July 12th : Our contemplative life
Mass was in French, and was beautiful, representing the best of
French-speaking liturgy. The choir comprised Canadians, Argentineans,
and Czechs, along with one Frenchman. The Vicar of the Congo, Father
Jean-Ruffin Munkuomo, was principal celebrant. He mentioned in the
homily (alighting on a Gospel theme for the day) that the Congo
has many sick to cure, many demons to expel, and, therefore, is
a place where friars ought to be sent in the manner of Jesus' disciples.
has been insisted upon from various quarters of the Order that this
chapter give special emphasis to contemplation. Therefore, this
morning we put to ourselves the questions, How is our contemplative
life?, and How ought it to be? Yesterday the main speaker spoke
of globalization, while insisting that our reaction in the face
of this phenomenon must pass through study and contemplation, since
these activities lie at the very heart of being Dominicans. Let
us move on, therefore, to the search for our being: operari sequitur
esse." Thus we were told by a good friar involved in contemplative
Paul Murray, an Irishman and professor at the Angelicum, a theologian
and poet, took the floor regarding "Recovering the Contemplative
Dimension." The title is a declaration: something has been
lost of the contemplative aspect of our life.
the Vitae fratrum is mentioned, said Murray, a friar who was at
the point of losing his faith on account of his excessive contemplation.
Humbert of Romans too complained of friars who gave themselves to
contemplation but could be counted upon to go and preach. It seems
that his situation is certainly not ours today!
often happens in similar cases, problems arise as soon as one seeks
to define what is meant by the term "contemplation." Murray
cites Hugh of St. Victor, who said that what a man must see in contemplation
and set to writing in the book of his heart are "the needs
of his neighbor." Murray said-citing an ancient author-that
the Dominican must "first see, then must write, and then must
go on his mission. . . . What is needed first is study, then reflection
within the heart, and then preaching."
talk was divided into three parts: Contemplation: A Vision of Christ;
Contemplation: A Vision of the World; Contemplation: A Vision of
the first section Murray took as his guide the Dominican (not the
Carmelite of the same name) John of the Cross, in his book Diálogo,
from the 16th century. What the book reveals above all else is that
the life of contemplation is not elitist, as was thought in those
days, but is open to all, for it is nothing than entering more deeply
into the Gospel, and to pray with simplicity, without rigid norms.
One must feel free to pray as Saint Dominic felt free; liberty in
prayer is one of his principle characteristics. To contemplate the
humanity of Christ, as Saint Teresa, among other spiritual masters,
loved to do, is the first object of contemplation.
the first section Murray took as guides Saint Dominic, Saint Catherine,
Saint Thomas, and Lacordaire. The last said that when he became
a friar he "never lost sight of the world." Congar said
that "there is only one thing that is real, one thing that
is true: to hand oneself over to God!" Humbert of Romans had
already said that in order to give oneself over to preaching one
must first be a "pray-er." Contemplation helps us to be
who we are, and what we are, we are in the world Only out of contemplation
are we free in spirit and thought to know the world. And the God
who is contemplated is also the God Incarnate, present in the world.
For Chenu, "the world is the place where the Word of God takes
the third section Murray discussed the place of neighbor in contemplation.
Love is the Word; without love there is no Christian contemplation,
and we know what Saint John says concerning love of God and neighbor.
After his night prayer Saint Dominic went through the dormitory
to cover the sleeping brethren. "Among all visible creatures,
human nature alone can truly be an altar," said Congar. This
is in the Dominican tradition, found also in Saint Catherine and
Bartolomé de las Casas. Silence is linked to contemplation-but
not a cowardly silence of the type Saint Catherine would condemn,
a silence that fails to decry injustice against a brother.
his conclusion, Fr. Murray recounted a tale of his novitiate, when
he asked one of the older fathers, Cahal Hutchinson. "What
is the secret of Dominican contemplation?" Father Cahal answered,
"never tell the Carmelites or the Jesuits, but we have no secret
other than the Gospel secret! But I will tell you the two great
laws of contemplation: 1. Pray, and 2. Keep at it!"
were questions that followed, some of which pointed out the lack
of mention in the talk of common prayer, in spite of having spoken
of "contemplative fraternity," and above all, how can
what was said be brought to capitular decisions? The latter question
is a matter for those charged with legislating concerning the contemplative
dimension of our life.
the afternoon there was continual search for the friar who would
be Master of the Order. The brethren showed great care in listening
to those who were explaining themselves and answering questions.