Continuing our study of the Capuchin charisms yesterday with Brother Jack, we talked about contemplation and did an exercise in contemplative prayer.
This is not the place to define contemplation or give a history of its practice from a Catholic Christian perspective. It is sufficient here to relate how the Capuchins understand and do contemplation. According to the Capuchin Constitutions contemplation is speaking "to God with the heart." Through sacred texts and images, the friar enters into a holy dialogue with God. In this dialogue the brother seeks to be enveloped by the presence of God. He asks God, in contemplation, to become a prayer itself, a living prayer. Saint Clare speaks of an attentive "gazing upon God'' that leads one through prayerful consideration and meditation into imitation of the One who loves.
Through contemplative prayer, the Capuchins seek the Spirit of God and her holy activity. It is not for their own sake that they strive for this intimate communion with their Creator and Redeemer. The brothers desire for others to see in them the goodness and lovingkindness of God made present in the world. Contemplation is not about feeling good with God. It is not about our own enjoyment of God's holy presence. It is not an end in itself. It is about transformation into the love of God for others.
Minority is one of the two wheels driving the vehicle of fraternity. Contemplation is the other. It is not ministry, and it is not the holy concern for justice, peace, and care of creation. Why not? Why is contemplation a driving value in the Capuchin reform of Franciscan life? Brother Jack puts it this way. When there is conflict, the state, society, and even the Church respond with cruel authority and violent power. But the Capuchins respond with silence.
Without the contemplative dimension, we forget to listen to God and we lose sight of the gifts God has given us in unconditional, ever-sustaining love. When we forget that all we are and all we have comes from God, we begin to lord it over others as if life were of our own making. Contemplation enables us to accept our weakness and our true condition of poverty with gratitude. And we learn to stop acting mindlessly against our brothers and sisters, our human neighbors and all our beloved earthly neighbors. Especially when we start to thinking we are acting righteously and God is always and forever on our side.
In contemplation, the ethical and mystical come together. As we gaze upon God in the person of Jesus Christ, who became one with all people in love poured out for us, we are made one with our God; and our lives are made new, for a new relation to the world in humble service.