Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Truth-Lost and Found

Father John J. Lombardi 

"Be still and know I am God." +Ps 46:10

"If Buddhism arouses so much interest among Europeans it is because they are ignorant of their Christian heritage, says a Buddhist master," reported a recent news story.

I read this a couple weeks ago and was at once flabbergasted--that a Buddhist would be so honest about Christians, but hardly surprised: Buddhism has aroused many in the West, precisely because numerous peoples have neglected the Catholic-Christian heritage-teachers and seekers alike.

Another news story in the Washington Post (Oct. 8) profiled voluminous local practitioners of Buddhist meditation styles and concluded, "Eastern meditation has taken firm root in the nation."

Years ago in college our meditation class was introduced to various eastern spiritualities and also to western ones, including saints like Augustine (his "Confessions" trace his outward and inward pilgrimage to God and contemplation); the "Mystical Doctor," John of the Cross (he describes contemplative prayer as "silent music"); Therese the "Little Flower" (her "Last Conversations" are high French spiritual drama), and St Teresa of Avila ("The Interior Castle" depicts the depth of souls). We were required to meditate at least ten minutes a day-easy, I thought, until I tried; and also to keep a journal of our meditations and spiritual life.

Really, we may not have received such spiritual depth and breadth anywhere else in our Religion. Sacred knowledge (St. Ignatius's term) is lacking in today's Catholic and Christian world.

That Buddhist master is right: many today have not been taught-or taken the time to learn-- the beauty of the Christian contemplative life. Perhaps some in the West today disagree with Christianity's ethical and moral standards (seen as too much doctrine), its history (viewed as too oppressive), and its institutions (decried as unnecessary). In the East, these "burdens" seemingly don't exist. Allegedly, "spirituality can exist without religion."

Vatican Council II (1962-1965) describes Buddhism this way: It "testifies to the essential inadequacy of this changing world. It proposes a way of life by which men can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of liberation and reach a supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help" (Document on Non-Christian Religions, # 2). Who doesn't want that?-today many are seeking this but not finding it in Catholic and Christian Churches. Have you been there, done that?

Herein lies Buddhism's charm: it offers a philosophical and practical way of meditation and illumination-from self, sin and desires-and promises liberation.

The interior-contemplative-mystical-ascetical life, which does have such a big and beautiful history in our Catholic-Christian history, has been neglected : this sacred knowledge hasn't been passed on out of a lukewarmness toward ways of the interior life and meditation. Spiritual knowledge has been discarded by modernism's project of de-mystification of religion: the supernatural life and attendant processes are suspect. Mystical theology is downplayed: business, managerialism and psychology are now more important-happy hours substitute for holy hours. It seems we have (pardon the expression), lost the guts of our Religion for passing gusts of popularism. Buddhism, and new age teachings-- have come in to fill the void.

What does the Church teach about non-Christian religions? Vatican II summarizes: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions…Yet she is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 1:6). In Him in 'Whom God reconciled all things to Himself,' 'men find the fullness of their religious life' "(Vat. II: #2).

Notice what is taught: truths are found in other religions, but ultimate Truth and expression of religion are found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our response can be one of three possibilities: laxism (all religions are the same, and so we may experiment with other religions, which is called syncretism); triumphalism ("lording it over" other people, called exclusivism) , or orthodox Faith-finding truth wherever it is and proposing, but not imposing, the Catholic and Christian Faith to others-including the fullness of doctrine and practices (called centrism).

The Post article also reported: "The popularity of Eastern meditation has prompted some Christian denominations to resurrect their own heritage of contemplative prayer-a major element of early Christianity that fell into disuse among the laity."

That's just what we need to do in the West-resurrect the fullness and "medicinal nature" of contemplative Christianity which saintly people lived on for centuries. If we don't introduce people to the ways of classical spirituality, then they will either look elsewhere or be lessened by the lack.

The Catechism stresses our goal in life: "The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God's creatures into the unity of the Blessed Trinity" (Catechism: #234). Oneness with God is not only by the essentials of accepting Jesus as Savior, confession of sins and serving others, but also by learning the contemplative teachings of the Bible and saints, called mystical theology. Let's face it, though, sometimes the "killer B's" choke Catholics-bingo, budget, boilers and bulletins…

Think about these suggestions on Contemplative Christianity…

  1. The Bible: The Church Fathers (esp. Augustine and Origen) viewed the Sacred Scriptures mystagogically-as "spiritual romance-letters of God" for each soul to meditate upon, inspiring union with His divine life. Frequently familiarize yourself with the Bible-there is no better source! Read esp, "The Songs of Songs" and Gospel of St John. John Cardinal Newman, great convert and apologist, once said on interpretation of the Bible: "…mystical interpretation and orthodoxy stand or fall together."
  2. Meditate!: there is no substitute to prayer or meditation-"pray unceasingly" (I Th. 5:17). See instructions below.
  3. Catholic Christian Writers:-thru sources like a good Catholic library or bookstore, thru a university or the internet -investigate writings of: the Desert Fathers, Dionysisus the Aeropagite , St Gregory of Nyssa, John Cassian,, St Bernard, St Hildegarde of Bingen, St Bonaventura, St Thomas Aquinas, Bl, Henry Suso, Bl. John Ruysbroeck, St Catherine of Siena,St Ignatius, and others mentioned throughout this article.
  4. Classic spiritual writings and manuals of meditation: Introduction to the Devout Life, by St Francis deSales Life of Union with God-by A. Saudreau; The Spiritual Life, by A Tanquerrey; The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life,; Garrigou-Lagrange; The Soul of the Apostolate, Dom Chautard; The Ways of Mental Prayer, Dom Lehodey; Christ, the Life of the Soul, Bl-Dom Marmion; The Imitation of Christ, attr. to Thomas a Kempis; Fire Within, Thomas Dubay.
  5. See some holy person grounded in the Faith, who can help you in the interior life…Keep praying!...

Now, reflect on some wisdom from the Catechism:

"Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain. We are usually helped by books, and Christians do not want for them: The Sacred Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts of the day or season, writings of the spiritual fathers, works of spirituality, the great book of creation, and that of history---the page on which the "today" of God is written ( #2705).

"St. Teresa describes: 'Contemplative prayer [oracion mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.' Contemplative prayer seeks him 'whom my soul loves.' It is Jesus, and in Him, the Father. We seek Him, because to desire Him is always the beginning of love, and we seek Him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of Him and to live in Him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord Himself " (#2709).

Practice thirty minutes DAILY MEDITATION:

  • First ten minutes: Oration-- Praise God for His beauty, divinity, majesty; Thanksgiving for His graces, gifts, love; Intercession for Church, friends, poor; Repentance for sins, failings, lukewarmness.
  • Second ten minutes: Meditation-- on Bible verse, spiritual reading, or image. Meditate means to dig deeper into spiritual reality and unlock the treasure within that God wants YOU to experience:
    • Select word, verse, and simplify it;
    • "Hold within," penetrate essence by thinking upon it;
    • form heartfelt sentiments to God.
  • Third ten minutes: "Contemplation" Deeply rest in the love of the enveloping Blessed Trinity
    • Calm/rest heart, mind and body;
    • Place whole being in refuge of the Blessed Trinity's Divine grace;
    • Perdure in a simple, loving awareness of God's peace and love (St. Jn. of the Cross)…"Think not much, but love much." Teresa of Avila)

In conclusion: Pray and meditate more. Dispose yourself to Divine Graces: this means to consistently enter into, and embrace stages of mystical love:

  1. Purification-be cleaned of all vices, attachments, obstacles; pray more;
  2. Illumination: acquire virtues and meditate more;
  3. Union: thru contemplation, supreme stillness and silence, receive God's grace and Himself …"Remain in unbroken contemplation in the Fatherly depths." +Origen

Briefly Noted

THE ROSARY: "If you say the Rosary faithfully unto death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins, 'you will receive a never-fading crown of glory' (1 Peter 5:4)." St. Louis de Montfort

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi