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Contemplative Prayer and Openness to God
By Fr. James Farfaglia
November 3rd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
A posture of openness will break off our chains and allow us to turn away from the narcissistic fantasies of our modern culture and find peace in the light of truth.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Together we have explored contemplative prayer as a beautiful form of prayer which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We have also considered two methods of prayer that prepare us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer.
Let us now consider the personal requirements that we need.
The first thing that we need is openness to God. God respects our freedom and he will not force our door open. We need to open it and allow him to enter. Let us recall a beautiful passage from the Sacred Scriptures: "Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him" (Revelation 3: 20).
In the years leading up to my ordination to the priesthood, I did a lot of apostolic work in Spain. People were always extremely friendly, but the ability to find someone who was interested to discuss our Catholic Faith was difficult. I was always struck by the fact that unless there was an active presence of the Neocatechumenal Way or Opus Dei, it was impossible to find anyone under forty years of age in a Sunday parish Mass.
Six months after my December, 1987 ordination to the priesthood, a new assignment brought me back to the United States. One day when I had a little break, I decided to visit a local bookstore, and a new book caught my immediate attention. The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom was featured as one of the new releases for the summer. I saw the title and I instantly said to myself, "that's not true."
With great interest, I purchased the book and as the summer unfolded, I realized that Allan Bloom was right. I was away from normal American life for ten years and the American mind did close.
Openness to God is the most fundamental characteristic that is needed in order for us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer.
The beginning of The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides two models of openness. The first model is Abraham and the second model is Mary. These two spiritual giants show us how we are to respond to God.
"To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to 'hear or listen to') in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 144).
Both Abraham and Mary entrusted themselves to God and they allowed him to lead them through the journey of life. They did not know where they were going, and their only map and compass was their profound faith in God. "Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen" (Hebrews 11: 1).
Contemplative prayer is only possible if we are totally open with God.
Through the gift of contemplative prayer, the Holy Spirit enters into the deep recesses of our soul. Contemplative prayer is impossible if we are not willing to allow God to love us and to lead us along the journey of life.
Sin separates us from God. Moreover, refusing to embrace the Magisterium of the Church and rejecting the Sacrament of Confession thrusts us into the abyss of twisted thinking, unfounded opinion and false ideologies.
Pride produces Pharisaical religious practices, whereas the fruits of the Holy Spirit blossom from a humble soul. "What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5: 22).
Announcing a special year of faith, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "The 'door of faith' (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace" (Porta Fide, 1).
Complete openness to God: this is the first and most important quality necessary for contemplative prayer. A posture of openness will break off our chains and allow us to turn away from the narcissistic fantasies of our modern culture and find peace in the light of truth.
The gospels continually display a two-sided equation: man's search for God and God's search for man.
Man's search for God is expressed with these words of Jesus: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be open to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Luke 11: 15).
Asking, seeking and knocking are three attributes of the person who is open to God and longing for communion with him.
God's search for man is expressed with these words from Sacred Scripture that I have already mentioned: "Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him" (Revelation 3: 20).
In the gospel narrative about the Samaritan woman, we are struck by the fact that Jesus is tired and he stops at the well to rest. The heat is oppressive and Jesus is exhausted. Nevertheless, forgetful of his own personal needs, Jesus is absorbed by an uncontainable desire for the eternal salvation of the Samaritan woman.
Just as Jesus sought the eternal salvation of the Samaritan woman, he seeks us out as well. He continually reaches out to us and desires our eternal salvation.
Contemplative prayer is an immense gift of the Holy Spirit. Openness is the first and most important quality that we need in order to receive this gift.
Father James Farfaglia is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics. You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org.
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