Monday, July 8, 2013

In Defense of the Contemplative Life

 The Holy Father was recently quoted as making remarks that seem to indicate that he feels
 that the “doing of charitable deeds” is the only path to God, and that people who devote themselves to the contemplative life risk “losing themselves along the way”, and that those who “choose the path of penance and fasting” are Pelagians. 

I have only read a brief summary of the Holy Father’s remarks, and decided not to dig any further. Who knows whether he was quoted adequately and accurately? It is not my purpose here to argue with the Pope!

However, I was a little disturbed by the thoughts the report aroused in me, and so I turned to my old favorite, The Cloud of Unknowing, for reassurance about the value of the contemplative life. Here are a few quotes:

What I am describing here is the contemplative work of the spirit. It is this which gives God the greatest delight. For when you fix your love on him, forgetting all else, the saints and angels rejoice and hasten to assist you in every way – though the devils will rage and ceaselessly conspire to thwart you. Your fellow men are marvelously enriched by this work of yours, even if you many not fully understand how; the souls in purgatory are touched, for their suffering is eased by the effects of this work; and of course, your own spirit is purified and strengthened by this contemplative work more than by all others put together. (p. 48)

Therefore, firmly reject all clear ideas however pious or delightful. For I tell you this, one loving blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do. (p. 60)

But when after searching their own conscience and seeking reliable counsel they decide to devote themselves entirely to contemplation, their family and friends descend upon them in a storm of fury and criticism severely reproving them for idleness. These people will unearth every kind of dire tale both true and false about others who have taken up this way of life and ended up in terrible evils. Assuredly, they have nothing good to tell. (p. 72)

Likewise, I think that worldly-minded critics who find fault with contemplatives should also be excused on account of their ignorance, though they are sometimes rude besides…They cannot understand how these young people can cast aside careers and opportunity and set out in simple goodness and sincereity to be God’s special friends. I am certain if any of this made sense to them, they would not carry on as they do…They have experienced only one way of living – their own – and can imagine no other. (p. 73-74)

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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