Editor’s note: David Torkington continues his series on prayer with the fourth and final section, “From Meditation to Contemplation”. Read part 56 here, and begin with part one here.
The Mystic Way Part IV
Anyone who has known moments of intense joy will know that these experiences would be diminished if they could not be shared with another. Surely this is why God created other beings to receive and return his love, to know and experience true joy on earth and the fullness of happiness in the world to come. This is why he created both male and female, to bring to birth others who would enjoy forever the happiness of loving and being loved by God for all eternity. The very fact that in doing this would not add a single jot or iota to his own happiness makes God’s plan all the more incredible, and all the more adorable.
Whenever I am invited to a wedding I wonder whether the couple is aware of the privilege that God has bestowed upon them. Their mutual loving binds them more deeply to each other, but also to God who has destined them to generate new beings. Their children will not only populate the world but heaven too, where they are destined to experience the ever-expanding ecstatic bliss of contemplating the infinite glory of God to eternity. I wonder if they are aware of their responsibility to help prepare their children for this otherworldly destiny, most of all by bestowing on them their mutual love. It is this above all else that they are called to deepen and enrich with each passing day.
I find it awe-inspiring to realize that God’s breathtaking plan to share his glory with others depends on the love of ordinary mortal men and women, stained by original sin yet called to this sublime Sacrament of Love. Without their cooperation, God’s plan could not be brought to completion.
The Marriage Feast at Cana
It was not just accidental that Christ’s first miracle was performed at Cana in Galilee, nor was it accidental that the wine ran out. This was the necessary precursor for what followed. St. John did not refer to what happens next as a miracle, but rather as a sign. In fact, he calls all his miracles signs, for what they signify is far more important than the miracle itself. The miracles happened at particular moments in history—but what they signified is for all time. The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand would be a sign that he would feed many myriad millions more with his own body and blood. The miracles of raising Lazarus from the dead would be a sign that he would raise all from the dead who believed in him, and the miracle of giving sight to the man born blind, that he would give spiritual sight to those in need of his wisdom.
In the same way, the miracle at Cana was a sign that married love would become a sign that natural human loving would, in the future, become supernatural loving. The water of human love would, by virtue of the Sacrament of Marriage, be surcharged with the wine of Christ’s own life and love. They would not only receive this love on their wedding day but every day, enabling their weak human love to be permeated by the divine. As the ministers of holy matrimony, the couple who are wed transmit not just their own human love to one another, but Christ’s own love, the love of the Holy Spirit to fortify and strengthen their own. That is why they are each able to reach out, not just to one another’s bodies but to their very souls. Those who are aware of this often call each other soul mates for that reason. It is only the mutual giving and living for one another that can induce divine love to enter into human loving, enabling it to rise to as much perfection as is possible in this life.
Now that their human love is mingled with the divine, each can penetrate the primeval desire for God that abides deep down in the other, enabling them to love God and each other simultaneously, strengthening and supporting each other. This is the quality of mutual loving that leads to the generation of new and very special children to people God’s kingdom in this world and in the next. It overflows onto them, as they grow from childhood to adulthood preparing them to do for their own future families what their parents did for them. In this way, more and more of those created in God’s image and likeness through marital loving will find their fulfillment and final destiny in him.
Participating in the Death and Resurrection of Christ
As the temptation to act selfishly would always be there, so too would the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when after confessing to one another, they would seek God’s forgiveness for transgressing against this holy Sacrament of Love. They are the ministers of this Sacrament, so it is in their daily dying to self that they minister God’s love to one another and so participate in the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection by being drawn ever more deeply into the mystical body of Christ. As they try to love one another and their children, their love synchronizes with the loving of their risen Lord. It is in this act of contemplative loving that they will first glimpse the glory which will one day be theirs to enjoy together for all eternity.
A Lesson in Mystical Theology from my Father
All that I have said and written about the quality of love that is born in the Dark Night applies in every detail to the Dark Nights that all married couples will experience, both in prayer and in their married life. It is not in spite of them but because of them that their love will grow ever deeper and ever more profound with the years. From the very beginning, mystics have used the analogy of human love to explain and understand divine love, and the beautiful ‘Song of Songs’ was used time and time again by the Fathers of the Church with which to describe the journey along the mystic way. This song would have been sung by Jesus himself with his disciples at the marriage that he attended at Cana. It was always sung by the wedding guests as they accompanied the bride from her old home to the new home of her husband.
I only really came to understand the profound correlation between human and divine loving after my mother died. As I have related many times, my father came into my room with a cup of tea after his sleepless nights. He told me the story of his love for my mother over their long and fruitful marriage. He told me that in the last eighteen months of his life he had been closer to her and loved her more dearly and more deeply than at any other time in their married life. I have told this story in detail in my book Wisdom from the Western Isles because it enabled me to see the mystic way as never before, and from the lips of my own father. If you have no time to read the book listen to the story in the podcast of a retreat I gave some years ago in Belmont Abbey.
Contemplation is Learned at the Mother’s Breast
I know as a matter of fact, that if it was not for my parents’ holy love for one another that overflowed on to me, my life would have been quite different. If it was not for them and their love that gave me such inner confidence and security I would never have been able to push on through many dark nights. I would never have come so far in my life without them nor would I have been able to write this and many other books on mystical theology. Whatever I have accomplished by the grace of God that first came to me through their love, continues to sustain me although they have been dead for forty years. It was for this reason that St. Bonaventure wrote that ‘contemplation is learned at the mother’s breast’. He was speaking both metaphorically and really.
Where the Saints First Learned to Love and to Be Loved
When next you recite the litany of the saints you will be asking many great men and women to pray for you. You will be praying to great saints, mystics and martyrs, the founders of the great monastic, mendicant and apostolic orders, renowned Popes, Bishops and Priests and holy teachers, writers and Doctors of the Church who all have one thing in common: they all had fathers and mothers and for most of them it was the sacramental loving that they received from their parents that was the making of them.
In some of the darkest days that Catholic spirituality has undergone, when all seemed lost, it was the Sacrament of Marriage that has come to the rescue. When the ministers of the other Sacraments failed the Church, it was the ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage who came to our aid. ‘The love that springs eternal’ continued to rise in them to become sacramental as they ministered that love to each other and to their families. We have need of such leadership in the Church today perhaps, more than at any other time. The place from where they will come is from good, loving, caring Catholic marriages. Now is the time for the laity to take the lead with the help of the one whom I have called ‘my senior partner,’ the Holy Spirit.
The Family that Prays Together
All the sacraments have two things in common. First, they channel the love of God through the heart of Christ to human hearts. Then through prayer, those human hearts must be prepared through purification to receive that love. So, for marriage, as in all the sacraments, the importance of prayer is paramount for its success. By this I mean the prayer that precedes the marriage and the prayer that must always accompany any successful marriage. Then the old adage will come true that ‘the family that prays together will stay together.’ If, as the years go by, they are physically separated, they will nevertheless always be spiritually one. Not even death will mean separation, because in Christ they will all be reunited together once more, to travel as one on the final journey into the fullness of love.
Here they will experience loving and being loved in ever greater measure and will see how they and all their loved ones become transformed and transfigured like Christ before them. The joy that each experiences will be multiplied many times over to see that what is happening to them is happening to all they have loved and held dear. Then all they will want to do and say is, ‘Thanks be to God,’ Deo Gratias and Gloria in Excelsis Deo. All they ever wanted, all they ever yearned for, all they ever desired, has been brought to completion beyond even their wildest dreams.
David Torkington is the author of Wisdom from the Western Isles and Wisdom from the Christian Mystics which complement this series.