Contemplative Prayer

Talk originally given to a group of young people in February 2015

By Dom Benedict Hardy OSB, Prior of Pluscarden


Monastic life doesn’t exist for any particular works of Charity or the Apostolate: people live it simply in order to seek God, to give him the worship that is his due, to live in his presence; to serve him and the Church through a life of prayer. Nowadays people often think such a life must be rather selfish, or self regarding, or useless, but it isn’t at all, and the Church officially endorses it, protects it, wants it, fosters it. She sees her own deepest reality reflected in it. She wants Institutes of the Contemplative Life to exist, and to flourish, because she thinks they are a necessary aspect of her own life, and very fruitful for the up-building of God’s holy people, and for the bringing about of his Kingdom.

The Contemplative Life is expressed in multiform ways, through the whole of life: in work, in community living, in the practice of the Evangelical Counsels, through the Prayer of the Mass and the Divine Office. But what I want to speak about now is Contemplative Prayer as such, or the Prayer of Contemplation.

Pluscarden Abbey. Image by Pawel Rokicki

Pluscarden Abbey. Image by Pawel Rokicki

I think everybody who takes their faith seriously is drawn to the idea of Contemplative Prayer. Gustate et videte, quoniam suavis est Dominus sings the Psalmist (Ps 33/34:8) - Taste and see how good is the Lord. Yes: God is not just an abstract idea, a philosophical premise, a remote unmoved first mover. He’s close: he’s around us and within us; “intimius intimo meo” said St. Augustine: “closer to me than I am to myself”. God made us; he sustains us in being at every moment; he loves us. We can speak to him, directly. He wants us to do so; and he wants to communicate himself - his life - his goodness - his abundance - to us also. In contemplative prayer we encounter God directly. We gaze on him; we worship him; we listen to him; we taste him; and we find the taste very sweet (Canticle 2:3). Anyone who has ever experienced just the faintest aroma, the tiniest hint of this taste will know that it’s better than all possible carnal delights this world could ever offer, all rolled together. To encounter God, directly, in prayer, is to know joy beyond description. It’s to encounter, also, absolute holiness, absolute love; the totality of all goodness; Mercy; Communion; the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In contemplative prayer, with Mary the sister of Martha, we stop chattering, or doing anything else at all; we sit down at the feet of the Lord, and direct our whole attention to him. There, says St. Teresa somewhere, the great thing is not to think much, but to love much. And there, in contemplation, more than elsewhere, God touches us; he lifts us up to himself; he inspires us; he changes us; he strengthens us in faith and hope and love and in all the other virtues; he communicates to us the gifts of the Holy Spirit: perhaps especially the gifts of Wisdom and Understanding.

Unum petii a Domino, hoc requiram: ut inhabitem in domo Domini omnibus diebus vitae meae; ut videam voluptatem Domini, et visitem templum eius (Ps 26/27:4). One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; that I may see the delight of the Lord, and visit his holy Temple.

St. Augustine was very fond of quoting this text. He thought all Christian prayer could be boiled down to this “one thing” that the Psalmist asks for. This “one thing” is the absolute need of all of us: it’s the goal of all our lives. It’s God himself, and fellowship with him in heaven. In heaven we will all finally enter God’s presence; gaze upon him; and delight in that gaze, in communion with all the Saints and all the Angels, in a never ending state of eternal heavenly bliss. If we sacrifice all other things whatever in order to gain this one thing, we will come out rich indeed, and by far the winners of the bargain.

There’s a story of how one day St. John of the Cross was speaking in the convent parlour with a young Carmelite nun. Her name, as it happens, was Sr. Francisca of the Mother of God. The Saint asked her: “In what does your prayer consist?” And she replied: “I consider the beauty of God; and I rejoice that he has such beauty”. John was overwhelmed by the excellence of this response. Under its influence he summoned the whole community and spoke to them all at great length, and in the most sublime terms, about the love of God; and he also was inspired to compose forthwith several stanzas of his unmatched poetry on the same subject.

In principle, then, contemplative prayer is not boring. God is not boring. Heaven will not be boring, and contemplative prayer is a little foretaste, already granted here on earth, of what heaven will be like. In contemplative prayer we do on earth already what we will spend our eternity doing in heaven. Nor can contemplative prayer be thought of as in any way a self indulgence, or a waste of time. As a matter of fact we believe there is no activity on this earth which is either more demanding, or more fruitful. This sort of prayer asks of the person who practises it everything. This sort of prayer also profits the person who practises it in a way that is measured according to God’s own superabundant generosity. The Lord showers down his gifts and graces on the person who prays, beyond all measure, or deserving. As a matter of fact, this sort of prayer also, we believe, draws down countless blessings on the whole world. The world stands in great need of contemplatives. Even a very few may be enough, but ideally there should be many. However focussed their prayer may be on God alone, nevertheless, by the nature of things, it’s always shot through, somehow, with intercession, as well as with praise, and thanksgiving, and sorrow for sin.

If contemplative prayer then is so attractive, so fulfilling, so rich, so beautiful, so blissful: why are true contemplatives so rare? Because as well as always giving more, God also always asks for more. That too actually is all grace and mercy, because it’s good for us to grow in love, not just to be left where we were, but to be stretched and challenged, until we attain the measure of the love of Jesus Christ himself. But the trouble with the love of Jesus Christ is: it was expressed above all through the Cross. So the contemplative is asked to embrace that too, to gaze upon the Cross, to taste it, to know it from the inside, to be conformed to it.

So St. Francis of Assisi, in his hermitage retreat on Mt. Alvernia, is said to have asked God for two favours. First, to experience within himself, or to know, or possess, something of the love which Jesus felt for us, as he hung upon the Cross. Then, secondly, Francis asked to experience within himself, or to know, or possess, something of the pain which Jesus felt, as he hung upon the Cross. According to the legend, those prayers of St. Francis were answered when he was pierced through by the stigmata. He bore in his flesh the five wounds of Jesus. And if history does not quite verify that as securely as we might like, in our own time Francis’ faithful follower, St. Pio of Pietrelcina bore the same stigmata without any possibility of doubt.

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross

So too, St. John of the Cross, master of the Contemplative life, wrote his terrifying treatises The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and the Dark Night of the Soul. I say terrifying, because John is so ruthless in telling us what we need to lose en route to union with God. But his treatises are also inspiring and uplifting of course, and many people love to read them over and over again, because even as John speaks of the fire of purification, and of the desolation and stripping the soul needs to go through before it can come to its final union with the Beloved, John also sings incomparably of the delights of love. He sings of the Dark Night of the Soul - oh happy night! ...Oh night that guided me; oh night more lovely than the dawn, oh night that joined the Beloved with his lover; lover transformed in the Beloved!

One very great disciple of St. John of the Cross was St. Thérèse of Lisieux. No ecstasies, no sublime and uplifting experiences in prayer for her. At least, she had them in childhood, but no sooner over the threshold of the cloister, than they came to an abrupt halt. Then for her, only dryness; only a sense of God’s apparent absence; only a spiritual blankness that apparently lacked any sense of consolation at all. But Thérèse was a great contemplative; and in fact the dryness she experienced was in itself her consolation, and her need. Through it she was able to express her faith and her love. Through it she was able to give everything, as she desired, and through it she worked out her Little Way, which has helped countless others to find God, and to live authentic lives of love, and of apostolic fruitfulness, in the most varied possible circumstances.

I’ve spoken so far a little bit about the agony and the ecstasy of contemplative prayer. Let me just step back a moment now and try to say a little bit in general about its tradition within the Church.

Look up a theological Encyclopaedia, under Contemplation, and immediately, it seems, you find yourself in the middle of a mine field! The subject fairly bristles with technical terms, and subtle distinctions, and countless authoritative theories, each of which appears to contradict all the others! That would seem enough to put anyone off the whole subject! But don’t be put off! Sometimes it can be useful to read this technical stuff, in order to keep our ideas straight, but you don’t need to be learned in the arcane subtleties of mystical theology in order to pray well. One of the very greatest teachers of contemplative prayer in the whole tradition is St. Teresa of Avila, and she didn’t know a thing about academic theology. Of course also anyone serious about growth in prayer will want to read what its greatest practitioners have had to say about it; but again you don’t need to be a scholar in order to pray.

Maybe I should start though briefly with the roots of the tradition, which we find in Holy Scripture.

Holy Scripture, we believe, is God’s own Word. This Word is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. If we want to come to God, we need to read, and to know, Holy Scripture.

In the Old Testament, first of all, we have a divinely inspired account of God seeking out his lost people; and of his people falteringly seeking God. The Old Testament Scriptures remain our Scriptures. They are in many ways summed up in the Psalms, which remain for us a perennial wellspring of prayer.

But in the New Testament we encounter Jesus Christ himself, Son of God, the Lord: crucified for our sins, risen again for our justification (cf. Rm 4:25). Jesus must always remain the supreme teacher and model for our prayer. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church there’s a reproduction of an Icon or illuminated page from an 11th century Byzantine manuscript, now in Mount Athos. Jesus is shown there praying to his Father. The background is gold, a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The disciples stand behind, in a group, observing what Jesus is doing. They are saying, in effect: Lord, teach us to pray (Lk 11:1). And Jesus, the Master of Prayer, invites them to enter his own prayer, to participate in his own filial relationship with his Father, in the Holy Spirit. Jesus also teaches them to pray in words, giving them the Our Father. The Lord’s prayer sums up and encapsulates all Christian Prayer. Through it, with Jesus we turn first to God and cry out with him Abba! Father! St. Paul twice says this is the spontaneous prayer the Holy Spirit calls forth in Christians as a result of their baptism. This cry expresses their adoptive share in Christ’s divine Sonship. The man Jesus cried out in this way to his Father, but also this reflects what the eternal Son in the bosom of the Holy Trinity. He cries to his Father in the Holy Spirit. “Father!” It’s a cry of love, of recognition, of adoration, of thanksgiving for all he is, all he receives from his Father; it’s a cry also of joy, and of self offering, self gift. In Romans Chapter 8, St. Paul indicates that this cry of the Spirit is given to us to make up for our own infantile lack of words. When we don’t know how to pray properly, the Holy Spirit himself prays within us; and this pray is both well understood by God, and entirely in accordance with his mind (cf. Rm 8:27).

During the Last Supper, according to St. John, the Apostle Philip said to Jesus: Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied (Jn 14:8). And Jesus replied: ...Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father. I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. This is very very important. We Christians believe that in Jesus God has perfectly manifested himself; he has shown himself, so that we can see him, and touch him, and hear him, in human form. No one has ever seen God, says St. John in his Prologue. But the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known (Jn 1:18).

Therefore, one of the great themes of St. Teresa of Avila is that we will never be able to dispense with the Sacred Humanity of Jesus. He is our way to the Father, and our only way, and if we think our prayer is so pure and advanced that we no longer need him, or can somehow go beyond him, that is a sure sign we have gone astray. It means we have slipped out of Christianity and into Gnosticism, which is the archetypal heresy in the history of the Church. There’s lots and lots of it about nowadays.


And this is why people like me tend to be rather allergic to modern spiritualities. So often they seem to offer short cuts to God, which effectively by-pass the Humanity of Jesus Christ, and especially by-pass his Cross. That of course makes them very marketable, but also defines them as inauthentic.

These spiritualities typically preach techniques of mindfulness - nothing wrong with that! We need it! They aim at inner peace and harmony - nothing wrong with that either! We like it! But these techniques are not Christian Prayer. In our prayer we actually don’t seek things like inner peace or tranquillity or mindfulness as our goal: we seek God. In the same way we don’t aim at or ask for ecstasies, visions or mystical transformations. To do that would really be a disguised form of spiritual gluttony, scarcely different in principle from what is sought by the takers of mind altering drugs. No:  in our prayer we want simply to worship the Holy Trinity. We come before God in radical and unconditional surrender, holding nothing back. We pray not to change God, but to allow God to change us. So we ask only for his will. We ask to be conformed to the Heart of Jesus. We come before him in perfect simplicity, accepting in advance all he gives us, or all he withholds from us, content with either, so long as we are getting his holy will.

So, in Christian Prayer, the Person of Jesus Christ is important. But I got onto that in the course of speaking about Holy Scripture as the foundation of contemplative prayer, in the great tradition of both East and West. Let me come back to that again now. I think I can scarcely emphasise it sufficiently strongly.

You’ve probably heard of the great Alexandrine theologian on the 3rd century Origen (c. 185-254). Although his writings were later condemned because they contain unorthodox elements, his influence remained fundamental for the whole tradition of East and West. Among the desert Fathers, Evagrius Ponticus (346-399) echoed Origen in dividing the spiritual life into two phases. He calls them in Greek Praktike and Theoretike. Praktike is the indispensable first stage: it means the life of virtue, and especially achieving mastery over one’s passions through ascetic discipline. Once that is accomplished, then Theoretike becomes possible. We could translate that word as “divine contemplation”. But we could also translate it as “understanding of Holy Scripture”, or insight into the profound meaning and unity of Scripture, and especially its spiritual or mystical or allegorical meaning. Theoretike, I should emphasise, is a charismatic grace or gift. It is not simply available to anyone at the turn of a tap. All we can do, or what we have to do, is dispose ourselves for it, and prepare to receive it if the Lord wishes to grant it. If he doesn’t, that’s fine. We shall serve him, and pray to him anyway, as we can, and according to his holy will.

Well: the teaching of Evagrius was transmitted to the Latin West especially through his disciple John Cassian; and St. Benedict explicitly recommends we read John Cassian.

The doctrine that contemplative prayer springs from Spirit-filled reading of Holy Scripture finds a classic exposition in the little treatise of the Carthusian Prior Guigo II. Guigo writes in the 12th century. That was the High Middle ages; the age when the great Cathedrals and Abbeys were springing up like mushrooms all over Europe; the age of St. Bernard, when monasticism enjoyed the height of its influence and expansion. Guigo’s treatise is called Scala claustralium - The Ladder of Monks. The idea of the ladder comes from Genesis, where the Patriarch Jacob dreamed he saw a ladder stretching from earth to heaven. How do we get up this ladder? How do we get to heaven, even while living on this earth? Guigo gives his ladder four rungs: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio. These rungs do not so much set out a programme as describe what typically happens. The first rung is lectio - the reading of holy Scripture. By that Guigo means not necessarily hours spent wading through reams of text, but perhaps the careful and slow consideration of a single verse. The one he chooses as example is from the Beatitudes according to St. Matthew: Beati mundo corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt.

Lectio Divina. Image by the Parish of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe

Lectio Divina. Image by the Parish of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe

From his reading, the monk passes to meditatio, or ruminative reflection on the text he has read. This of itself tends towards prayer - oratio - where he turns directly to God. And from this prayer, as the Lord will, there arises, or may arise, contemplatio.

There, says Guigo, “the Lord breaks in upon the middle of the soul’s prayer. He runs to meet it in all haste, sprinkled with heavenly dew, and anointed with most precious perfumes. At once he restores the weary soul, he slakes its thirst, he feeds its hunger. He makes it forget earthly things. By making it die to itself he gives it new life in a wonderful way, and by making it drunk, he brings it back to its senses.” Guigo sums up the four rungs of his ladder to God like this: “Reading seeks for the sweetness of the blessed life; meditation perceives it; prayer asks for it; contemplation tastes it. Reading puts food into the mouth; meditation chews it up; prayer extracts its flavour; contemplation gives us delight in its sweetness... Reading without meditation remains sterile. Meditation without reading is liable to error. Meditation without prayer is unfruitful. Prayer, when it is fervent, wins contemplation. But to obtain contemplation without prayer would be very rare, and almost miraculous.”

You may have heard a vernacular confirmation of Guigo’s doctrine some years ago from a Southern Baptist Minister. When the ladder was explained to him by a Catholic friend, he was delighted, because it perfectly fitted his own experience. As he put it: “First I reads myself full. Then I thinks myself straight. Then I prays myself hot. Then - I lets myself go”.

There are just one or two more things I really want to say before I bring this talk to an end.

First of all, I must at least mention St. Denys, and negative theology.

St. Denys is sometimes called Pseudo-Denys, because he took the pen name of Dionysius the Areopagite, and very soon after he wrote, it came to be taken for granted that he really was the contemporary and disciple of St. Paul mentioned in Acts. We know nothing for certain about him, but he was almost certainly a Syrian monk of the late 5th century. Denys emphasised the absolute transcendence of God. We can never know God in his essence, although we can experience the effects of his power and love. But God isn’t like anything, so whatever we say about him will be more untrue than true, since he is beyond the range our language can reach. So the encounter with God, for Denys, is an entry into darkness, or a Cloud of Unknowing. St. Thomas Aquinas took Denys as an authority and was strongly influenced by him. So was St. John of the Cross. We speak about Apophatic theology, that is a way of speaking of God that proceeds by way of denial rather than affirmation, of darkness rather than light. So a favourite word of St. John of the Cross then was Nada - Spanish for Nothing. Nada, Nada, Nada he said. Strip everything away that is not God; and when you get there you still can grasp Nothing: but in fact you have Everything.

Cloud of Unknowing. Image by R. Fludd from the Utriusque Cosmi, 1617

Cloud of Unknowing. Image by R. Fludd from the Utriusque Cosmi, 1617

The mediaeval English Treatise The Cloud of Unknowing is a classic statement of the Dionysian theology of contemplative prayer. The author of the Cloud strongly warns that his book is not to be read by everyone indiscriminately. Some people should definitely not read it. It will only confuse them, or lead them astray. But for other people the book will prove a God-send; a liberation; a key to unlock their own door into prayer, and an indication that they may not be mad, perhaps, after all. Many things the Cloud author takes for granted, and therefore does not feel the need to speak about. These include possession of the full Christian and Catholic faith, communion in her life and sacraments, the ordinary life of prayer, the life of fraternal charity. But for him the chief business of life is what he calls “this work”, the work of wordless prayer in God’s presence. He calls this a “simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God” or a “blind praying into a never-ending darkness”. He urges his reader to abandon all images and all thoughts, even good and holy ones, and to enter the Cloud of Forgetting. He recommends we keep our attention fixed by uttering, just occasionally, a word of one syllable, such as “God”, or “love”.

This way is entirely orthodox, and good, if correctly understood. I’d say though that someone drawn towards it would really need a good and competent spiritual director, or they could easily go astray.

I should say, also, that the apophatic way is not the only way of authentic contemplation. St. Teresa and St. Gregory the Great are examples of great contemplatives who favour a much more affirmative, one might say kataphatic theology; a way of light rather than darkness, a way of supernatural vision and insight, a way of fullness, rather than emptiness; of ecstasy, and delight, and rapture. The two ways are not in principle opposed, but complementary; just as John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila preach fundamentally the same doctrine, though in utterly different ways.


I’m coming towards the end: but before I do so I want to speak as briefly as I can about some practicalities.

Stepping into contemplative prayer can require lot of courage. Often it can seem like jumping off a high diving board, not quite sure whether or not there is sufficient water underneath; or like walking blindfold into a completely dark room. We don’t know what to expect; we aren’t in control; we’re perhaps afraid above all of finding nothing there at all. Or we’re afraid that God might ask us of something we don’t feel quite ready to give. If we hope to encounter God in our prayer, we must also be prepared to come face to face with our own radical poverty, and need. Far from revealing us as very superior sorts of people, very spiritual you know, way above the common sort, our contemplative prayer of itself will take away the mask we like to hide behind, and manifest us to ourselves as very wretched, very sinful, very weak. That of course is simply the Truth, and it’s a great blessing to know the Truth and live in it. So Walter Hilton recommends as a sort of mantra: I am nothing; I have nothing; I desire nothing, but Jesus.

Prayer like this can’t be a matter of isolated moments. It has to be the focussed tip of the spear, which is a whole Christian life: a life firmly rooted in Christian doctrine and the sacraments; a life nourished by holy reading, exercised in active charity, already tending towards prayer without ceasing.

I hesitate to give tips for what to do in contemplative prayer, or how to get into it: partly because people are so different, and partly because I don’t feel like any sort of expert at this business. But, for what they are worth, here are some of the things I think:

Image by Mike_tn

Image by Mike_tn

It can be good to come to our prayer, determined to remain still and silent before God for a set time - say half an hour - or a full hour if available - and have no other agenda whatever. No plans; no set meditations; no particular thoughts or prayers lined up. We start by putting ourselves deliberately in God’s presence. Being before the Blessed Sacrament can be really helpful for that; when it is exposed in a monstrance, even more so. One quite good thing to do is imagine Jesus standing or sitting just by you. Another is to be consciously aware that each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is not only outside, and above, but also within. If anyone keeps my word, my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and abide within him (Jn 14:23). Or as St. Paul puts it: You are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells within you (1 Cor 3:16).

As well as putting ourselves into God’s presence, without which we are simply wasting our time, we also have deliberately to put aside our worries, or preoccupations. Now is not the time to dwell on them. Then we ask for help to pray. Teach me to pray Lord, we say; or Deus in adiutorium meum intende; or Veni Sancte Spiritus... Then, just to keep the mind on track, we occasionally or even frequently repeat a word or phrase. Perhaps the holy name of Jesus is enough. Or the holy name of Mary. I haven’t mentioned Our Lady at all so far in this talk: but I presume a life of Christian contemplation must be inconceivable without a very central place given to her. There are plenty of other words or phrases one can say. Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy is a very good one. Or the phrase Hail Mary, or Mary Immaculate, my Mother. Or maybe a Psalm verse. Or take the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer very very slowly, one at a time; or just the first petition to last for the whole time available.

Amidst all this, we encounter dryness and distractions. They are a part of almost universal experience. In face of dryness, we courageously, patiently persevere, full of faith and of hope. Even if we feel nothing, we believe our patient waiting is pleasing to God; and often enough we do feel the very positive effects of our prayer once it has finished. Distractions we gently put aside, as soon as we become aware of them. We look past them, rather than at them. We don’t fight them, so much as pay no attention to them. We restore our focus on God by gently and without worry repeating our word, or words... Sometimes in a half hour of prayer we suddenly realise, in the 29th minute, that we’ve spent the whole time day dreaming. Well, if that’s the case: we make sure the last minute is a good one: and very often it is!

I should say that if we are deliberately and knowingly guilty of sin, and not rejecting it, repenting of it, confessing it, then we can forget any thought of authentic contemplative prayer. The two things are simply incompatible. We have to let go of sin! But also: we have to let go of anything whatever, however good, to which we inordinately cling. God alone suffices, said St. Teresa, and if he doesn’t for us, we can’t be truly open to receive all he wants to give us. “Let go”, they say “and let God”.

Do I recommend any books in particular? That’s a hard one, because there are lots of them. I do think that we should take nourishment that suits us, that helps us. If it doesn’t, find some that does. You don’t have to read everything, but it’s good to know the field, at least a bit. Personally I’d recommend without any hesitation whatever the complete works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Add to that anything at all by St. Thérèse, or Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. The Russian Pilgrim is great. De Caussade is wonderful. Br. Laurence and the Practice of the Presence of God is a classic.

I suppose for me, though, inevitably, the best book after Holy Scripture is the Rule of our Holy Father St. Benedict.

Benedict never once even so much as mentions the word Contemplation. But his Rule sets up a life to foster that, and make it possible, natural, and easy. Benedict leaves to others the task of talking about prayer in detail. Foremost among those others are John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. Benedict himself simply focuses on the Christ-like virtues that are the pre-requisites to growth in Christ-likeness; to union with him in prayer. Of them all, the first is humility. We can never come to an end of growth in humility. Pride is our big problem. Pride is the sin of the devil himself, and humility is the way of the Lord Jesus. After humility, obedience. By obedience we escape from the slavery of self will, and are enabled to do God’s will: every moment of every day. St. Benedict goes on to establish a place where everyone will normally remain silent, for the sake of recollection and prayer. He has his brothers come together frequently for prolonged periods of common prayer, and he makes them engage in healthy manual work.

Image by Xynn Tii  

Image by Xynn Tii


This brings me back to the alternative topic for this talk, which was The Contemplative Life in the Church. The funny thing is, it’s perfectly possible to live monastic life, even in its strictest forms, quite happily and fruitfully, without being a contemplative at all. I think though that probably most people who do live this way of life would have the gift of contemplation, to some degree at least. But another funny thing is: plenty of people who don’t live in monasteries, but on the contrary are caught up in the midst of the hectic world, are profound contemplatives. I know lots of them! They need to be supported, and encouraged, and helped.

Of course I think that if anyone at all feels a call to this kind of prayer, or is aware of an aptitude for it, they should regard it as a precious gift from the Lord. It’s a talent with which they have been entrusted, and which they really should put to good use. Contemplative prayer is not the only way to sanctity, but it certainly is a way towards sanctity: it’s also a very straight path towards purity of heart, and perfect charity, and perfect conformity to the Heart of Jesus, and perfect union with God. According to St. John of the Cross, a single moment of this pure prayer will achieve more, and give more glory to God, than all other works whatever that anyone can perform.