This weekend, the Easter Triduum, and today Easter 2013, has been a very quiet and introspective time for me. Nobody asked me for Easter dinner, but it does not surprise me as I have lost so many personal friends to passing (people in their mid-seventies or older), and they will have their Easter meal with Jesus - what a feast that will be! Well, somehow I do not think it will have to do anything with eating but rather by experiencing 100% of God's intimate love. That's not so much a "feeling" as it is a way of being with Him. That is even possible here on earth and it is in quiet, uninterrupted times such as these that I partake of His Sacred Silence. Now, where did I read about this lately. I read so much and remember so little.
I've written previously about comtemplation, and now that Secular Franciscans hold a share in that spirituality (we always did but it wasn't emphasized), we need to review what we know of comtemplative prayer. First, where does this matter show up in the new "For Up to Now" guidelines?
First there are those, probably few, who have taken private vows. I am one of those, who have taken private vows of Chastity and Obedience. Why I took these private vows is a long discussion and does nothing to add to the subject matter, so just read article 36#1 of the Constitution of the Secular Franciscan Order, which reads: "1. The brothers and sisters who commit themselves with private vows to live in the spirit of the beatitudes and to make themselves more disposed to contemplation and to the service of the fraternities, can be a great help in the spiritual and apostolic development of the SFO.
Also, here's Rule 8 of the Rule of St. Francis for the Secular Franciscan Order: "8. As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do." St. Francis, our founder, really desires us Seculars to contemplate just as the rest of the Franciscan family does.
I have written extensively on this subject in "Ascent to Interior Prayer", see Part 4 written by Br. Craig Driscoll (BC) of the Monks of Adoration (which is an inactive order) where I was a monk from 1997/8 to 2002. (Br. Craig passed away some years ago).
In BC's second paragraph is the first distinction we need to emphasize. Contemplation is "received" - in other words, it is a Gift of God. We, that is, those wishing to pray contemplatively, need to be receptive and ready to use His Gift when He makes it available to us. Generally, that means first and foremost being in the State of Grace! It is also imperative that your soul is at rest. There are no battles going on. There is just the desire to be with Jesus. Imagine sitting next to Jesus as St. John did at the last Supper, leaning very close to each other (if you are familiar with the culture of the times of the last supper, they did not use chairs but sort of sat or leaned on their arms, maybe on something like a bench or stone wall, but in any case images depict them very intimate and close to one another. Contemplation is intimate prayer without words most of the time. BC's third paragraph sort of points this out.
A ways down in brother's writing, you will find these words:
"Contemplative prayer requires sacrifices. These sacrifices are not called for while you are praying but in preparation for your time of prayer. Contemplative prayer requires what monks and nuns have done for centuries—kept silent, stayed home, ignored curiosity about unimportant things, shunned listening to idle talk, etc. All of this comes down to fostering and protecting recollection."
Those words are very important. As a monk I learned that matters of Grace, God, relationship, often do not come without sacrifices. In 1999 at the start of my Novitiate as a monk, I got sick. To this day, I do not understand what it was that made me sick. Someone suggested it was brother's cooking; well, perhaps, but I didn't think so at the time or now. I was sick for about 18 days or so. In bed, mid to high fever, intensely alone (felt as if I had no friends at all), thought I saw things moving in the night, and just as suddenly as the condition arrived, the sickness departed and I felt fine again. And the thought hit me - this was the "Sacrifice" before the relative peace of the Novitiate. And as monks and nuns have indeed done for centuries, I kept silent for 18 days, stayed at home, ignored curiosity about nonessential things, etc... these are all things I have trouble ignoring to this day.
My Canonical Year (e.g. novitiate) was a fine time and when that year was completed I would have made my profession as a monk, but the Monks had not received full Canonical Approbation which was the cause of their demise (as an established Order) later on. A sad business as I was very happy there, and very close to Jesus and Mary.
Now, let me get to Sacred Silence, now that you understand, hopefully, what this has to do with prayer, particularly contemplation. God is 100% at all he does. God does not make mistakes. In his humanity perhaps he made a mistake now or then, but in his Divinity he cannot make mistakes. People who blame God for their lot in life, are wrong, because He is 100% pure and holy and he does not make mistakes. Being 100% also means that the Silence around him is full and limitless. That is so easy to see when all we do is just listen to what goes on around us.... we talk, we accuse, we rarely just listen, we always want to have the last word. God has no such desires (to be the last word) because he IS the last word. He is 100%. So if I wish to be open to the Gift of Contemplation I too must make that near 100% effort to be still and know that He IS God! (We could say "Just shut up and listen" and you'd not be far wrong.)
People who tell us (usually 'ad nauseam') that "The Holy Spirit told me to tell you, that you should [do this or do that]..." they are wrong. The Holy Spirit does not tell those type of stories because the motivation isn't 100% Godly. The people who say these insane things are just trying to get you to do things their way, and often for no good reason. It takes discernment, just like in everything - is this for me, from God, from man, from the devil ... think about it and reject it out of hand!
The Holy Spirit (God) does not speak to us, but He communicates with us in the Silence of our Souls - and when you begin to realize this, you will begin to appreciate the Silence, the Sacred Silence of God. That, my brothers and sisters, is Contemplation.
When you believe it is time to do something else, although you may do this reluctantly, you will have an immense feeling of peace and joy. Sit quietly for a while, and enjoy the Presence of the Lord.
Not everyone is granted these Gifts but when we prepare our souls to receive God in our lives in this manner, He loves us so much that He won't withhold these moments of intimacy from you.
May your heart be aflame with love for God. Amen.
Peace and Good,
Fred S. Schaeffer, OFS
March 31, 2013