How to Pray in Mystical Contemplation, Part 4: Part 53 Mini-Course on Prayer

Editor’s note:  David Torkington continues his series on prayer with the fourth and final section, “From Meditation to Contemplation”.  Read part 52 here, and begin with part one here.

The Mystic Way Part IV

When going through a particularly testing period in my own spiritual journey some years ago, I could find no one to help or explain what was happening.  

How was I to continue in what I later found was called the Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross? I prayed continually to God for help and the help came from a most unlikely quarter. Tired and exhausted both mentally and spiritually I found myself watching a ‘Western.’  The fort was surrounded by enemy forces and it only seemed a matter of time before the enemy would break in and slaughter the inhabitants. There was only one hope. 

A messenger was sent to pass through enemy lines at dead of night for reinforcements. Just when all seemed lost the trumpet sounded and the cavalry arrived. The messenger came through, reinforcements came and the fort and all its inhabitants were saved. 

Suddenly I saw my predicament more clearly than ever before. I saw what must be done with such simplicity. When we are in the Dark Night, when we find ourselves in a spiritual wilderness and all hell seems to have been let loose within us, there is only one thing to do. That deep primordial desire for God that is deepest within us must become the messenger to raise the siege. We are besieged by all the animal instincts, urges, and drives that rule us from within. We may be rational animals—but from time immemorial history has shown that unaided human reason is incapable of reining in the powers of evil that hold us captive. Only one thing and one thing alone can save us and that is love, the love implanted deep down within us by God when he created us by his love in his own image and likeness. We cannot possibly defeat the powers of evil that hold us in its thrall. They surround us, just as they surround others, just as they surround the Church to which we belong and the world into which we have been born. History is the story of what this evil has done to the human race and will continue to do unless help is sought.

A messenger has to be sent

Our predicament can now be seen in its stark simplicity. We cannot possibly overcome the powers of evil in ourselves, never mind in others, let alone in the world in which we live. Only one thing can help us and that is reinforcements. A messenger has to be sent. Fortunately the messenger is deep down within us. It is the deep down primeval desire for the fullness of love that ultimately resides in God. The sort of prayer I have been describing has one purpose and one purpose alone: to help support and guide our weak human love through the forbidding powers of evil that rise from our lower selves which seem to have formed a dark threatening cloud to contain and rule us and prevent all forms of escape. 

Our prayer, albeit in darkness that at first seems purposeless and futile, is our only hope for the messenger must get through; love must pierce through the dark clouds that seem to incarcerate us. If we try any other way we will be doomed to failure and may be destroyed in the process of trying to do what only God can do with the reinforcements that only he can bring. Eventually, after many months or rather many years of practicing selfless giving in prayer, our purified loving eventually gets through. It has been so purified that it reaches out and into God where our weak human loving is transformed by his. 

Now our love becomes like the lightning conductor that directs the love of God down to raise the siege. Now and only now can the powers of evil be confronted and confounded. As Jesus said to Martha, only one thing is necessary and that one thing is love. This is the only power that we possess that if purified and refined can be united with the only love that can transform us and make us new.

Very simple but not easy

It can now be seen how ultimately the spiritual life is so simple, although I do not say easy. It is so simple that the most unlettered among us can both see and live it. This is not the wishy-washy, here-today-gone-tomorrow sort of love the world thinks is the real thing. This is the love that is learned in years by endlessly giving without receiving. This is the true love that can alone change us on earth and prepare us for the fulness of love in heaven. 

The sadness is that all too often many scholars spend their lives in abstract theological thought and speculation and so are blinded by multiplicity from seeing with the simplicity that characterizes the teaching of Jesus. All too often, instead of seeing the simple truth they only complicate it, and far from guiding the faithful they bamboozle them and even mislead them with the latest fashionable falsehoods. The history of spirituality shows time and time again that God hides his most profound truths revealing them only to the simple and humble of heart. ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.’ (Matthew 11:25).

Enter St. Margaret Mary

When in the aftermath of Quietism the mystical theology that emphasized the ever-presence of God’s love and how our love can be purified to receive it, fell into abeyance, a new devotion came to the rescue. It was thanks to the revelations given to St. Margaret Mary that a new popular devotion began to represent not just Christ as he was, but as he is now, with a glorified body bursting with uncreated love. The Sacred Heart is the same as the Pantocrator, but now he does not appear as distant, for he rules with all the human love that filled Jesus whilst he was on earth but transformed by what became of him in heaven.

When a new brand of theologians were beguiled by what came to be called the ‘New Theology’, many quasi-intellectuals like me were guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Many ancient and proven Catholic devotions like devotion to the Sacred Heart were disdained if not discarded. This was a scandal.  After all, who is the Sacred Heart but Our Risen Lord burning with love for us, presented in a way that all can be inspired and revitalized by his love? The Sacred Heart is not just incarnate love but incarnate loving, who will transform all who open their hearts to receive him.

Counteracting ‘Catholic Calvinism’ or Jansenism

If devotion to the Sacred Heart has at times been trivialized by bad taste in the cult surrounding it, and the art used to promote it, it should nevertheless not be forgotten as it proclaims a profound truth—the central truth of our faith. Jesus is not dead, he has risen and is alive now, bursting with uncreated life and love that pours out of his heart relentlessly and into the hearts of all who would receive him. For two centuries this devotion counteracted the damage done to a Catholic spirituality shorn of mystical theology. It also helped to counteract a form of ‘Catholic Calvinism’ or Jansenism that grew up and spread from France with its narrow-minded ‘kill-joy’ moralism. The Sacred Heart proclaims the love of the Risen Christ in a way that even the simplest can understand. No one should allow their artistic sensibilities to prevent them from appreciating this profound truth that was revealed in a unique way to St. Margaret Mary. I am quite clear in my own mind that these revelations represented God’s divine intervention to set before everyone in the clearest possible way the reality that his love is always with us, ever present to those with hearts open to receive it. If there is no statue to the Sacred Heart in the church to remind us of his loving presence, then the sanctuary lamp is there to remind us, too.

A Young Crusader

When I was a young teenager I was a rosary crusader in my first fervor, not only dedicated to spreading the rosary that Our Lady of Fatima asked us to say, but something else. We wanted to lobby all parish priests to ensure that the sanctuary lamp was enclosed in a container of rich red glass to symbolize the fire of God’s love bursting out of his Son present in the tabernacle. That this love is ever present to us is of no doubt. That is not in question. The question is, what are we doing to receive it? We have sadly been doing so little and that is why in the past two centuries Our Lady has appeared time and again with one and the same message. The message is to repent and pray and in particular say the rosary. It is only by praying and in the act of praying that repentance is practiced. For it is only by daily turning away from self-absorption that we can become absorbed in the love of God that is continually poured out upon us by his son, Jesus Christ. God continually loves us and that is why he continually remains with us. But if we continually refuse to listen to Our Lady, that love can do nothing for us or for the Church which is in such desperate need. 

Lord, that we may see. Lord, that we may hear. Lord, that we may rise again from the dead, that your kingdom of love may come in us and through us into your ailing Church.  

David Torkington is the author of Wisdom from the Western Isles and Wisdom from the Christian Mystics which complement this series.


Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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