instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

What the lay secular contemplative life is not

Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli has been posting on Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's, OP, book Christian Perfection and Contemplation. Steven notes
that the contemplative life seems to come very rapidly (to the cloistered) who have the proper disposition and desire. I think this extends to the lay life, but perhaps requires more time given that one has other repsonsibilities and vocations to attend to. Persons who are married and who have children have a primary responsibility to their spouses and children. This is their primary vocation and one better "achieves perfection" through obedience to the necessity of one's calling than through all the straining at the bit with concomittant neglect of one's spouse and child. Obedience and humility seem to be virtues very highly prized by God, possibly because they foster a greater life of charity. Thus, in the married state, one sacrifices to some extent, what one would rather do (direct ascent to God) to what one is required (and in my case, at least, privileged and overjoyed) to do.
And since this touches on some things I'm thinking through these days, I'll copy over the comments I left at Flos Carmeli:

Great care must be taken, I think (and I think Steven is careful on this), to prevent any inference that marriage interferes with the contemplative life.

What makes the inference pernicious is that it in turn implies marriage is a hindrance to union with God, when in fact it is a principal and even sacramental means to union with God for all married Catholics.

It's a tricky point, since after all marriage actually does interfere with the contemplative life, but the interference isn't a conflict to be resolved, it's a choice to be made. The actual conflict is between marriage and celibacy; the two states in life afford two different levels of "contemplativity," if you will.

A desire for more contemplativity than your state in life affords is no better (and possibly worse) than a desire for less. If a husband desires direct ascent to God, let him pursue it in the watches of the night; if he climbs the mountain instead of caring for his family, he's unlikely to find God waiting for him at the top.

The kind of contemplative rhythym that is a fact of life in monasteries and closed communities is not something someone who is married should attempt to establish for himself. Rather, he should attempt to establish the kind of contemplative rhythym that is (or can be) a fact of life in families.

Married people are not mini-religious, somehow squeezing monastic observance into their lives between the demands of work and family. As a Lay Dominican, I am not part-friar. My Rule isn't that of the First Order of Preachers, with "as best you can"s and "as far as possible"s appended throughout.

I think one of the lessons of Vatican II, which we are still in the process of learning, is that there are many ways to answer the universal call to holiness. It's not that laymen are called to follow an attenuated monastic or clerical ideal, or even an attenuated monastic or clerical ideal tacked onto the obligations of family life. We are called to follow a full-bored lay ideal, an ideal we as a Church are still in the process of discerning.

It might be helpful to distinguish between "living in the presence of God," where one's heart is lifted toward God even as one goes about daily life, and "ascending to God," where the soul is more or less captivated by God Himself and any awareness of daily life dims or fades away entirely. The former satisfies the commandment to pray always, so everyone should seek it. The latter, though, while objectively more desireable than life itself, is not always and everywhere subjectively desireable, by which I mean God does not desire it for everyone at every moment.