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July 12th : Our contemplative life

Today's 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.

It 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 theology.

Father 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.

In 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!

As 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."

Murray's talk was divided into three parts: Contemplation: A Vision of Christ; Contemplation: A Vision of the World; Contemplation: A Vision of our Neighbor.

In 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.

In 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 on meaning."

In 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.

In 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!"

There 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.

In 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.

[Translated from Spanish] puce

 

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