Pope Francis and the value of contemplation

“Be deeply convinced of the pre-eminence of the interior life over the active life. You are called to conquer the world spiritually … without becoming part of the world. St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminds the apostle: ‘If you are wise, be a reservoir and not a canal’, because a canal simply lets water run through it without retaining any, while a reservoir begins by filling up before letting itself overflow … By remaining faithful to your meditation, you will nourish this interior life and preserve it from being harmed by your activities.” 

– Pope Paul VI, allocution to the Brazilian College, April 28, 1964

“In the history of the Church there have been some mistakes made on the path towards God. Some have believed that the Living God, the God of Christians can be found on the path of meditation, indeed that we can reach higher through meditation. That’s dangerous! How many are lost on that path, never to return. Yes perhaps they arrive at knowledge of God, but not of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity. They do not arrive at that. It is the path of the Gnostics, no? They are good, they work, but it is not the right path. It’s very complicated and does not lead to a safe harbor.”

Pope Francis, Mass at Casa Santa Marta, July 3, 2013

The pontificate of Pope Francis is significant for its extreme impatience with “passive” spirituality, by which is meant spirituality that is too “vertical” and focused on God alone. Also rejected by this papacy is a rudely caricatured “neopelagian” spirituality, perceived as too much concerned with personal holiness and morality, for purposes of pleasing God rather than serving man (i.e., encountering God in “the other”). This impatience is consistent with the anthropocentric trajectory of Modernism, a jealous idol that places man at the center of all religion. But as Pope Paul VI (of all people!) reminds us, the corporal works of mercy – if they are to be meaningful and sanctifying – must be the result of personal holiness and a God-centered life. Otherwise their benefits are merely temporal.

Pope Francis, I’m afraid, discourages that which is most essential to the Christian life. The somewhat paradoxical result will be a world in which the corporal works of mercy are far less common. The Anglican C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Aim at Heaven at you will get Earth thrown in; aim at Earth and you will get neither.”


One thought on “Pope Francis and the value of contemplation

  1. “they arrive at knowledge of God, not of Jesus Christ”?

    Blessed Cardinal Newman had a different take:

    “But why is this? why do you so little understand the Gospel of your salvation? why are your eyes so dim, and your ears so hard of hearing? why have you so little faith? so little of heaven in your hearts? For this one reason, my brethren, if I must express my meaning in one word, because you so little meditate. You do not meditate, and therefore you are not impressed.

    “What is meditating on Christ? it is simply this, thinking habitually and constantly of Him and of His deeds and sufferings. It is to have Him before our minds as One whom we may contemplate, worship, and address when we rise up, when we lie down, when we eat and drink, when we are at home and abroad, when we are working, or walking, or at rest, when we are alone, and again when we are in company; this is meditating. And by this, and nothing short of this, will our hearts come to feel as they ought. We have stony hearts, hearts as hard as the highways; the history of Christ makes no impression on them. And yet, if we would be saved, we must have tender, sensitive, living hearts; our hearts must be broken, must be broken up like ground, and dug, and watered, and tended, and cultivated, till they become as gardens, gardens of Eden, acceptable to our God, gardens in which the Lord God {42} may walk and dwell; filled, not with briars and thorns, but with all sweet-smelling and useful plants, with heavenly trees and flowers. The dry and barren waste must burst forth into springs of living water. This change must take place in our hearts if we would be saved; in a word, we must have what we have not by nature, faith and love; and how is this to be effected, under God’s grace, but by godly and practical meditation through the day?”

    As well, St. Francis de Sales (and a hundred other saints) would take issue with Pope Francis’ understanding (if it can even be called that) of meditation.


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