Just What is Contemplation, Anyway? And Why Should I Care?

Carl McColman | 5/16/2018 | Staff
elio25 (Posted by) Level 3
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A Jesuit priest, a Trappist monk, and a Tibetan buddhist walked into a bar.

(No, this is not a joke).

Sign - Bar - Drinks - Everyone - Party

A sign above the bar said, “Free drinks to everyone in your party, if you can all agree on a definition of the word “contemplation.”

Two hours later, the Buddhist and the two Catholics were very thirsty — and still arguing.

Contemplation - Words - Things - People - People

Contemplation is one of those words that, frankly, means different things to different people. Even religious people can’t figure it out. And as soon as you start talking about different religions (like Christian and Buddhist), or throw in secular perspectives as well, well, the water just keeps getting muddier and muddier.

Many candles, one light.

Contemplation

So What Is Contemplation?

Here are a few definitions of contemplation — to illustrate my point.

Catechism - Catholic - Church - Contemplation - Gaze

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines contemplation as “a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus… This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.”

Meanwhile, in his book New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton offers this grouchy response: contemplation “is a misleading word in many respects. It raises great hopes that are all too likely to be illusory because misunderstood. It can become almost a magic word, or if not magic, then inspirational, which is almost as bad. But the worst disadvantage of the word is that it sounds like ‘something,’ an objective quality, a spiritual commodity that one can procure, something that it is good to have; something which,...
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