As we continue in our Advent journey, we hear St. John the Baptist proclaim in the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent: prepare for the Kingdom! Many prophets of old had similar proclamations, but then St. John the Baptist, as the precursor of the Lord, the one who was to prepare His way, takes it to the next level: prepare for the King! Advent is about preparing our hearts for a deeper union with the Lord Jesus, this King Who left His throne in glory to come among us, that we would see the face of the Father’s mercy and know His love.
Pope St. John Paul the Great constantly spoke of the four pillars of our spiritual life: the contemplative, the charismatic, the Marian, and the Eucharistic. As we reflect on the coming of the King, we will be reflecting on our approach to these pillars during this Season.
The contemplative pillar is one that is frequently misunderstood, and often seen as something just for religious, or people who are more contemplative ‘by nature.’ Yet, as we read the great mystics of the Church, we see that the Lord Jesus inspired them to remind all of us that built into the very fabric of our baptism is a call to the deeper union with the Lord Jesus that is the whole point of contemplative prayer. This call is His invitation to us; it is intimately connected with His reminder to us: “I call you friends.”
How do we grow in deeper union, in that friendship with the Lord Jesus? As with any friendship, it begins by getting to know the person, or in this case the Person. We share our lives with Him through prayer, and in a particular way He shares His life with us through our prayerful reading of the Scriptures. Lectio Divina is a particularly useful way to do this.
This first stage in our friendship is the ‘getting to know you’ phase. To spend part of our prayer time everyday just getting to know Him is crucial if we are to grow into that deeper friendship He has for us.
As we get to know Him better, especially through the Scriptures, then what becomes more a part of our prayer is our choosing to love Him, and to express that love to Him. You cannot love what (or Whom) you do not know, but the more you get to know Him, the more you can choose to love Him. The second phase of the contemplative journey is focused on loving Him.
In the third phase, we experience more concretely Him loving us. This is contemplation in the strict sense, or, as the mystics term it: “infused contemplation.” This is not a special gift reserved for the chosen few, however. It is a gift that is meant for all of us and if we continue to pursue Him and cooperate with His grace, it is where He will lead us. In this phase, it is not so much about what we do, it is about what He Himself begins to do in us. The first two phases have prepared us for this wonderful gift of contemplation. If we actively cooperate with this gift, the Presence of the Lord Jesus and His love will be ever more tangible and real. We will come to that place where the Lord Jesus Himself is the most real Person in our lives.
To help us to grow in our knowledge of this gift of contemplation we are all called to, the Lord Jesus has inspired wonderful authors to flesh out this approach, so we can more deeply understand and therefore more deeply cooperate. One of the best books for this is The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila). This great lady Doctor of the Church lays out the path that helps us receive the fullness of what the King has for us. Similar is St. John of the Cross’ The Ascent of Mt. Carmel. Hannah Hurnard has also written a wonderful precis of this approach to deeper union with the King: Hinds Feet on High Places. If we are in the getting to know you phase, these works can be of great assistance as we prepare our hearts for more of the King! — Fr. Ed