As we have emphasized in this column before, God the Son as Jesus Christ became one among us to be our role-model as a human person of profound love, compassion, justice, and peace. All this was possible as a result of his being a contemplative. This is mentioned in today’s Gospel reading. “After doing so, he went up on the mountain himself to pray.” (Mt. 14:23) The Gospel of St. Mark expresses a similar situation. “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” (Mk.1:35). And St. Luke’s Gospel is no less. “The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” (Lk. 5:15-16). In the next chapter of Luke’s Gospel: “In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God.” (Lk. 6:12).
The result of this was his becoming a man-of-action. After the contemplation comes the action. His teaching and preaching, his numerous cures of paralytics and other diseases, his feeding the hungry by the thousands, his raising of the dead to life again, and so many other acts of love and compassion. Christ is the perfect Contemplative-In-Action. And this is what He is inviting his disciples to follow. This means you and me, no less.
A middle-aged couple had been arguing and fighting so often to the point of their decision to separate and end their marriage. A close friend invited them to join a coming weekend Ignatian retreat as a last effort to save their marriage. Both husband and wife were very hesitant to go, but they joined the retreat as a way of pleasing their friend. Lo and behold. No less than a spiritual miracle happened. The retreat director guided the retreatants on how to contemplate as the mature way of praying and personally experiencing God’s spiritual presence within each one of them. They must have been deeply loved by God, because He really drew them close to His heart. No less than a love-triangle came to their life: husband, wife, and God. After that retreat, our couple continued to practice what God gifted them with. They learned to set aside their egos, and were able to relate to each other with empathy and compassion. They then joined the active apostolic group in their parish, and soon became leaders in reaching out to the poor in their parish. And even if they were not really well-to-do, they generously shared their material possessions, including their food and clothing, with those who had less. They started giving inspirational talks to various parishes, and they became literally Christlike in their way of living. Contemplatives-in-action. Their own children gradually picked up their ways and lifestyle, and they soon became what we call a family-for-others.
Unfortunately, so many of our Christian couples go to Mass regularly, as well as pray novenas and rosaries. But they are not yet contemplatives-in-action, as Christ was and is. Often enough, their prayers are more self-oriented than other-oriented. This is our challenge for today, tomorrow, and the many more years to come. Quite a number of our public servants and political leaders are Christian in name, but fall into the practice of corruption and immoral lifestyles. Lord, I know in my heart that you love us profoundly and care for us deeply. Please give us the strength and grace in becoming your loyal and loving disciples. Teach us to throw away our egos as our personal gods, and attach ourselves to You as our one and only God. Then and only then will we be converted to be contemplatives-in-action.
Moreover, as in the life of Christ, so it is in ours, human life is meant to have problems that can draw us closer to God, and not the opposite. This is what we see in the three readings of today’s Mass. Elijah, Paul and Peter had their individual problems, and these problems were precisely what drew them closer to God. To begin with, the prophet Elijah was being sought by the Israelites to kill him. He hid in a cave, but the word of the Lord asked him to go outside and it was there that the Lord came to him through a tiny, whispering sound. In the case of Paul, “I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart” because his people, the Israelites, refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. But finally, in God’s own time, they were converted and became disciples of Jesus. Lastly but not least, Peter was indeed the disciple of Jesus, but weak in faith, so Jesus reached out to him, and even made him the leader of the church that he established.
You and I are likewise being called to be strong disciples of Christ, inspite of our weaknesses and failures. The challenges of our modern, narcissistic, materialistic culture are growing stronger everyday. The many problems that we encounter are not threats but opportunities to draw closer to God in loving Him and neighbor more and more. My memory goes back to the Second World War. I was a teenager then, and like so many Filipino families, our family went through pains and problems. But we held on to our faith in God, and so did so many of our fellow Filipinos. Liberation Day came according to God’s own love, compassion, and providence. No less than a national miracle. Today, at this point in our history, I keep on praying that our people, especially our leaders, may continue to hold on with their faith in God and be no less than contemplatives-in-action. At this point in history, we strongly need to deepen our faith in God and live by His one and only law of love and justice. Jesus Christ continues to inspire us to be no less than how He himself lived his human life. To be twenty-first century Filipino contemplatives-in-action! As individuals. As families. As a nation. Amen.