Vocations And Contemplative Prayer
In his message for the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Easter, Pope Francis commented, “There can be no promotion of vocations or Christian mission apart from constant contemplative prayer. The Christian life needs to be nourished by attentive listening to God’s word and, above all, by the cultivation of a personal relationship with the Lord in Eucharistic adoration, the privileged ‘place’ for our encounter with God.”
By the very fact of baptism, each of us is called by name to live and proclaim the Gospel. By nature, as marked by baptism, each Christian is personally called to missionary discipleship. Every baptized Christian has a vocation to love God and neighbor, to serve rather than be served, and to lead others to personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ through faithful witness. A daunting task, indeed! Thus, we must take to heart Pope Francis’ point about constant contemplative prayer as being indispensable for promoting vocations and the Christian mission. While the focus for World Day of Prayer for Vocations is primarily on the call to priesthood, diaconate, religious and consecrated life, prayer is imperative for all vocations.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church denotes how essential prayer is to authentic Christian life. Referring to prayer as a vital necessity, the Catechism adds: “Prayer and Christian life are inseparable, for they concern the same love and the same renunciation, proceeding from love; the same filial and loving conformity with the Father’s plan of love; the same transforming union in the Holy Spirit who conforms us more and more to Christ Jesus; the same love for all men, the love with which Jesus has loved us” (CCC 2744-2745). There are various forms of prayer, of course, but our Holy Father has mentioned the particular form of contemplative prayer. One’s prayer life, if it is to be authentic, must necessarily be grounded in the Church’s Deposit of Faith, namely, Scripture and Tradition.
In secular terms, according to the Webster Dictionary, the term “contemplation” involves the act of looking at or thinking about something intently. Contemplative prayer is more than a mere act of the mind. It involves a sense of one’s whole being before God. One could argue that there are levels or degrees of contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer, by nature, includes a meditative practice to center oneself in presence of the Lord. It involves intensely listening and seeing with the heart as well as the ears and mind. Catholics have an array of prayers committed to memory (e.g. The Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, the Memorare, the Act of Contrition, Prayer before Meals, etc.). Whereas, many people readily admit or boast of taking the time to talk to God, the transforming power of prayer is most effective when we are able to simply open ourselves to the voice, presence, grace and movement of the Holy Trinity. The psalms are wonderful means of engaging in contemplative prayer, allowing us to settle ourselves before the Lord. We can especially draw wisdom from Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Whether desiring to discern a personal vocation or seeking to promote vocations in the Church, as Pope Francis points out, we must be willing and able to engage the Lord in contemplative prayer, both as individuals and as a faith community. Contemplative prayer requires that we set aside egos, personal agendas and particular ideologies. In essence, like Jesus on the cross, we must surrender ourselves into the hands of the Father. Through contemplative prayer, the intent is to be transformed by divine grace and will, rather than seeking to impose my desires or opinions on a false God of my own making. Our task as Christians, whatever our particular vocation, is to carry forth the mission of the Gospel to transform the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Anything less renders us susceptible to being transformed by the world. Only through an ongoing personal encounter with Jesus Christ, especially through Word and Sacrament, are we able to maintain the communion with God that is necessary to foster and sustain vocations in our Church. It is God who initiates, who calls. We, in turn, must be ready to respond in accordance with God’s will. Indeed, contemplating God’s plan of salvation, let us pray for vocations and more fully embrace our own vocation. May we have the courage and humility to surrender to Him who knows us better than we know ourselves.