Fr. Rudolf V. D'Souza - SUNDAY April. 23, 2017
2nd Sunday of Easter
Year A 2017
Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1.3-9; Jn 20.19-31
Fear forms the part of each and every one of us. We fear of sickness, we are afraid of tragedies and fear enters practically every realm of our life.
Today’s Gospel narrates the impact of the Risen Christ’s presence on the fearful disciples. In symbolic language typical of St. John, the Gospel tells of Jesus’ greeting, his breathing on the disciples and his imparting of the Holy Spirit with the power to forgive and to retain sins. The story of Jesus’ later appearance to Thomas highlights the merit of those who will not have seen Jesus but will believe in his presence and his teaching. In this way Christians will experience “life” (v.31).
The Acts of the Apostles recalls the simple characteristics of Christian life. prayer and the Eucharistic sacrifice, instruction in the faith, life and possessions in common. This simple sincerity wins the admiration of others.
Psalm 118 rejoices in the presence and the power of the Lord. In particular, the Lord has protected and saved the just from persecutions and attacks. The rejection and apparent failure of the psalmist, comparing himself to a stone discarded by the builders, has been turned by the Lord into success and revindication, a cornerstone.
The First Letter of St. Peter speaks of an inheritance that is guaranteed for those reborn as Christians. Even now Christians are filled with a joy that is “indescribable and glorious” (v.8). This joy is capable of bearing the trials of this life, which purify and strengthen faith in our future inheritance. eternal life.
The experience of Jesus Christ. What is evident from the Gospel text is the emotional impact on the disciples of Jesus’ appearance. “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (v20). Our faith is reflected not only in the intellectual content of our belief, but in the experience of the personal presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. We do not see Jesus but we can, and should, experience his presence in our lives. Our faith is not just a guarantee of future happiness; it should also open our minds and hearts now to a real experience of Jesus’ presence.
Catechism references. paragraphs 426-429 deal with Jesus Christ at the heart of catechesis; paragraph 1618 refers to Jesus Christ as the center of all Christian life.
The Christian way of living. The Acts of the Apostles describes the characteristics of Christian life. of living in and for a community. It is so strong that individual possessions are divided among all members according to need. Prayer, work necessary to sustain basic needs, and the giving and receiving of instruction in the faith are part of the Christian’s daily schedule.
Catechism references. paragraphs 787-795 deal with the Church as Body of Christ and communion with Jesus; numbers 949-953 refer to the communion in spiritual goods of the Christian community.
A time of trials. St. Peter reminds the scattered first Christian communities that they “may have to suffer through various trials” (v.6). The text suggests the durability of faith (which includes the experience of joy) even in the midst of suffering. In this sense the experience of faith is worth more than fire-tested gold. This is certainly the testimony of the first Christian martyrs who were sustained by the experience of a rock-solid faith. The text does not imply a “testing by fire” on the part of God, but the Christian’s sustaining experience of faith even though Christians may have to pass through earthly fire.
Catechism references. paragraph 157 refers to the certainty of faith; paragraph 163 speaks of faith as the beginning of eternal life; paragraphs 1817-1821 deal with the virtue of hope and its effects in our lives.
Christians today suffer from reduced expectations. We have come to regard the Christian faith as something like an ointment to be rubbed on in times of need. The faith is reduced to some words of comfort and consolation when there is nothing else to say or to do. It has become a theoretical doctrine, an abstract explanation of ideas.
The center of Christian life is the experience of Jesus Christ. This contact is real, personal and overwhelming. It gives ordinary people a courage and a conviction that they know is worth more than anything they have. It also gives them a real joy that nothing can undermine. We need, as Christians, to have greater expectations; there is a treasure to be found. Christianity is not a present-day palliative for the woes of life, a mere opium for the people; it is the experience of fire within, an unbreakable all-conquering spirit. It is a love that always gives more.
When we consider the Acts of the Apostles’ description of Christian community life one may perhaps think it refers to some strange sect (of which there are many) with its cultish practices disconnected from normal life. We may also think that it is an impossible, impractical ideal of naïve simplicity. Have we become accustomed to a token form of Christian living? What do we think parish life is? Is it inspired by the desire to hold all things in common, to want to live together as Christian brothers and sisters, sharing a common experience of Jesus Christ? Our lives are certainly more complicated than the scattered Christian communities of the first century after Christ, but nothing should impede our desire to live and to build an authentically Christian life in community.
We have the desire to live in communion with others; we know how difficult real, intimate bonds are to achieve and to sustain. We need to re-examine the state of our Christian communion with others, starting with those nearest to us.
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Saturday in the Octave of Easter:Year A - Mark 16:9-15
TYPES AND STAGES OF PRAYER
The word ‘prayer’ in Christian tradition virtually signifies a ‘petition’ or ‘request’ addressed to God and saints. The word ‘prayer’ is a derivative from the Latin precari, which signifies to beg, ask or implore. The Greek word for prayer is euchomai. It is more commonly used with a prefix, proseuchomai, i.e., a forceful vow or wish, or a vow toward someone higher, a wish toward the one that has authority, power etc.
We can classify various types and stages of prayer in Christian tradition. There are innumerable ways by which we can approach Divinity; but we must be convinced that every way must lead us to strengthen our bond with the Lord and with our neighbour. Any prayer aimed at only obtaining satisfaction and contentment cannot be called authentic prayer. The new Catechism of the Church systematically enumerates the various types of prayers we can address to God in faith (cf. CCC 2558-2751). However varied may be the way we express our feelings, emotions and needs to God, we need first of all faith in God and basically this faith should provoke love. The various types and stages of prayer indicate that we are all different. Some of us need many things from God and others need to just thank God. Many want to adore God and others just need to remain in silence before God.
This is the way we learnt to pray right from our childhood. Our parents, brothers and sisters helped us recite and memorize prayers such as Hail Mary, Our Father, the Rosary, Litany, Angelus etc. These prayers became part of our life as we grew. We might have been very faithful in reciting these prayers but often without fully understanding what we were reciting. Later vocal prayers extended with our intentions, petitions, becoming spontaneous prayers of thanksgiving, praise, petition, adoration etc. For an ordinary person vocal prayer is prayer, without which he/she will not even begin the day or any work. According to saints who have written a lot about prayer, vocal prayer is the beginning of a relationship with God. Hence, such prayers should be recited with due attention and concentration. Prayers recited or pronounced without concentration or conviction become nothing but “clanging cymbals” or hypocritical (cf. Mt 7.21).
For Teresa of Avila, there is basically no difference between vocal and mental prayer, provided the basic concept of prayer is understood as ‘loving’ God. Vocal prayer done with attention and concentration is nothing but meditation. Vocal prayer done with deeper love and devotion becomes mental prayer. In vocal prayer we have to mean what we say; in mental prayer we say what we mean. When we say what we mean to a friend, it is always accompanied with love. Hence, any prayer recited or sung with love becomes mental prayer. Therefore, the saint affirms, prayer is not “thinking much but loving much” (Interior Castle IV,1,7). However, in the initial stages she says that “it is a great help to take a good book written in the vernacular in order to recollect ones thoughts and pray well vocally and little by little in order not to grow discouraged (Way 26,x).
We actually cannot make a distinction between mental prayer and vocal prayer if the vocal prayer is to be recited well with an understanding of whom we are speaking to. It is even an obligation that we strive to pray with attention and awareness. We need to disagree with the conventional attitude towards vocal prayer. In vocal prayer we have to apply the mind. If not, vocal prayer cannot be called ‘prayer’. Any recitation to be ‘prayer’ needs the grasp of the recitation. The serious danger in the recitation of vocal prayer is when we recite it by heart. Often the words are pronounced through force of habit, and the prayer remains a sounding cymbal (cf. Mt 7.21). Even vocal prayer recited integrally can lead us to God equally as the contemplative prayer. There are many persons who while praying vocally are raised by God to sublime contemplation. It is because of this that we need to give much attention to reciting vocal prayers well.
‘Meditation’ is initiation into interior prayer. The practice of meditation has been in vogue since ancient times in a variety of contexts. It may serve purely quietist aims, as in the case of certain reclusive mystics. It may be viewed as spiritually or physically restorative and enriching to daily life, as in the case of numerous religious orders and the majority of secular practitioners. Perhaps it may even serve as special, potent preparation for a particular, usually physical or otherwise strenuous activity, as in the case of the warrior before battle or the musician before performance. In recent medical and psychological studies, meditation techniques and a trust in the Divine in prayer have proved effective in skilled practitioners in controlling pulse and respiratory rates and effective to varying degrees in the symptomatic control of migraine headache, hypertension, and hemophilia, among other conditions.
If we meditate consistently on God, a complete revolution takes place in our behavior. Our thoughts make our desire, and our desires are the sculptors of our days. Meditation prevents defeat where defeat is final. In that silence where God is, false desires steal away. If we meditate before we go to bed, our last thought at night will be our first in the morning.
How can I get to know myself and the One Who has called me? Certainly it is not by thinking, for thinking only reflects my conscious being, but by meditating. Meditation done in faith goes beyond the conscious mind into the unconscious. In meditation I can become aware of the ground of my being in matter, in life, in human consciousness. I can experience my solidarity with the universe, with the remotest star in outer space and with the minutest particle in the atom. I can experience my solidarity with every living thing, with the earth, with flowers and trees, with birds and animals, with every human being. I can get beyond all these outer forms of things in time and space and discover the Ground from which they all spring. I can know the Father, the Origin, the source, beyond being and not-being, the One without a second. I can know the birth of all things from this Ground, their coming into being in the Word, the manifestation of the Father and the Self of all beings. I have existed eternally in this Word (cf. Jer 1.4-5; Eph 1.4)) and so have all things, the earth, the flowers, and the birds and the animals. We came forth in the Word from the Father beyond time and space, and there we stand eternally before him.
Be on your guard not to get stuck in meditation with any single experience. Learn to move on. Any experience, howsoever delightful it may be, can create bondage if we do not leave it and move ahead. Any experience, if not moved away from after its time has lapsed, can put fetters on us. And meditation is freedom – freedom unlimited, in fact it is freedom from experience itself. In the beginning we will go through all kinds of experiences – such experiences that may tempt us to cling on to them. If we falter and linger on, we become incapable of climbing higher or delving deeper into unknown territories. And as the mystics say, the ultimate is unknown. It is supreme mystery.
The word ‘mind’ has its etymological base in the expression “to think”. Its broader meanings are ‘interiority’, ‘consciousness’. The word ‘mind’ denotes ‘spatio temporal non extension’, consciousness and partly specifies the ability to think.
The expression ‘mental prayer’ is used often interchangeably with meditation and contemplation. The terms ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’ are also at times used interchangeably. In reality both these terms denote two different levels of prayer. If there is an extended pondering of God’s presence and activity, it is meditation. When there is a total gazing with love and attention on God, it is contemplation. Some saints in their writings call such an activity “inflow of God into the soul”. In normal definitions of meditation there is the domination of reasoning; whereas in contemplation ‘love’ predominates.
Mental prayer entails a lot of risk because most of the time we spend with God might seem useless without much success in obtaining feelings and sentimental fulfilment. The particular feature of ‘mental prayer’ is that it has no specific or fixed formulas. It is a spontaneous elevation of the heart and mind to God through love.
The insistence in this type of prayer is affection on heart level. In any relationship if the heart is not involved, such a relationship becomes shallow and not durable. We need gut level relationship for its continuation. Affective prayer elevates us to God who is our Father. This type of prayer expresses affections like: “O God, you are my God, it is you I seek; for you my body longs and my soul thirsts. When I remember you on my bed I think of you all through the night, for you have been my help; I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you…” (Ps 63.2-7).
The etymological root of the word contemplation is derived from ‘contemplatio’, which signifies, gazing with rapt attention. The word ‘contemplation’ etymologically is derived from the Latin templum, a derivative of tempus, generally translated as “time”. Tempus literally signifies “a division or section of time”. In the Roman tradition templum was assigned to a particular space in the sky or on the earth to read the omens and dreams. Thus, the development of this term finally ended up in a coined word “temple” signifying a sacred place where mysterious rituals were held to discover the divine meaning and purpose. Hence, the word “con – templum” actually signified not so much referring to a place or space, but to the actual “looking” at the inside of reality to grasp its real meaning. The “looking at the inside of reality” is nothing else than penetrating the very essence and grasping the whole instead of the parts. The Greek word for this “grasping of the whole” is theoria, approximates the Latin contemplatio. The word theoria is derived from theorin, signifying “look at something intently and with a purpose”. Some Greek fathers held that the word theoria signified “natural contemplation” which is ‘intently finding the traces of God in created things’. They would rather use another word “theologia” for the highest form of contemplation, which is ‘immediate, direct and total awareness of God’ that leads one to oneness with Him. In the Christian tradition the word ‘contemplation’ is used for non-discursive mental prayer, as distinguished from reflective meditation. In so far as this stage of prayer is to be reached through the normal development of the natural faculties, it is termed ‘acquired contemplation’. When considered as the fruit of supernatural grace, directly acting on the soul, it is known as ‘infused contemplation’.
This type of contemplation can be achieved through personal efforts. It is a process by which we become one with the object of observation. We can enter into contemplation within no time with a beautiful flower, tree, scenery, a bird etc. Even if you watch a flower you will die in the flower. You will forget yourself. You will experience a merging, a melting. Suddenly you will feel you are not, only the flower is. Jesus used to say to his disciples, not only once but many times “If you have eyes – look! If you have ears, hear me!” Those who were around Jesus had eyes just like ours and ears just like ours, but they failed to see and hear. What a truth! Nietzsche declared ‘God is dead’. In fact when we are dead, how can God be alive to us? When we see, we see God, when we hear, we hear Him. When we do not see, do not hear, do not touch and do not speak we are dead to ourselves and equally dead to God. We can find God if we want. When I say ‘I do not see’ certainly that object does not exist for me. This is what natural contemplation is. We become one with creation and with the presence of God. We forget ourselves and we are fully aware of the other. This can happen naturally to us through our own cooperation.
It is in supernatural contemplation that prayer reaches the experience of the all embracing and all encompassing. The object of contemplation is the infinity of the divine life, the marvel of divine creativity, the inexhaustible meaning of the divine self-manifestation. Contemplation means participation in that which transcends the subject-object scheme and therefore the ambiguity of contemplative language is comprehensible.
Here are a few signs to discern if we are on the path to supernatural contemplation. The first is the realisation that one cannot make discursive meditation nor receive satisfaction from it as before. The second sign is an awareness of a disinclination to fix the imagination or sense faculties upon other particular objects, exterior or interior. The third and surest sign is that a person likes to remain alone in loving awareness of God, without particular considerations, in interior peace, quiet and repose, and without the acts and exercises (at least discursive, those in which one progresses from point to point) of the intellect, memory and will, and that he prefers to remain only in the general, loving awareness and knowledge we mentioned, without any particular knowledge or understanding (Ascent II,13,ii-iii-iv).
These are the classical signs that determine practically the precise moment when it is expedient for us to abandon discursive meditation in order to occupy ourselves completely in remaining intent upon God in loving and living faith. They are the strong signals that the time has come for us to cease from our former ways, and to pass on to others. They are the indication given to us that we are passing from the inferior mode of communing with God, called meditation, to a higher and more perfect mode, called contemplation. St. John of the Cross affirms:
“The reason is that now in this state of contemplation, when the soul has left discursive meditation and entered the state of proficient, it is God who works in it. He therefore binds the interior faculties and leaves no support in the intellect, nor satisfaction in the will, nor remembrance in the memory. At this time a person’s own efforts are of no avail, but an obstacle to the interior peace and work God is producing in the spirit through that dryness of sense. Since this peace is something spiritual and delicate, its fruit is quiet, delicate, solitary, satisfying, and peaceful, and far removed from all these other gratification of beginners, which are very palpable and sensory” (Night I,9,vii).
Perhaps some insist that they should proceed forward in contemplation through meditation or reflection. By doing so, they rely too much on their own strength, and this is a mistake since, during the contemplative experience, God leads the soul along a path that is completely different. The former is the way of reflection that resorts to the mind whereas the latter has nothing to do with meditation and reflection. Our heart must be maintained in total quiet at this state, even if we may be convinced that we are wasting our time. In those circumstances, the only thing we can do is to clear our spirit of perceptions and thoughts, meditations and considerations, and abandon ourselves exclusively to a peaceful and loving attention to God. Here John gives a short reflection that is contextual: “many individuals think that they are not praying, when indeed their prayer is intense. Others place high value on their prayer, while it is so little more than non-existant” (Ascent, prologue, vi).
According to St. John of the Cross, the discovery of God and the strengthening of our relationship with Him implies a process, and not fossilisation of our methods. John does not disapprove of our meditating on the Passion, Resurrection and the mysteries of our redemption. He wishes us to go further, however, telling us not to stop halfway, since even the most beautiful painting of God is not God but the reflection of our own idea of God. The praying person “should not interfere with forms of discursive meditation and imaginings. Otherwise his soul will be disquieted and drawn out of its peaceful contentment to distaste and repugnance. And if, as said, scruples about his inactivity arise, he should remember that pacification of soul (making it calm and peaceful, inactive and desire-less) is no small accomplishment” (Ascent II,15,v).
This brings us to understand that supernatural contemplation is attained only through God’s initiative and cannot be forced through personal efforts. This stage in its initial phase is regarded as the advent of a new crisis in spiritual life. It is painful and challenging. This experience of contemplation is given only in faith (cf. Ascent II,10,iv), and through this experience the actual process of union of the soul with God begins (cf. Ascent II,16,8). Through this contemplative experience God joins Himself to the soul in a high and divine degree. In a way, this dark, loving knowledge, which is faith, serves as a means for the divine union in this life as does the light of glory for the clear vision of God in the next (cf. Ascent II,24,iv).
Dr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
 Cf. R. V. D’Souza, Meeting in God Experience, Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, Anand 1999, p. 20.
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