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Contemplative Prayer and Love

By Fr. James Farfaglia
January 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Suddenly, I thought to myself, "This is it.  This is the agape of the primitive Church.  These ladies really get it."

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - A number of years ago while a group of us were praying the Rosary in front of the local abortion clinic, a young woman carrying an infant approached us.  "My baby is alive today because of all of you." 

She went on to tell us that because of our constant presence, she decided not to enter the clinic and to give birth to her child. 

Immediately, I asked her if she is a Catholic and if she would like to have her baby baptized.  She smiled and said, "Yes, of course."

The baptism took place at one of the Sunday Masses at my previous parish.  The ladies of the parish went into action and organized a large reception for the mother and her newly baptized baby.

I was given the immense privilege of being the only man who was allowed to visit the gathering.  When I entered the parish hall, I could feel the love, the joy and the peace that permeated the group.  The laughter was contagious. 

Suddenly, I thought to myself, "This is it.  This is the agape of the primitive Church.  These ladies really get it."

How amazing it was to encounter the Church of communion rather than so many lifeless faces that occupy numerous pews on Sunday and the outmoded institutional structures that impede growth and evangelization. 

Time flies by like a flash, but it was many years ago when I entered the seminary after finishing four years of college.

One day during spiritual reading in the chapel, the seminarian that was designated to read to us that day began to announce the title of the new book that we were to listen to: "Agape in the New Testament." 

We all looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and wondered to ourselves what on earth is the gap in the New Testament.  Was there something missing in the Bible that we did not know about?

Agape: this is the very essence of the New Testament.  The Greek word agape is translated into English as love, but love does not really do justice for our modern ears so confused as to what love really is. 

The agape (pronounced a-ga-pay) of Christianity is a three dimensional reality: 1) God's love for us; 2) our love for God; and 3) our love for one another. 

This of course reminds us of three well known passages from the Sacred Scriptures.

"We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4: 19). "The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments" (1 John 2: 3).  "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4: 20).

So, what does all of this have to do with contemplative prayer?

"The most intense response of a person to this charism of love [agape] is contemplative prayer.  Contemplating is loving!" (Contemplation, Frances Kelly Nemeck, OMI and Marie Theresa Coombs, Hermit p. 144).

In reality, the agape of Christianity is the indwelling of God in the soul.  Agape is is the soul loving the interior presence of God.  "Agape is God in one person loving God in another" (Nemeck and Coombs, p. 144).

We can then begin to understand why Saint Paul urges us to seek the gift of agape: "But I shall show you a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12: 31).

Contemplating is loving.  And why is this so?  Let us once again turn to Nemeck and Coombs:

"Put very briefly then, contemplation is God's supreme gift (charisma) which enables the soul to love him beyond all words and all thoughts, beyond all specific acts, interior or exterior.  It is just remaining loving God, and all creation in him, with the very love of God himself" (p. 145).

But what about service, ministry and the apostolate?  Let us continue our discussion next week by taking a close look at the contemplative in action. 

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Father James Farfaglia is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.  You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org.

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