Monday, June 25, 2012

Talking About Beauty Here

Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go hand in hand. If I am truly to communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to listen to him and look at him lovingly. True love and true friendship are always nourished by the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter may be lived profoundly and personally rather than superficially. And, unfortunately, if this dimension is lacking, sacramental communion itself may become a superficial gesture on our part.

Instead, in true communion, prepared for by the conversation of prayer and of life, we can address words of confidence to the Lord, such as those which rang out just now in the Responsorial Psalm: “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid. / You have loosed my bonds./ I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving /and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps 116[115]:16-17).
Homily, Corpus Christi, 2012

Reflection – The last couple days I think I’ve said all I can say (for now!) about the subject of Eucharistic Adoration. So, while the Pope is continuing to talk about it here, I want to focus on another aspect of the subject, which he alludes to in this section of the homily.

It’s this whole business of contemplation. And I’m not thinking so much of contemplative prayer here, although that is paramount, but rather a certain fundamental attitude towards reality, towards life, towards people, that I think is sorely lacking today.

Our minds are made to dissect, analyze, evaluate, judge. I mean all of that in a good sense—the proper God-given function of our minds is to do these tasks. And they are necessary tasks; if we are to survive, navigate, and thrive in the world we had better be able to do all of the above.

Our hearts are made, not (as we think) to emote or feel or get all fluttery about everything, but to contemplate. That is, our hearts are made to behold, to receive, to be in the presence of ‘the other’, be it a sky, a river, a tree, a flower, a bird, or a person. The receptive stance, the passive stance of simply seeing what is and allowing what is to shape what we are.

I believe that a deep source of our spiritual malaise today is that our minds are cut off from our hearts, or our hearts starved of their proper contemplative function. When that happens, a tree becomes either so many feet of board wood or cords of fire wood or a nuisance or something ‘pretty’. In other words, the tree is not given any room in my awareness outside of its utility to me or lack thereof.

That’s bad enough when it’s a tree which is a creature of God. When we approach persons this way, it is disastrous. I like you; I don’t like him; she can help my career; he’s useless to me; she makes me feel good; he makes me feel bad. And that’s that for all of them. Tragedy! The truth of your being, his being, and her being actually has little if anything to do with whether or not you all (or as they say in the South, all y’all) are useful or useless, pleasurable or displeasing to me.

And when my mind is cut off from my heart, and so all I have is analysis, dissection, and judgment, then all I have is that approach to you. Narcissism follows on this, and a terrible fracturing of communion, a terrible isolation in which each is only connected to each by bonds of utility and mutual benefit.

I’m really talking about beauty here. Contemplation is simply to see that you are you; that you are not made for me, that you have an integrity, a reality, a substantial being that is wholly distinct and not necessarily related to me. And in that contemplation, to see that you are beautiful. Your being, your reality, your substantial whole, your integrity of self, has a beauty, a truth, and a goodness that is wholly itself, with or without me, and my contemplative approach to you is that which alone gives me access to this truth and goodness and beauty.

The same is true of the flowers, the trees, the river, the sky, and the stars. But it is acutely true and vitally important of each human being. And of course this contemplative attitude, this passive receptivity and appreciation, is that which alone opens us up to God and to prayer. Contemplation, the uniting of our heads with our hearts, the privileging of receptivity over judgment, beholding over dissecting, wholeness over analysis—this is the urgent spiritual need of our times, I believe.


  1. Father Denis,
    ..Oh the prils of seeking purity of heart...
    ...How could we pray at all except for Jesus? Here is a prayer for a Wednedsday morning in June:

    O Lord my God,
    Teach my heart this day where and how to see you, Where and how to find you

    YOu have made me and remade,
    And you have bestowed on me
    All the good things I possess,
    And still I do not know you.

    I have not yet done that
    For which I was made to do.

    Teach me to seek you.
    For I cannot seek you
    Unless you teach me,
    Or find you
    Unless you show yourself to me.

    Let me seek you in my desire,
    Let me desire you in my seeking.
    Let me find you by loving you,
    Let me love you when I find you.
    St Anselm


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