Solitude and Contemplation
This chapter is on the importance of solitude for our contemplation. In today’s world – this is a challenge but we must find time before or after the chaos of the day to be alone – be alone with God in whatever capacity works for us. The contemplative who has experienced the graces of prayer, or the touches of God Himself, derives from them a taste for silence and a great need for solitude.
We all know of the great souls found in the Bible and how they were in solitude before they set out to do the work of God. Father Marie Eugene speaks of them in this chapter. He also mentions St Ignatius of Loyola and how he received during his year of solitude at Manresa, the lights that permitted him to write the book of Spiritual Exercises and to organize the Society of Jesus. Also, St. Teresa with the Order of Carmel. All the saints who ever started an apostolate or Order for God – spent time with Him in solitude FIRST. Silence and solitude are necessary for God to utter His word in the soul.
The soul that is disciplined and committed will be able to make the necessary detachments from life in order to be in this solitude. This desert withdraws the senses and passions from manifold satisfactions that stain the soul. Silence demands isolation from the exterior world – at least for some time. But this poverty and silence are not a barren void; they are purity and simplicity. We must venture into this desert knowing that it is filled with the presence of God. The example of St. Elias is used to explain this. It is after forty days in the desert, that Elias, on the desolate Mount of Horeb, hears the gentle whisper that reveals the divine Presence. These truths of silence and solitude rest on experience and their value cannot be denied but we as laity cannot always find the solitude that we yearn for. We can and should be offering our daily duties and good works to God as well -
St. Teresa states: “Believe me, it is not the length of time spent in prayer that brings a soul benefit: when we spend our time in good works, it is a great help to us and a better and quicker preparation for the enkindling of our love than many hours of meditation. Everything must come from the hand of God.” May we not use this as an excuse for prayer but may we not be discouraged that our day was filled with good works either.
2. Impossibility or Dangers
Very numerous are the spiritual persons for whom life in solitude can be only an unrealizable dream – married with children, absorbing daily tasks in the midst of a busy world. They are taken up with obligations from which they cannot withdraw, and that God requires them to fulfil faithfully. We must remember that it is the same God Who imposes on these souls their external duties and Who calls every one to the Source of living water.
Also, there is the danger of temptations from evil spirits. They lay their snares to keep souls from advancing closer to God – this is guaranteed and can only be remedied with Spiritual Direction and mortifications and prayer to Our Lady. The desert demands valiant souls and well-balanced temperaments. It is truly for the strong and persistent.
This is difficult for some temperaments. It is not easy for those struggling with restlessness, laziness or melancholy. It is not easy for those who are highly sensitive, weaklings, or those who experience failure or even the prospect of making an effort become discouraged.
Each case seems to be a new case on which experience alone can throw light. St. Teresa gives much guidance in her Interior Castle. She explains the pitfalls for each of the seven stages of prayer. Of course, we can do all things in Christ and He will surely answer our prayer. We must be faithful in our time with God which is truly His time. We have many examples of persistent saints who had difficulty getting started but ended up saints. Again, God can make good of all things. Not everyone will have to endure the same trials to get to the same stage of prayer.
Father Marie Eugene explains:” If the solitude of the desert were absolutely necessary for the development of contemplation, we would have to conclude that all those who cannot have access to it, or were not able to stand it, or who support it so poorly, are forever barred from arriving at contemplation, which would then be the rare privilege of a few. “
Again, the lives of the saints are so varied. We have so many examples of different temperaments achieving different apostolates with a variety of lives of solitude and activity yet they all reached the summit. Faithfulness and trust are crucial.
3. Life of the Prophet
Father Marie Eugene includes this section on prophets to explain their role and their spiritual advances in order for them to be chosen as prophets. He states that a prophet in the Old Testament is a man chosen by God to defend the divine rights over Israel against the authoritarianism and impiety of the kings and against the infidelity of the people. The prophets response that springs from faith and complete surrender to God produced an attitude eminently contemplative. In solitude, marvelous exchanges were established between God and the soul of the prophet of God.
He uses the example of the prophet Elias and recounts the following:
The Lord asks, “What does thou here, Elias?” And the prophet answers: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Thy Covenant. They have destroyed Thy altars; they have slain Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left, and they seek my life to take it away.” The interests of God are the interest of the prophet. The flame of divine justice consumes him, and its fires are almost too burning.
The prophet is a great seer of eternal things, and a familiar friend of God. He is a docile instrument in the hand of God to do His Will. An order from God and the prophet sets out at once to execute his perilous mission – to take a message of chastisement to the king, to assemble the people on Mt. Carmel, to immolate the priest of Baal, or to lay the prophetic mantle upon Eliseus. The power of God is in all the deeds and words of the prophet. The prophet is constantly in search of God, and constantly surrendered to the movements of the Holy Spirit within him and without. He gives himself up, and that is his whole occupation. Thus harmony between contemplation and action is realized by divine Wisdom.
Elias had formed a school. Disciples had gathered round him. Later, hermits came to establish themselves on Mount Carmel and in the Palestinian solitudes, to live by his spirit and his grace. The Order of Carmel claims noble lineage. St. Teresa, in her turn, leads souls to the summits of transforming union by indicating the laws of divine rapture and of cooperation with God’s action. The Mansions of the interior castle are only stages on the way to union.
The prophet, like the just man, has no laws other than those of Holy Wisdom, who sustains and inspires him. His state is a state of perfection, the one described in the last Mansions by St. Teresa.
4. Father Thomas of Jesus
In the last section of this chapter, Fr. Marie Eugene, gives us an example of a soul that lived at the time of St. Teresa and St. John in the 1500’s. A sort of modern prophet. He was an intellectual of great learning who became a Carmelite and a professor and combined a life of contemplation and activity. He wrote a memoir. In this memoir, he recommends at the center of the Teresian Reform of the Discalced Carmelites, the creation of monasteries that would be veritable Carthusian solitudes. In these solitudes, called “holy deserts”, austerities would be greater and silence continual. There would be moreover isolated hermitages to which the religious would withdraw during Advent, Lent or other times. The purpose of this sojourn in the desert is to maintain the contemplative spirit, to preserve the subjects and the Order against the invasion of activity.
Father Marie Eugene explains the life of Father Thomas of Jesus of being very active in starting new monasteries and having a great yearning for their benefits and solitude. He is then spoken of to the Pope and the Pope asks Father Thomas of Jesus to go to Italy to help them in their quest for monasteries. He reluctantly goes but realizes that this is God’s Will and is filled with zeal to do it.
In the midst of his foundations and administrations, he still finds time to finish his great treatises on the spiritual life: on the Practice of Living the Faith, on Prayer, and on Divine Contemplation. Father Thomas dies in Rome as General Definitor in 1627 and leaves an example and a teaching of the highest spiritual interest.
Father Marie Eugene leaves for us some points taken from the writings of Father Thomas of Jesus and they are as follows:
May Our Lady of Mt. Carmel pray for us! Blessed Fr. Marie Eugene pray for us. St. Teresa and St. John pray for us. Father Thomas of Jesus – pray for us!
Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene