Our Lord’s voice has power, his voice has healing and so the people were drawn to his voice and they listened. As we read in the Gospel, “They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at that place.” And when our Lord saw them his heart was moved with pity for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them, and they listened.
Cardinal Dolan of New York once related a story from a time when he was part of a study group on tour in the Holy Land. One day while hiking, the group encountered two shepherds enjoying conversation and a smoke. And while these two shepherds had been talking their two grazing flocks had become completely mixed together. Through their guide, the group asked how the hundreds of sheep would sort themselves out and follow the correct shepherd. Eager to impress these tourists and probably hoping for a big tip, the two shepherds stood at a distance from one another, yelled something incomprehensible, and began walking in opposite directions. Immediately, the sheep fell in line behind the proper shepherd. And then the two shepherds began to show off, they exchanged clothing and once again stood apart and shouted. So familiar were the shepherds’ voices to the sheep that these cute (but not so bright) animals ignoring the disguised outward appearance again followed their own shepherd. They knew the voice even in disguise, and they listened and they followed.
Do we know our Shepherd’s voice? He’s still speaking to us. How do we hear Him? Can we hear Him in the noise of the world? Or are there conversations, books, shows, movies, songs, images, blogs, or videos that drown out the voice of our Divine Shepherd. Our Shepherd can speak to us anytime or anywhere but to hear him best we need silence. The prophet Elijah never heard our Lord in all the noises of the world. He didn’t hear Him in the wind, or the earthquake, or in the fire, it was only in the silence that Elijah was able to hear our Lord’s still small voice. So we need silence; and in that silence we need contemplation. I believe that all Catholics are called to be contemplatives, this is not something just for the nun in the convent or the monk in the monastery, contemplation is for everyone.
So, what is contemplative prayer? The Catechism tells us that, “Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2715). Contemplation is the prayer of the heart. Contemplative prayer may focus on a word or a saying or one may simply be in the presence of God. It is the prayer of the listening heart. The goal of contemplative prayer is to enter into the presence of God where there are no words, concepts or images. It is the prayer of being in love.
How then do we actually do contemplative prayer? , here are some suggestions that may help you.
In Church before the Blessed Sacrament – sit or kneel. Gaze into the Tabernacle or look into the Monstrance. Be still. Ask Mary to help you to pray. Pray to the Holy Spirit. Then peacefully repeat a word or a phrase: saying Jesus; or Jesus I love you; or Jesus I trust in you; or Father; or Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, etc. Don’t continue to repeat the word or the words over and over again. Only use the word or the phrase when your mind begins to wander. Focus your gaze on the Eucharist. Be open to whatever Jesus is asking of you. Listen.
At home – sit or kneel. Close your eyes. Again, be still. Ask Mary to help you to pray. Pray to the Holy Spirit. As before, repeat a word or a phrase, rooted in the scripture, the creed, a prayer or an aspect of our Christian faith. Do not repeat the word or words over and over again. Remember to use the word only when your mind begins to wander. Focus your gaze on the loving presence of God. If you begin to feel embraced by God, be still and be silent. Just allow the Holy Spirit to pray within you. Listen. Do this for 10, 15, or 20 minutes a day.
A Contemplative Catholic is not made in a day; it takes practice; to be a truly deep contemplative Catholic is the work of a lifetime. It requires solitude, silence, sacrifice, and study. It requires the obedience of faith. But it’s something we can all do. St. Teresa of Avila once said that contemplation is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.
I end with a story. It’s about St. Peter Julian Eymard. His feast day is August 2nd, and his life is one that revolved around the Blessed Sacrament. He would often say, “Without the Blessed Sacrament I should have been lost.” St. Peter Julian was born in France in 1811. When he was 5 years old he wandered away from home. His family searched for hours. They looked everywhere. Finally, after many hours, they found him in the church. Somehow he had dragged a stepladder to the front of the tabernacle. And there he sat on the top with his ear pressed to the door of the tabernacle. When they saw this, they asked, “What are you doing?” And he simply answered, “I’m listening to our Lord.”
May we be as intent on listening to our Lord. His voice has power His voice has healing, may we be that good sheep who knows the voice of his shepherd.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley