If the believer is ready and willing to pursue a fulfilling spiritual life, the best place to start is with contemplative prayer.
Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, espoused the ideal of becoming ‘contemplatives in action.’ As Father Spitzer notes in his work, Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life, St. Ignatius was convinced that “contemplation (the deep awareness and appropriation of the unconditional love of God) should affect our actions, and that our actions need to be brought back to contemplation.”
At this point one might ask, “Do I really want my actions to begin and end with contemplation?” It might sound like a big mountain to climb.
Do we even have hiking boots durable enough to make it to the top?
This task sounds daunting, but Fr. Spitzer gives us the tools we need in these easy steps that make a big impact.
Preparing for the Journey
In the introduction of his book, Father states “Before doing this [contemplation], however, it is indispensable for each of us to acknowledge (at least intellectually) the fundamental basis for Christian contemplation, namely, the unconditional Love of God.”
To know the unconditional love of God is the first step to prayer and contemplation.
And to know God, we must talk to Him.
After all, upon meeting a stranger, we ask questions in order to get to know them. What is your name? Where are you from? How did you end up here?
Getting to Know God
If you ask God is his name and the answer is “Abba”, you will find the God of the prodigal son, the God who will forgive you and love you no matter what.
If you come to know Jesus in the Eucharist, you will know that God sent His only Son into the world to save us (Jn 3:16-19).
If we can see that God is inviting us "to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love, and experience this love which surpasses all understanding, so that we may attain to the fullness of God Himself" (Eph 3:18-20), we can be led to feel God’s unconditional love.
Father Spitzer emphasizes that once we know the unconditional love of God, “There can be nothing more important than contemplating, affirming, appropriating, and living in this Unconditional Love. This is the purpose of contemplation; indeed, the purpose of the spiritual life itself.”
The Third Step
One practical way to live out a life of contemplation is to set aside some time (even just a few minutes) first thing in the morning and right before bed.
In the morning, ask God to influence your actions throughout the day. Each night, do a short Examen (like this one from Fr. Spitzer) to determine any shortcomings and ask for forgiveness and strength to do better tomorrow.
These small actions will make the mountain of contemplation a lot less daunting. In fact, just by reading this article, you’ve already taken steps towards the top.
(For Father Spitzer’s full article on prayer, click here)