January 26, 2011
Stepping Stones Toward Contemplative Union
by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
Several years ago I heard a spiritual writer describe contemplative prayer as “conscious union with God.” If I remember correctly, the writer was Father William Johnston, S.J.
I would like to share some thoughts on contemplative union by offering you the image of a loving couple sitting on a bench and holding hands as they gaze at the sunset. They are enjoying a “conscious union” with each other as they gaze at the lovely western sky. Let me suggest that they are also in “conscious union” with God, insofar as they can see God’s beauty reflected in the setting sun.
Below, I offer several passages from Scripture which I believe provide a good starting point for those longing for contemplative union with God. After each passage, I will follow up with a few personal reflections. I hope the Scripture passages serve as stepping stones that help lead you toward contemplative union with God. If my reflections help you in any way, that would be well and good. If they do not, why not invite the Holy Spirit to break open these passages for you in ways that are helpful for you?
“I am the vine...”
“I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5).
As you ponder these words, let yourself move into a contemplative state of mind and heart and become united consciously with Jesus. Let yourself, the branch, become one with Jesus, the vine. Focus on that intersection point where you, the branch, intersect and become united with Jesus, the vine. Quietly savor the feeling of oneness with Christ who is the Incarnate Word and infinite being. Open yourself to the vastness of the divinity of Jesus, who surrenders himself entirely to you. Taking some deep breaths, surrender yourself humbly to the infinite God who loves you.
“It is no longer I who live...”
“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Open your heart to Christ who lives within you. As in the prayer above, let yourself move into a contemplative state in which you become consciously and silently united to Jesus who lives deep inside you. Savor the feeling of oneness with Christ who is the Incarnate Word of God and who says, as he said to his disciples after his resurrection, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
“[God] is not far...”
“[God] is not far from each of us. For ‘in him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:26-27).
St. Paul, speaking at the Areopagus in Athens, is describing God as the “God who made the world and everything in it” and “who is the Lord of heaven and earth” and the God who “gives to all mortals life and breath.” Open yourself to this vast God who is nevertheless very close to us. Allow yourself to be consciously united with your omnipresent God, in whom you “live and move and have your being.”
“I am standing at the door...”
“I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).
In the first chapter of Revelation, the writer, John, has a vision of the risen Christ. John experiences Jesus’ face to be “like the sun shining in full force” (1:16). When John looked at him, he “fell at his feet as though dead” (1:17). But then the risen Jesus announces: “I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever” (1:18). Thus the stage is set for the above scene—the risen Jesus standing at the door, knocking. How can we best respond to Jesus knocking? We respond by opening the door of our hearts with warm hospitality—and by believing wholeheartedly that the risen Jesus truly wants to enter into our hearts and let us be consciously united with him.
Take several moments to savor this awesome experience of being in communion with our risen Savior. We are also reminded of our opportunity, as Christian believers, to be consciously united with the risen Christ each day in the Eucharist.
Let me conclude, simply, with another Scripture passage, Psalm 62 (verse 2):
“Only in God is my soul at rest” (Psalm 62:2).This is my prayer: May the Spirit continue to guide you into fruitful contemplative union with God, in whom your soul can find its rest.
Being a Faithful Servant Does Not Mean We Are Perfect.
When Jesus speaks of “the faithful servant,” Perhaps a word we can better use is that of fidelity. The basic meaning of fidelity is a commitment to growth and development. In a marriage relationship, fidelity surely means more than just avoiding the sin of infidelity. Faithfulness, fidelity in marriage means that each partner commits himself and herself to continued growth and maturity in their relationship. We are faithful to people, not to things. In fact, when a person becomes more addictive to his hobbies than to his family or to God, something is truly wrong.
But fidelity does not mean “perfection.” As long as we journey on this earth, we are imperfect and wounded. That’s our condition and God knows it. But do you remember who most attracted Jesus and with whom he spent most of his time with? It was not with the self-perfected religious leaders. It was with sinners and outcasts and those who though they were unlovable. Jesus ate with them, called them his friends. Are we different from them? Not all. We fail from time to time. That’s not the time to run FROM Jesus; rather it is the time to run TO him. Jesus’ greatest joy was not raising the dead to life; it was forgiving sinners and calling them back to life.
Marion: Thanks for your kind words. Friar Jim
Jennifer: Thanks for your kind words. I do hope it catches the attention of people who have been shying away from doing this important task. Friar Jim
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