Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fr. Victorino Osende on the Active and Contemplative Life

It is generally believed that the active life is inferior to the contemplative and that they are mutually incompatible. The first part of this statement is true if by active life we mean ascetical life, but it is not true if by that term we mean apostolic life. So St. Thomas states that the work of the active life which proceeds from the fullness of contemplation, such as teaching and preaching, is more excellent than simple contemplation (Cf. Summa th., IIa IIƦ, q. 188, a. 6).

According [as active and contemplative refer to active and passive in the ascetical and mystical lives], the active life is undoubtedly inferior to the contemplative, even as the ascetical state is inferior to the mystical. However [as active and contemplative are considered as exercises proper to each life], it is necessary to make a distinction: the external works referred to are either a means for attaining perfection or they are the exercise of perfection already attained. If the works are a means to perfection, then those [works] of the contemplative life, generally speaking, are considered superior to those of the active life. If the works are those of perfection already attained, then those of the active life, at least the works of the apostolate, are preferred to those of the purely contemplative life.

This also clarifies the question of the apparent incompatibility of the two kinds of life. For if they are considered from their external aspects, inasmuch as the contemplative life is dedicated almost exclusively to meditation and prayer in retirement and solitude and the active life to preaching, teaching, and so forth, then undoubtedly they are incompatible. But such is not the case if one considers their intimate nature, for then the contemplative life is the best disposition for the fruitful exercise of the apostolic life. [...]

The perfect contemplative life is fundamentally the same as the passive state of the soul or the mystical life; therefore it is equivalent to the life of permanent union, the supernatural life, the plentitude of the interior life, habitual contemplation, the mystical, unitive, or contemplative state, and other similar expressions [....] It is the interior life developed to perfection. [...]

Mystical union is a mysterious and ineffable contemplation which does not bind the understanding or the other faculties of the soul and make it impossible for them to act, but on the contrary, it makes them all the more ready and alert. There is no ecstasy of the senses, but an ecstasy of the heart and spirit, an ecstasy of faith and love.

Thus do we see how the contemplative life is the best disposition for the active life. For a soul that enjoys this most intimate communication with God, encounters no obstacles whatsoever from the natural order; on the contrary, it operates even more perfectly and it possesses, so to speak, the plenitude of divine and human efficacy at one and the same time. This is why great apostles have always been great saints and all truly contemplative souls eventually become apostles. [...]

That is why the saints, particularly St. John of the Cross, advise the cultivation of the interior life in preference to exterior works; not that they condemn the latter, but because it is an error to give preference to their material efficacy rather than to the efficacy of the spirit, which is the soul of the apostolate.

This does not mean that one may not undertake any work of the apostolate unless he possesses the plenitude of the interior life [....] The division between the two states is not so definite and absolute that each one does not share some of the qualities of the other. But as a general rule, the efficacy of one's apostolate is in direct proportion to the degree of perfection of his interior life, and as long as his interior life has not attained the plenitude of perfection, neither will his apostolate.

It also follows that the principal exercises of the contemplative life, such as prayer, study, meditation, and other pious practices, are not opposed to the exercise of the apostolate, but are its basis, its support, and its very life. Therefore, the apostle should always give preference to the practices of the interior life as a means of increasing the efficacy of his apostolate. [...]

[When works are always performed with a most pure intention, with a magnanimous spirit, and with an ardent desire to fulfill the will of God, then] the apostolic life will not only not be opposed to the contemplative life, but it will be the best means of developing it and of giving it its greatest expansion. [...]

The principal beauty of the perfect life comes from within and from within also come its value and efficacy. Without this, all else would be like a body without a soul; it would be what St. Paul says the most heroic actions are when done without charity (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3). On the other hand, the most humble and ordinary actions of a man who is filled with God have an influence and efficacy that are truly divine. His deportment and manner of life diffuse a supernatural aroma which profoundly affects souls and permeates them with the perfume of religious unction. His mere presence is sufficient to raise hearts to God.

This is why only that active life which proceeds from the contemplative life truly merits the name of an apostolic life, for only then does the latter possess all its efficacy. We also say that the contemplative life is the best disposition for the exercise of of the apostolate, not only because of the abundance of lights, gifts, and graces which are proper to that life and are so necessary for the salvation and sanctification of souls, but by reason of the dispositions which that life arouses in those who possess it and which are the most adequate for the apostolate.

The life of an apostle requires consummate selflessness and detachment from everything, a holy freedom of spirit, an unshakable faith and constancy, and a limitless charity. The apostle should be totally dead to self and seek only the glory of God, but only in the way that God desires. There is, therefore, no self-interest in his works and enterprises, nor does he manifest any personal preference for one work rather than another, but only for those which he knows God has especially confided to him. It matters not to him whether he is here or there or whether he is occupied in this or that ministry, as long as it is the one that God has marked out for him through obedience or by means of the circumstances in which He has placed him. Everything is a matter of holy indifference to him. The only thing to which he aspires is to accomplish well the mission which the Lord has confided to him and to do all the good possible within his sphere of action.

However, in order to preserve this disposition and spirit, he needs an unshakable faith and constancy. Better still, we should say that he needs a divine strength that will sustain him in the bitter trials and battles to which his faith and constancy are exposed. In order to know what these dangers are it is sufficient to recall that all the powers of the world and of hell strive against the work of the apostle, and as if that were not enough, his own human frailty wages war against him. What would happen if he were not sustained by divine power?

It is therefore necessary for him to be in intimate union with God in order to defy and triumph over all the powers of evil. [...]

In spite of [all his frailty and misery, the apostle] must endure the most cruel trials, the most frightful battles, and the most painful sacrifices. [... The apostle] must retain nothing of self: neither ambition, nor interests, nor preferences, nor his own personality, soul, or life. He who is to become all things to all men in order to save all (Cf. 1 Cor. 9:22) must sacrifice everything for the sake of the divine ideal. But who can arrive at such utter selflessness and detachment? Only he who is totally possessed by the Spirit of God; he who can say with St. Paul: "I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20).

We see, therefore, that the contemplative life is the best disposition for the apostolic life and that the latter, in its turn, is the best means for the exercise and expansion of the contemplative life. They mutually complete one another, thereby bringing to its highest degree of perfection the accomplishment of the fundamental law of the Christian life: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength" (Deut. 6:5).


Source: Fr. Victorino Osende, Fruits of Contemplation, trans. by a Dominican Sister (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1963), 307-315.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.