Reflection on the Final Message of the General Congregation
“How to respond to those who ask” (Niagara Falls, 2011)
1. CONTEMPLATIVE RELIGIOUS […]
- This material is only to give some ideas and can be adapted as each community decides.
1. Distribution of handout.
2. Personal reading of the Final Message of the General Congregation 2011.
3. Prayer: St. John of the Cross, 2 Ascent 5, 6-7. “The ray of sunshine upon a smudgy window” (contemplation, transformation, union and purification).
On 12th January 2007, The Washington Post carried out an unusual experiment to try to discover the artistic taste and perception of beauty of the average North American citizen. For this purpose they convinced Joshua Bell, a famous violinist to disguise himself as a beggar, with dirty jeans and a baseball cap. He went to one of the Metro Stations of Washington, and played music from the wonderful concert that a few days previously he had played in the Boston Symphony Hall. Bell declared that it was a strange sensation as he was completely ignored. However, he was quite amused at the whole experience. First of all, playing his Stradivarius, worth about three and a half million dollars, he had managed to earn only 32 dollars and 17 cents. Secondly, Bell learned that sometimes “the most extraordinary things can be happening right beside us and we are not aware of it”. The contemplative is a sentinel who knows how to be aware of the presence of God.
We need, perhaps today more than ever, poets, mystics, and contemplatives, who are able to discover the signs of God's presence. «If union, in its most profound meaning is “God's gazing on the human being”, contemplation will be the “gaze of the human being towards God” and “at every work of God that comes from His hands” […] The loving gaze of God transforms our eyes and our heart so that we can contemplate his mystery», This includes where apparently there are only the outward trappings of ugliness: «One day beauty and ugliness went to bathe in the river. Both took off their clothes and left them on the bank. Ugliness was the first to get out of the water, and being very astute, put on beauty's clothes. When beauty emerged from the water, there was nothing else to do but to put on the clothes left by ugliness. Until today, both beauty and ugliness go about disguised and only contemplative eyes know how to distinguish them».
Contemplation is a window on to beauty, truth and goodness. There are many types of aesthetic surgical operations, varnishes, that can hide a great deal of ugliness, lies and evil (cf. O. Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray). Vice versa, there can be apparent ugliness, sufferings, and desert experiences that can hide the beauty of the Lord.
“Carmel understands the life lived according to the evangelical counsels as the best adapted way to walk towards full transformation in Christ.” (RIVC 7, 9, 19c, 25). The evangelical counsels are a transformative way that leads the Carmelite progressively from the slavery of the “old man” to the freedom of the “new man” (cf. RIVC 16): from the necessity of “survival” to the hope of “poverty”; from the necessity of “control” to the faith of “obedience”; from the necessity of “affectivity” to the love of “chastity”. In the evangelical counsels the “substance” is the transforming love of God, which brings about union and the purification of the individual. In the religious life, Richard Rohr, O.F.M. reminded us, during the General Congregation, that it would be dangerous to mix up “contemplation” with “observation”, or with “introversion”. From one point of view, to contemplate is not the same as to “observe” from a distance or to “look all around”. In “observation” God is reduced to a specimen who is simply analysed in the “laboratory of ideas”. From another perspective, contemplation is a just a desire for introversion, or a type of pseudo-spiritual evasion of reality. Religious consecration, “unites more closely”, and “conforms” us more strictly to the style of life of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. LG 44).
The River Negros and the River Solimões are two tributaries of the Amazon. The River Negros, as its name indicates, has black water. The Solimões, however, is a river of brownish-red water. When the waters of these two rivers meet to flow into the Amazon, they produce a wonderful spectacle. For more than six kilometres, the waters flow together but in parallel fashion, not mixing, forming a highway of two colours. There is black water on the left and ochre on the right. Near the city of Manaus, the great miracle of the union of the two colours takes place. Swirls and small waterfalls act as the mixer and together they form a new chocolate-coloured river: the Amazon. Contemplation never moves on a parallel track to God without ever resulting in a real encounter with Him. Contemplation brings about the meeting, the actual encounter with Christ.
4. Reading Final Message, No. 3-4.
5. Community dialogue.
• What does contemplation mean for you? What can our contemplative spirit give to the Church and the world?
• "Thus the practice of the evangelical counsels is not a renunciation but a means by which we grow in love so as to attain fullness of life in God" (RIVC 25). The evangelical counsels are not just a way of "deification" but also a way of "humanisation". Do the evangelical counsels make us more credible, more human, happier, both personally and as communities? In the community and the Province do we promote a type of poverty that liberates, an obedience that opens us to each other and a kind of chastity that is full of compassion and tenderness? Are there among us personal, communitarian, and Provincial forms of poverty, obedience and chastity that do not come from the Gospel?
• Read and comment on in community Michael Plattig’s conference, "Vivit Dominus Deus Israel in cuius conspectu sto" (Vulgate, 1 Kings 17, 1).
 RATIZINGER, J., "The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty" (Rimini; August 2002). In this article he tries to clarify this paradox (beauty-ugliness) when he comments on the antiphons that precede Psalm 44 in the Liturgy of the Hours (Monday, Week II, Lent and Easter). How can we reconcile these two realities? How is it that «the most handsome of men» (Ps. 44 (45), 2), is «without beauty, without majesty…his face disfigured by suffering (Is 53, 2)?