. The consecrated elements do not merely represent Him: they are His actual Body and Blood.” Jesus is present to us in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church and in all friaries, monasteries, convents and cloisters, where He is kept. He is there to “appease His own Heart’s love for us as our Friend, Counselor and Teacher.” He is there to support us in our sadness too. In Holy Scripture Jesus talks to the Father — “That your prayer may be made acceptable to God.” This is a key statement for Jesus is the greatest intercessor of all time — in our intimate prayer life with God the Father.
The charism of the Monks of Adoration¹, was to pray, work and suffer for the purpose of repairing (make reparation) the many acts of abuse, negligence and abandonment of the Blessed Sacrament. If we love Jesus deeply, we should all pray that there will be less abuse, and our visits to the Church to visit Jesus will help lessen His abandonment. “Our Lord foresaw all this negligence and indifference. He bore the knowledge in silence, as He bears it today. Secretly and humbly as He came down to earth long ago, just so quietly and unassuming He descends upon our altars. He does not come sternly demanding a large congregation.” Even if no more than two or three are gathered in His Name, He is among you and He is there silently. So unite yourselves with Him each day at the Sacred Mysteries.
Some may have asked “Wasn’t Calvary enough? Why then have a Sacrifice of the Mass? First of all, Holy Mass is to make us remember Jesus as He instituted the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar the night before He died. Secondly, in Jesus’ heavenly existence there is no time limitation; there is no time because He IS – He is always present this minute, this second, into eternity. Therefore, a prayer will be answered now or later but not at a specific time. An act of penance, an opportunity for humiliation patiently borne by us could be a reparation for the neglect of someone who lived 2000 years ago, or it can be that for one who is yet to be born. So also, we can pray “after the act we’re praying for has already occurred,” call it “retroactive prayer” or whatever you will. And the person for whom you are praying may already have been healed before you pray. So, yes, in our prayer we come to assist Jesus in redeeming mankind, we make up what was lacking in His suffering on the Cross. Given the state of the World in the 21st Century, we not only can but must assist Jesus in bearing His Cross because His Cross is our Cross!
An interior life is a life of prayer of intimate union, of bearing His Cross, too. It is almost a child-like relationship, for the love of a child is pure; it is without guile or conditions. That’s how God loves us and how He teaches we should love Him. If you desire to have this close inner life with Jesus, the Liturgy of the Mass and, if possible, daily reception of Holy Communion must be central to your way of life. This inner life is not something you learn or get by practicing. An inner life is a gift from God, but we can prepare ourselves to be open to totally trusting God with everything. And by totally abandoning ourselves and our lives to Him.
Among the laity, Secular Franciscans and members of other secular institutes who receive Jesus daily, and who are active in the life of the Church, should think about cultivating this special friendship.
This special friendship is not easy. The last thing the devil wants is another contemplative, another close friend of Jesus. And the devil will battle you to convince you that life with him is sweeter. You've got to be strong, determined, and after some time, you will find that Jesus is open to the idea of giving you a contemplative prayer life, and then the suffering will die down for you.
In order to cultivate this relationship with Jesus, we must get to know Him even better. Frequent oral and mental prayer should be a part of your day. I claim Jesus as my brother and friend not only passively but actively. This whole website is an example of that, and I can assure you I spend many hours working at it, to make it better, evangelize my Roman Catholic Faith in all of its dimensions and also try to publish a product that reaches people of other faiths and backgrounds. The underlying theme of this website, hopefully evident by now, is God's miraculous love and the healing that is possible both physically, mentally and spiritually for those who seek Him out!
When we attend Holy Mass we should not only be physically there but mentally as well. “You must assist at [Holy Mass] with enlightened belief, like that of the Apostles,” writes Bishop Gross. It takes faith and “faith is the only power to which the omnipotence of God itself can yield.” Faith is shown often by the amount of recollection we practice, by that interior quiet. Distractions present themselves but if we possess interior quiet then we do not pay attention to them. We should attend Holy Mass with great respect but there should also be great joy “because it is the source of immeasurable graces.” Before entering the church or chapel stop for a moment or two and consider why and for whom you are entering the house of God. Say to yourself: ‘The service of God is the holiest service one can offer. Rouse yourself then, O my Soul, to the warmest acts of praise, love, faith and reparation you can possibly make.’” Then as we enter chapel or church, our whole demeanor, the custody of ears and eyes (for example), should be under control. And when you see your friend Charlie, do not start a conversation because when we talk we are distracted from, perhaps, that quiet whisper of the voice of God! “Empty and false are the words of their mouth; they have ceased to be wise and do good” (Ps. 36:4)
So we’ve touched on recollection and readiness. Many people complain that they “don’t get anything out of the Mass.” Well, they dashed into their parish church without the slightest thought of whom they are visiting and talked about all sorts of sundry things with various people they met on the way in. Then when Holy Mass begins they cannot shut off their thinking about all they talked about and most likely they will miss a good part of the Mass, and most tragically, they will not hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. The same thought occurs at Communion time. One wonders if all people prepare their thoughts to welcome Jesus, if they realize whom they are receiving.
For those making their ascent to interior prayer, attending Holy Mass and receiving the Holy Eucharist is paramount as their most important goal is to be open to an intimate relationship with Jesus. Of course, where making a living, a job, prevents one from attending Mass on a daily basis this cannot be helped. “You must bring a living faith to the Sacrament and be absolutely filled with it. It is imperative to awaken this faith in yourself,” writes Bishop Gross, “even if you have to do so over and over again, as long, indeed, as it may take to enable you to realize the living presence of Christ as clearly as if you had Him before your bodily eyes. Make this effort repeatedly. Only when you really grasp this truth can you rightly steep yourselves in prayer.” When we exercise this faith over and over again, we begin to see that Jesus desires us to relate with Him. Then one can truly say, “The rich have their great earthly possessions, kings their vast domains, but I have you — you who are all this and a thousand times more to Me.” While all this is the focus of our interior prayer, don’t forget to ask Our Blessed Mother to teach us how to pray and to teach us how to love Jesus as she does. Lastly, say many times each day, “Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, make my heart like onto Thine.”
1. The Monks of Adoration are currently inactive - 2007/8