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Can ordinary people reach prayer of contemplation?

young man contemplation

Antonio Guillem | Shutterstock

Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 08/06/23

“Prayer is too often reduced to hard and fast rules, is mapped out and labelled and regimented till it hardly seems at all to be the language of the heart.”

What about the prayer of contemplation? Sometimes we presume that’s a prayer form reserved to mystics or to religious cloistered in monasteries. But it’s not so. As Dominican Father Bede Jarrett says in Meditations for Layfolk, a book well worth discovering, “Contemplation is an essential to all those who would live godly in Christ Jesus.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of contemplation as “a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (2715). Contemplation is a focus on Jesus that is “a renunciation of self.” Contemplation “turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ” so as to learn the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” which deepens our love and desire to follow him.

Fr. Jarrett describes our plight. “Prayer is too often reduced to hard and fast rules, is mapped out and labelled and regimented till it hardly seems at all to be the language of the heart. All adventure has gone, all the personal touches, and all the contemplation.” But since “to contemplate is to gaze,” he reassures us that “to contemplate is perfectly simple.”

He walks us through a method. We place our gaze on some mystery of the faith, like the Blessed Trinity, or the cross, or the Eucharist, or the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr. Jarrett explains: 

My mind, lit up by the truth of Revelation which the Church has taught me, is fixed upon some mystery or portion of a mystery. I try to think out the deep meaning of it, then reach the further end of all my knowledge, and wait before the Truth. Slowly, as I gaze, the details, unguessed, unnoticed, will appear, emerging against the more shadowed background. 

Fr. Jarrett then concludes:

This is contemplation: the bare, naked truth, clearing in outline to the soul that is content to watch in silence at the feet of Christ. Then with deep trust I watch and listen for the Voice of God.


Follow Fr. Cameron’s series on prayer here.

PrayerPrayer Is:
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