Sharing Life and Contemplation

A contemplative life and incessant activity

I will try briefly to answer your questions: How can one lead a truly authentic contemplative life while working amidst the incessant activity of life in a city or wherever? And how do the Little Brothers do this? We know of at least one man who lived a "truly authentic contemplative life" without getting away from the activities and dealings of an ordinary working life; and that man was Jesus. (We can certainly say the same of one woman, his Mother, the Virgin Mary).

Jesus, a village lad

For about thirty years, Jesus lived as a village lad and man, working in the carpenter’s shop and mixing with his fellow villagers, getting involved in all that made up the life of a village in Galilee. Was he any less present to his Father for all that? In fact, when Charles de Foucauld became converted to the Christian faith, his one aim was to imitate Jesus as closely as possible:
"I cannot imagine love without a longing, a compelling longing, to imitate, to resemble the Beloved..."
That is the reason why he set out to imitate Jesus’ way of life, the life of Nazareth. This seems to be the clue to understand Charles de Foucauld’s rather hectic and changing life.
"Take the life of Nazareth in its simplicity and broadness as your objective in every way and for every purpose. No special costume - like Jesus at Nazareth. No enclosure - like Jesus at Nazareth. Eight hours work a day, manual work if possible - like Jesus at Nazareth. No large buildings, but real poverty in every respect like Jesus at Nazareth."

A deep-seated inclination of one’s heart

Now I think that the authenticity of a contemplative life doesn’t depend primarily on a regular and peaceful pattern of life but the essential lies in the deep-seated inclination of one’s heart. It’s not for some practical purpose that we enter into this life of Nazareth but in order to share hardships as well as joys with Jesus and our fellow human beings, out of love for Him and for them, particularly the poor ("Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for Me" - Mt 25:40). The life of Nazareth leads us to live out this love in its two-fold dimension: love of God and of our neighbours. It’s a love which means 'give and take': the giving of ourselves to God and receiving so much more from Him; and giving to our neighbours, and receiving a lot from them, through the sharing of daily life.

Friendship: a contemplative life in the midst of people

That is why we like to consider 'friendship' as the keynote of our vocation. We wish our friendship with God to be lived and expressed in our relations with people. The life of Nazareth has taught us that the mystery of divine Love can be translated in human friendship in a very concrete and living way. This commitment to friendship - friendship with Jesus and friendship with people - seems to us to bear the mark of a truly authentic contemplative vocation, although different from traditional monastic life. It’s a new way of religious contemplative life, which we sum up as
"a contemplative life in the midst of people".

How do we do this?

There we are, plunged into the hubbub of an ordinary working life, with all the activities implied by a caring concern for the people whose lives we share - and committed to a contemplative vocation... How do we do this?

Set one’s heart on Jesus - a daily concern

The one condition is to set one’s heart on Jesus, and with Him to live as truly as we can in the presence of the Father, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Getting to know Jesus, learning from him how to love, listening to his words, welcoming his presence in silent prayer, in the sacraments (and most particularly in the Eucharist), as well as in encountering others.... this must be our daily concern. We need to set apart every day times for prayer (usually an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament), for meditating the Gospel, and so on.. Along the year, we try to manage to break away at times from the daily environment to go to some place of retreat, for a time of solitude with God - if possible in a hermitage. And we try to plan, whenever possible, periods in the desert. Each brother, each fraternity has to find their own rhythm, and we need to evaluate this rhythm together from time to time - fraternal sharing is part and parcel of the life of Nazareth.

Contemplative features can pervade our relationships with people

To finish with, I’d like to try to show you how some characteristic 'contemplative' features can pervade our relationships with people and mark our attitude towards them.

Littleness is the condition to know Jesus

I will mention first our desire to share the life of the poor, the little ones, to be with them as 'one of them', not first of all in order to help them out, but because Jesus was poor, because littleness is the condition to know Jesus: "Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you because you have shown to the little ones what you have hidden from the wise and learned: yes, Father, this was how you wanted it to happen" (Lk 10:21). Being and remaining a 'little one' seems to me a condition of our contemplative life of Nazareth.

Caring attention

Then priority is given to caring attention, and this is a contemplative feature. Attention to Jesus, before moving on to what we are going to do for Him: to try to know Him, to search for Him, to admire, to marvel at the beauty of Jesus, then to praise, to love.... Attention to each individual, before thinking of what we can do for him or her: attention, respect, understanding, fellow feeling, love, all that people sometimes call 'hospitality': taking time to know, to listen, to discover the beauty of each person....

A perception of the action of God in the life of everyone

Another contemplative characteristic implied by our vocation is a perception of the action of God in the life of every human being: in ourselves, in each of those with whom we live, our brothers, in our neighbours, our work mates... For God loves each and every one:
"It is never the will of your Father in heaven that any of these little ones should be lost" (Mt 18:14).
For each one is important and unique (cf the parable of the ‘prodigal son’:
"While he was still a long way off, his father saw him": Lk 15:20).
Well, much more could be said, although it’s not easy to put it into words.... I just wanted to show you that the sharing of life with people in this Nazareth way, far from being 'an obstacle' to a contemplative life, is rather what 'feeds' it and gives it a new dimension, very much in tune with the Gospel.