Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Maria Goretti Scandaliato reflects on the Third Order Franciscan charism of contemplation.
Contemplation might possibly be described as a believing, trusting awareness of God’s presence in a loving gaze upon Truth — Truth found in the Crucifix. St. Clare speaks of this gaze as looking into the mirror of
the Crucified. Within that gaze we find ourselves, a reflection of his image. Likewise, our Seraphic Father St. Francis loved our Crucified Lord so ardently, that the wounds of Jesus were manifested in his body.
Most of us have probably experienced, at some time, someone intently staring or gazing at us. Instinctively, we seem to sense this and turn to meet the gaze. This simple analogy helps me comprehend somewhat the grace God gives in contemplation; if we are drawn to gaze upon Jesus, it is because He has first gazed upon us.
We know from Scripture that God is Light. Although the smallest flame brings clarity to darkness, a blinding light causes us to look away, or produces momentary darkness until our eyes become accustomed to it. Because God is light itself, his very nearness often causes a darkness, and we find ourselves in a state of yearning and desire, perhaps overwhelmed by a sense of loss or emptiness. Experiencing God’s absence causes deep pain, and yet still we long for Him. It is my understanding that if we yearn for God, it is because He yearns for us even more– an awesome realization! I believe this “holy darkness” has an integral role in contemplation.
As Franciscans, offering our lives completely to God, striving to follow Him in poverty and humility, longing for total union with our Beloved, we experience kinship with the Bride in the “Song of Songs,” who searched everywhere in the night for Him whom her soul loves. Alongside daily joys, things happen in our lives that cause struggle, misunderstanding, loss, confusion, illness, or circumstances that lead to deep self-effacement and discouragement. Though never easy to accept, I have learned to respect such experiences as vehicles of grace effecting a purifying self-knowledge that empty us, and profoundly unite us with our crucified Lord when embraced in trust. In contemplation, we needn’t struggle to find words or feelings that seem acceptable to offer Him. It is enough to simply be with Jesus in silence, lifting up the empty chalice of our hearts for Him to fill. When our hearts are quiet and uncluttered, everything we encounter speaks to us of God. We can no longer see beauty without thinking of Him. Neither can we meet pain or sorrow without finding Him. Sinful and weak though we are, everything reveals His unconditional love and mercy. Faith opens our eyes and our hearts in awe of God’s profound love for us; we KNOW Him, and know we could not live without Him.
Sacred silence, wordless awe, love’s total surrender,
Gazing upon Him