Sunday, July 08, 2007

Contemplative Nuns Offer a School of Prayer

Today we celebrated the sixth anniversary of our first meal in this very new monastery on July 8, 2001. We were celebrating the 89th birthday of one of the sisters who came to Esopus in 1957 to make this new foundation of Redemptoristines. Sr. Mary Catherine Parks (see May 13, 2007 post for details of her life - Archives available near the end of the sidebar) enjoyed our pizza supper in a very bare house. We all had a thrill at Vespers before supper. It was the first time we prayed together in the new chapel. This was sung Vespers II of Sunday. Our choir chairs had not yet been delivered so we had no choice but to sit in the bench seats built into the rear wall. When we began to sing we all knew we had never sounded so good before. The acoustics provided by the built-in seats and the overhang above them were so impressive that we scared ourselves. That experience provided much needed energy for the demand of the next day. Moving day, we knew, would be bittersweet. Giving up the old monastery filled with memories, stories and ghosts was a very difficult break but our voices that night gave us courage and hope for the future - a continuation of that same life of prayer and contemplation, always in God's house.

And our Lay Associate Meeting.....

The documents of our Church concerning contemplative monasteries have encourged them to become "schools of prayer" for all God-seekers. Our Lay Associate Program is one of our efforts to bring life to that recommendation.

Prayer before our meeting today included readings from St. Anselm's Proslogion and St. Augustine's Commentary on the Psalms. St. Anlsem calls us to come away from the hustle and bustle of life and enter into the search for God. It ends in the most beautiful prayer pleading to be allowed to find God. St. Augustine speaks such comforting words about the desire for God is in and of itself a prayer. Both of these appear in the Office of Readings for the Advent season.

I asked our associates to consider two questions during their meditation: What is the current state of your prayer life - your practice of prayer? What is your desire for your prayer life?

We began the meeting afterward by sharing some of those desires - perseverance, deepening, growing, finding it easier to "go to that place of calm and peace." It is not my intention to post here a treatise on contemplative prayer nor did I want to put listeners to sleep this afternoon with a lofty lecture. Wanted it to be practical and encouraging. Here some of the points that emerged.

* Contemplative Prayer is not a method. It is a state of utter availability for God; of openness, of exclusive listening, of pure love, of the fixed gaze. We may use some 'method' as a transition to contemplative prayer to quiet ourselves or 'center' ourselves but these prat ices are not in themselves contemplative prayer.

* The ego can have no part here so the effort is made to put everything aside - noise, visualization, conversation and stray thoughts as much as possible.

* Contemplative prayer (infused contemplation) is also called mystical prayer and is the work of God alone. We do not make it happen. We prepare. We dispose ourselves. We invite God. We surrender. God does everything else.

* Meditation prepares for Liturgy and both of these prepare the heart for contemplation. Contemplation is, in a way, the natural response for those who have entered into these in love and faith.

* Contemplative prayer is not easy. Here we meet our own 'creatureliness' - our bodily discomforts, our destractionss, our lack of discipline, perhaps even a dark night of the soul or a crisis of faith.

* Every time we are distracted during our period of contemplative prayer, recognize the distraction, put it aside and re-enter that state of total surrender and availability we are saying, in effect, "I love you." Distraction do not negate the value of this prayer.

* When St. John Vianney observed an old peasant spending hours sitting in Church he asked them man, "What are you doing while you are sitting here?" The man answered, "I look at God and God looks at me." This description of the fixed gaze is cited in the section concerning contemplative prayer in Catechism of the Catholic Church.

* Great resources for spiritual reading include:

The Cloud of Unknowing (13th century spiritual classic)

Contemplative Prayer, New Seeds of Contemplation and The Inner Experience
all by Thomas Merton

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