The urgency of contemplative prayer comes into focus when we begin to ponder the transitory nature of our lives and the precariousness of the society in which we live. We lull ourselves into thinking that things have always been a certain way and therefore will always stay the way we imagine them to be. But this is not the way life is, and time is harshly more linear than it is cyclical. As long as we cling to the delusion that the work-a-day world is unchanging, we are susceptible to catastrophe upending the very purpose of our lives.
Here, our judgment betrays us if we do not allow it to be purified by a new awareness of God in prayer. The faith that animates Christian contemplation knows that the Trinity’s presence is always new – always bringing newness into the world as a foretaste of what is to come. It knows that Christ is sent by the Father in the Holy Spirit that we might have life to the full … but this faith also tells us that we must be ready for this gift. He reveals His glory that we might thrive in praise of it, but if we are distracted by the same cares and anxieties that weigh down everyone else, we miss this extraordinary opportunity to our eternal detriment and the detriment of all those we love.
Matthew 24:37-40 reveals that just before catastrophe, most are mindless about their own impending doom. Even more, the coming of the Lord in glory is catastrophic for those who are cavalier about holy things and how they live. If we live our lives as if our selfish occupations were the only concerns to be concerned about; if we do not allow ourselves to be convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit; if we are not moved by the immensity of the love that burns in the Heart of God for our sake and for the whole world; we too will be overtaken by catastrophe at the coming of the Lord. A fate more terrifying than any flood, doom darker than earthly death, a judgment more severe than time can contain – all of this is what falls on a soul that is not vigilant, but careless in the presence of the Lord.
The Lord is a just judge and His presence demands the complete and total vigilance realized in mental prayer. Such attentive silence helps us be ready to render what is His due, to give an account of ourselves before Him. Indeed, to give such an accounting is the most important, the most sacred of all moments in one’s own personal existence.
Mindful of Divine Judgment, mental prayer makes us vulnerable to the ways that Christ speaks to us in our own conscience. Such a heart to heart with the Lord draws us away from those activities that dissipate our capacity to love and plunges us in the drama of salvation. This inner stillness makes possible the renunciation of all that is not worthy of God’s love and gives the courage to love when love seems impossible. Nothing can better prepare us for His judgment at the evening time of life. At death, when we are infused with the light of His truth, frequent contemplative prayer has already anticipated this finest moment of life.
Contemplation searches for the Holy Mighty One, and it knows that failure to revere Him never allows a man to rise above irreverence. Such mental prayer ponders Him as ultimate Truth supported all the while by the humble realization that failure to obey Him condemns one to a meaningless existence. This prostration of the mind knows that He alone is the Righteous One with the firm conviction that failure to seek His forgiveness is to continue to wallow in guilt and shame. This captivity of thought approaches the Prince of Peace with the sobered awareness that not to welcome Him is to burn with of all kinds of irrational impulses and of unquenchable desires. Such solemn interiority is at once wrenched in astonishment that He has suffered the consequences of our sin while also amazed over the indifference to Divine Mercy that alienates man in misery. This cry of recognition and love knows that He is come to bring Eternal Life and feels with painful sorrow how failure to believe in Him results in eternal death.
The dynamism of Christ’s imminent coming into the world of my own personal existence evokes the urgency of such contemplative prayer. The end of the world is not remote, but ever present, an unfolding reality into which we are all already caught up. As stars fall out of the sky and the earth is shaken, the visible image of the ultimate and absolute love of the Father, the Judge of the Living and the Dead moves the very depths of our being with reverence, obedience, desire for forgiveness and to forgive, sobriety, humility, and living faith. Yet, none of this can ever be if we do not sanction and permit this movement of grace in contemplation. Indeed, in times of supreme trial and tribulation how can we if we do not keep our eyes on Him? The faith that such prayer requires makes obvious how inadequate it is merely to think or wish for such things before His face. Instead, true vigilance in prayer makes a believer choose and beg for the grace to be reverent, obedient, forgiving, sober, and humble before the Risen One before whose personal presence one suddenly finds oneself.
Here, the urgency of contemplative prayer impresses an enfleshed spirituality – one that is full engaged in this world, but not of it. This means a movement indifferent to anything that is not God’s will, but whatever God’s will is to be ever ready and eager to implicate oneself in it unreservedly. As his presence dawns on us in our effort to enter silent stillness, it is not enough to vaguely intend – but we must actually offer, in the concrete moment, spiritual worship with our bodies. The presence of Word made flesh requires that our faith and love be unveiled through our bodily actions, even the words we say. This means in the earthly, nitty-gritty and real day to day relationships and service that make up our daily lives. Prayer that leads away from this enfleshed devotion is not Christian – is not in the pattern of the Savior who humbled Himself, in our likeness, to become the loving servant of all unto death. By the true sacrifices that such an enfleshed spirituality demands, contemplation finds and follows in his footsteps until how we live is animated and radiant with His very life.