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Horror/Love Image

 

Jesus_on_CrossParaphrasing Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven, I fled the image of the Crucified Jesus “down the nights and down the days…I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind…” Always knowing that one day I would have to embrace the Crucified Jesus. Now very late in life, I find myself dwelling on this image of horror, this image of God’s love for us.

The image of the Crucified Jesus should have been an image of love and hope. Instead it became an image of horror because of its association with the price of redemption. I fled that image. I promised myself that I would embrace it some day, but not now. And the years have come and gone. My assumption is that many people have suffered this terrible ambivalence. How do we heal this spiritual ambivalence? Let me suggest three ways.

Contemplate the Crucified. What is there to analyze? An Infinite Lover, infinitely mysterious, expressed infinite love to humanity on Calvary. God did it his way, and his ways are not our ways, and certainly not within our capacity to understand. In Sr. Ilia Delio’s book, Christ in Evolution, we read: “St. Bonaventure maintained that God, who is a Trinity of incomprehensible love, reveals that love in the mystery of the cross….only one filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the fire of love, can enter into this mystery; here the mind gives way to the heart and we are drawn to the one whom we can never fully understand but whom we desire from the depths of our being.”

Contemplation of the Crucified is required, not rationalization by our computer-like minds. Our rational minds divorced from our hearts cannot deal with mystery. They produce all the wrong answers—penal substitution, ransom, Father’s vindictive justice. Rather, we must embrace this mystery—being fully present to it with loving hearts and attentive minds. We must surrender ourselves, gift ourselves to the image of the Crucified. And let the image speak to our hearts and our hearts to it.

Change Image of Crucified. What has always disturbed me about images of the Crucified Jesus is that they show Jesus as a single isolated, abandoned individual being crucified. Just too horrible to gaze at! St. Bonaventure’s comment that the Trinity of love was present on Calvary manifesting love for mankind raised my comfort level. Inspiration! Find an image that reveals this Trinitarian relationship and participation. Friends pointed out Salvador Dali’s painting “Christ of John of the Cross.”

This painting communicates that idea. It was based on a drawing by the 16th Century Spanish friar Saint John of the Cross. Dali says that he was inspired in a dream. Dali employed a triangle and a circle for Jesus’ figure: the triangle is formed by Jesus’ arms suggesting the Trinity; the circle for Jesus’ head suggesting Jesus as the center of the universe. Jesus, the medium of our union with the Trinity of Love! It is an image that I cherish and pray with.

Identify with Crucified. Jules Massanet’s opera Thais surprised me with a whole new approach to deepening my relationship with the Crucified Jesus. The opera is the story of a monk who attempts to convert Thais, an Egyptian priestess, to Christianity. The monk presses the crucifix in her face and pleads with her to abandon her sinful living.

In the next scene she is lying on a lounge pondering his words. Her meditation is expressed through an apparently erotic dance by a topless dancer. She had me entranced. We hear the composer’s beautiful interlude, Meditation. The stage prop is a hollow frame of the cross. Its structure allows the dancer to move in and out of the cross’ frame. Finally the dancer lifts herself onto the cross taking the pose of the Crucified Jesus, her body writhing in agony.

An “erotic” dance became a sacred dance—expressing Thais’ self-emptying, spiritual nakedness, self-transformation. She had surrendered, totally identifying with Jesus. Her surrender was the Spirit’s invitation to me to identify with Jesus’ passion and death. Before the Consecration at Mass, I try to identify with the Crucified Jesus through this image. It is an appropriate time. The Risen Jesus brings the fire of Calvary to our altars to create his crucible of love, in which he melts down our alienation from God, from others, from ourselves—if we are open.

Conclusion. For almost 2,000 years the Church has preached, and continues to preach, a theology of redemption with its message of penal substitution. Fr. Joseph Komonchak defines that message as: “Christ stepped into our place and endured the full wrath of God’s vindictive justice…to pay off the immense debt incurred by the sins of humanity.” He calls this theological viewpoint oversimplistic. Oversimplistic because the Church sought a rational explanation. We need loving contemplation to enter into this mystery.

“Those who gaze upon the crucified long enough—with contemplative eyes—are always healed at deep levels of pain, unforgiveness, aggressivity and victimhood,” states Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. “It demands no theological education at all, just an inner exchange by receiving the image within and offering one’s soul back in safe return.”

 

Encountering Infinite Lover

We have said elsewhere that through deep contemplative prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit, Jesus discovered God the Father as Compassion Who loved all beings and all creation with unconditional love. In other words, Jesus discovered God as the Infinite Lover at the very core of his being and all beings. This discovery transformed Jesus into a radical lover of God and all humanity.

What are the implications of Jesus’ experience for our spiritual life? Should not our spiritual life reflect Jesus’ experience? Should we not be attempting to encounter God as Infinite Lover as Jesus did? Should not Jesus’ vision of God as Infinite Lover be the overriding thrust of our spiritual practices? Here are three practices to deepen our encounter with God as Infinite Lover.

See Possibilities. See the possibilities of love for an Infinite Lover. Where? In the articles of our faith. We must view them, not just as articles of faith, but as the outpourings of love of an Infinite Lover. God assuming humanity in Jesus’ Incarnation. Jesus living our human life and dying our human death, and that a horrendous one. God gifting us with his Holy Spirit as our Higher Power and intimate guide. We being incorporated into the Body of Christ and empowered with Jesus’ powers. All are incarnate realizations of the infinite love of the Infinite Lover!

Not only must we see these articles of faith as actualized possibilities of Infinite Love, but we must also attempt to grow in our response to these love possibilities of the Infinite Lover. We cannot allow ourselves to acknowledge them only in our minds as infinite possibilities. We must seek to enter into their depth with our entire personhood.

These actualized possibilities of Infinite Love are the facts of our salvation history, but for our spiritual life the degree of our wonder at them must deepen, for it is wonder that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover.

Appreciate Abundance. Appreciate the abundance that God has lavished upon us. God as Infinite Lover possesses infinite abundance, and he shares that abundance with us. We see that abundance manifested in our salvation history, and everywhere we look—in the countless flowers and trees, in the mountains and the oceans. God creating and sustaining the universe and everything in it, and all manifesting his presence, beauty, wisdom, love and attention.

Had God created just one flower or one tree, pilgrims would flock to admire them. Instead, he has lavished his abundance upon us, and we tend to ignore it. Creation must be an intrinsic part of our spirituality. The degree of our appreciation for creation must deepen, for it is appreciation that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover.

Dance the Divine Dance. Dance the dance of the Infinite Lover. Divine Love dances us in three movements—Love Radiating Out, Love Inviting, and Love Taking Charge—over and over again. I will describe each of these movements separately, but there is a dynamic flow here. In fact, we must learn to move with the movements of the dance. It is like a ballerina dancing with three partners, each handing her off to the next. The degree of our engagement in this dance must deepen, for it is engagement that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover:

  • Love Radiating Out is the Infinite Lover at the center of our being radiating out love beams through our minds, hearts and wills so that we see all—people, ourselves, creation, events—through the eyes of love. However, it takes two to tango. For the first movement of the dance to begin, we must prepare ourselves through centering: the practice of firing up our hearts, focusing our attention and entering fully into the present moment to connect with the center of our being. And we must pray that our hearts be opened to the Infinite Lover’s outpouring of Divine Love.
  • Love Inviting, the second movement of the dance, is the Infinite Lover taking action in our spiritual lives, inviting us to break out of our comfort zones and take risks at greater love of the Infinite Lover and others. The first movement, Love Radiating Out, can be so heart-warming and joyous that we are tempted to rest in that experience. But divine consolation is divine invitation. Love Inviting wants more for us. To prepare ourselves we must grow in awareness of the Infinite Lover’s invitations and live in expectancy of them.
  • Love Taking Charge, the third movement of the dance, is the Infinite Lover taking over our lives. Here the Infinite Lover drives us to act beyond ourselves, beyond our normal responses to people and events. We feel Divine Love taking charge of us and moving us beyond our capabilities. And with such ease that we don’t mind the push. Then we understand what St. Paul meant when he said: “Now not I, but Christ lives in me.” With Love Taking Charge, the dance has been completed. However, it is up to us to initiate the dance over and over again through our practice of centering.

No one can ever fathom the love of the Infinite Lover. We can only reach out to the Infinite Lover. But our hearts have been created to pursue the Infinite Lover. And there is great joy in the reaching out–experiencing ever greater wonder at the possibilities of love as demonstrated by God’s actions in our salvation history, experiencing ever greater thankfulness for God’s abundance shared with us, experiencing ever greater engagement in the dance of the Infinite Lover, attempting to dance us into a deeper, more intimate relationship.

 

 

Jesus’ Transformation

In the early 1900’s, the psychologist William James wrote “Variety of Religious Experiences”, the classic study of everyday “mystical” experiences. He recounts the transforming moments in people’s lives when they discovered deeply the presence of the divine in their lives and the impact such peak experiences had on them. They were found to be a relatively common experience among common people. Simply a surprising gift given without any concern for merit or learning.

Might not we suppose that Jesus, being the most human of human beings, must also have experienced such a peak experience that became a transforming moment in his life? I believe so. Therefore, I want to share the transforming moment in my life and attempt to draw parallel insights about Jesus.

In My Life. My transforming experience took place on a weekend retreat. I had brought to the retreat a lot of psychological baggage. On the first morning of the weekend, the presentation dwelt on our “persona”, the masks that we wear to hide our true selves so we can project a public self of self-esteem and confidence. During my meditation on this subject, I saw clearly the pockets of self-hate in my life as if they were on stage.

I became angry with myself that I had allowed so much self-hate to operate in my subconscious. I swore that I would never let that happen again. And suddenly I broke out into ecstatic joy. At that moment, I knew beyond doubt that love was at the heart of reality, Whom I called God, that all creation was lovable, that I was lovable. Instantly, my life vision was transformed—the way I saw myself, God, others, life, creation.

In Jesus’ Life. As Jesus studied the Scriptures to learn about God’s relationship with Israel and, more importantly, to learn about his mission and destiny, what must he have felt when he read the words of the prophet Isaiah 50:60 describing the obedience of the Lord’s servant? “I bared my back to those who beat me. I did not stop them when they insulted me, when they pulled out the hairs of my beard and spit in my face.”

Jesus was no dummy. He realized that those words applied to him and that he would become the suffering servant of God. Might Jesus have wondered to himself: “Is God a God of vengeance? Am I to be the victim of God’s wrath?”

I believe that it was only through deep contemplative prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit that Jesus came to discover God as Compassion Who loved all beings and creation with unconditional love. What the Old Testament did not reveal to Jesus, his contemplative prayer did. It was at that point in Jesus’ life that he must have come to know beyond doubt that God was love, that all creation was lovable, and that he was the beloved Son of God. In that moment, Jesus experienced transformation.

More than ever before, in that special moment Jesus began to enjoy the unique experience of intimate closeness to God—the Abba experience, the experience of God as a compassionate Father. Perhaps too it was at that moment of transformation that Jesus decided to quit the quiet, private life ofNazarethand embark on his public life and divine mission.

Transformation’s Effects. Transforming experiences are empowering, because they are a kind of a death/resurrection experience—moving one from self-hate to self-love, from self-ignorance to self-knowledge, from fear of God to deep faith in God as Jesus experienced.

Transforming experiences are vision changing experiences. When I returned from my transforming experience, I saw people as persons. My attitude toward women changed dramatically. They were persons, not sex objects. I was aware that all persons experience the pain of being human, as I had, and deserved my compassion. Likewise, Jesus too had experienced the pain of being human and his newly acquired solidarity with God created solidarity for him with all persons. The driving force behind his mission would become compassion for others: he would liberate them from all forms of oppression.

Transforming experiences open our eyes to creation. When I returned from my transforming experience, I was moved by a deep eros for creation. I wanted to touch the leaves of trees. I wanted to feel the essences of things, such as trying to feel the essence of water that was real but could not be grasped. I can easily imagine Jesus at night marveling at the moonbeams shimmering on the Sea of Galilee, or being filled with wonder at the mighty olive trees.

This erotic awareness of nature soon became an awareness of the gift dimension of creation and life. Through this discovery of the gift dimension of creation I experienced creation reverberating with God’s presence, love and attention. Creation gave me the gift of God’s presence. I felt that I was surrounded by God’s love in creation. Likewise, from human experience we can deduce that Jesus must have experienced the presence, the beauty and the wisdom of God in creation.

Transformation and Spiritual Life. What is the nature of transforming experiences?  When we discover that Love is at the heart of reality, we discover that Love Center that resides within us at the core of our personhood and Who radiates out the energies of love through the pathways of our minds, hearts and wills, and makes everything lovable to us—we are lovable, others are lovable, creation is lovable.

For a short but ecstatic period of time, I felt driven by my Love Center, Divine Eros. I believe that Jesus experienced this kind of transformation, only he was able to hold onto it and to live fully a life of love. However, I have come to believe that such transforming experiences are not just one-time episodes in our lives to be enjoyed for a brief time.  Rather, they can happen many times and each time they once again disclose to us the  depths of our spiritual reality and set a goal for our spiritual lives.

It is as if each day our love capacity falls to the default position of our self-centeredness, and we must raise ourselves to God-centeredness. Each day, we must recreate ourselves from the inside out; we must connect with our center, our Love Center. Each day we must rediscover our Love Center at the core of our personhoods and let it radiate out through our minds, hearts and wills. Each day we must re-experience our transformation.

 

 

Embracing the Embrace

Often it is difficult to understand the full meaning of our deep spiritual experiences. Simply having such experiences does not exhaust their meaning. We may even need an outsider to explain their significance to us. Such was my experience in discovering a fuller understanding of the practice of compassion.

In the article,  Spirituality of Compassion, I shared my first experience of the practice of compassion which took place at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Staring at the famous painting of the Mona Lisa, I wondered to myself: “Being as exhausted as I am from jet lag, how can I enter into the beauty of this painting?”

No sooner had I asked that question, when I got the answer: “You must be fully present to it with a caring heart and an attentive mind so as to “receive” the presence and beauty of this masterpiece. You must make a gift of yourself to the painting to receive its gift.” It worked! I began to see in the painting what I had not seen before and feel what I had not felt before.

I called this exercise of mind, heart and will the “practice of compassion,” literally feeling deeply with. I have applied this practice to appreciating the arts, such as art, sculpture, music and dance; handling difficult human relationships; enjoying the beauty of nature; and deeply experiencing spiritual practices such as attending Mass and centering prayer. But only recently did I come to understand more fully the inner dynamics of compassionate experiences:

1. Spiritual Union. The practice of compassion is a way to experience spiritual union with God, others, self, nature, the arts. It took my Jewish podiatrist to point that out to me. We had been talking about our travel experiences, and I shared with him my experience at the Louvre Museum. He immediately responded: “Michael Jackson said that at times when he is dancing, he experiences oneness with the divine presence.” My doctor turned to me and said: “You experienced union with, oneness with that painting.”

He had given me a wonderful insight into my joyful experience at the Louvre Museum and into the practice of compassion. In my moments of compassionate living, I had experienced a fuller experience of the object of my focus. But I did not think of it as spiritual union. I looked upon the practice as simply a technique for concentrating the full energies of my mind and heart on the object of my encounter. Now I discovered that it was the way to spiritual union.

2. Total Surrender. Compassionate experiences demand a total investment of our mind, heart and will in the object of our attention. We must be fully engaged. An image that helps me to grasp this dynamic is that of the embrace. In a physical embrace we give ourselves fully as a gift to the other. In a similar manner, we must embrace spiritually whatever it is we wish to encounter compassionately.

Further, compassionate experiences are present-moment experiences. We tend to live in the past or in the future. But to live compassionately, we must enter into the present moment and be fully present. The present moment is the door to spiritual consciousness and spiritual union.

3. Centering Out.  Compassionate experiences involve a “centering out” to the object of our encounter. Admittedly, that is an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. However, the Spirit works in dialectics and paradoxes.

True, we must first center down within ourselves, before we can center out. We must first connect with our center, the Divine Love Center at the core of our being. The usual procedure is to breathe deeply from our gut, inhaling and exhaling rhythmically, to become fully present to ourselves in a gentle and loving way. We might consider this step as being compassionate to ourselves. We are embracing ourselves.

But the action does not stop there. That exercise prepares us to center out—to another person, the beauty of nature, a work of art, whatever. We then focus compassionately on what we wish to encounter in a gentle and loving way in an effort to experience spiritual union.

Spiritual writers tell us that when we reach the center of our being, we are more intimately at home with ourselves, more intimately united with others, more intimately united with God. Note that experiencing the core of our being becomes a source of dynamic energy that flows out spontaneously beyond the boundaries of ourselves to others. So we center down to center out.

4. Mystical Union. Scripture tells us that God is Compassion. No one can define God. That said, however, if we think of God as Compassion in the sense we are using it here, we open ourselves to a rich experience. Then, God is the Being, Who is infinitely present in all beings and creation, with infinite love and infinite attention. Using our image of the embrace, we further describe God as Compassion Who embraces all beings and creation in a compassionate embrace.

In our practice of centering prayer, I believe there is a danger in isolating God from all that He embraces. The result is a focus on a I-God relationship. That belittles God Who pervades all beings and all creation. To get our arms around God in his totality, we must embrace all that God embraces. So, we center down to center out compassionately to embrace God in his compassionate embrace of all beings and creation, and we attempt to embrace all creation in a compassionate embrace. That is the ultimate meaning of Embracing the Embrace!

In so doing, we enter into mystical union with God Who is Compassion and with all creation. Now our intentionality for our centering prayer has become targeted. We want to center down and out to embrace God compassionately as well as all beings and all creation, as the God of Compassion does.

5. Mystical Gratefulness. In his book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, Brother David Steindl-Rast tells us that gratefulness is the way to a life of fullness. When we make it our basic life attitude, he writes, “our eyes are opened to that surprise character of the world around us,” and we wake up from taking things for granted. “Gratuitousness burst in on us, the gratuitousness of all there is. When this happens, our spontaneous response is surprise.”  And wonder and joy!

One of the fruits of mystical union with the God of Compassion is gratefulness. For example, on a walk when we center down to center out compassionately to embrace God’s embrace of creation through his sustaining presence, love and attention, we see as if for the first time. This mystical union has wakened us up. We see the diversity of trees around us with their diversity of leaves, the play of sunlight penetrating them and the shadows they create, and we sense God’s presence in them. And we know that all is gratuitous, all is surprise, all is gift. And we are on the way to gratefulness, a life of joyful fullness.

We should not be surprised that the practice of compassion should lead us to mystical union and gratefulness. For by its very nature, the practice of compassion is gifting ourselves to God or others or creation—the gift of the Holy Spirit working in us.

Spirituality of Compassion

In the article, Compassion for Others, we gave the word “compassion” a whole new meaning. Here I will share some personal experiences that helped me to discover its special meaning, and its significance for the spiritual life.

Aesthetic Experiences. Some years ago I visited Paris. The highlight of this trip was a visit to the Louvre, the home of Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa and other masterpieces of art and sculpture. As I stood there gazing at the Mona Lisa, I became deeply aware of my fatigue, jet lag and the limited amount of time I could spare. Suddenly, I got the inspiration to ask myself: “Given my disposition, how can I enter into the beauty of this masterpiece?” In response, a profound inspiration flashed through my mind: “You must be fully present, in a caring and attentive way so as to receive the presence and beauty of this masterpiece.” In other words, I had to give as gift my presence, my mind, my heart, my whole person to this painting in order to receive its gift. It worked!

I called this exercise “compassion”, literally, feeling deeply with. I applied this practice to other forms of art such as sculpture, music, ballet, and, of course, to the beauty of nature. This exercise has greatly enhanced my aesthetic experiences.

Relational Experiences. My practice of compassion to the arts led me to yet another discovery. I have a retarded son who continues to say his childlike evening prayers, even though we have taught him more adult prayers. I found it difficult to stop what I was doing to listen to him. One day, I was inspired to ask myself: “Could my practice of compassion to the arts and nature change my experience with my son if I compassion-ately listened to his childlike prayers?” As I allowed myself to become fully present in a caring and attentive way to my son, I discovered that he had a gift to give me—his simplicity in his relationship to God. Further, I discovered that compassion was the basis of radical love─loving others despite their negative qualities and my negative feelings.

Spiritual Experiences. The above experiences led me naturally to apply the practice of compassion to my so-called “spiritual” experiences. I began to go to Mass early so I could prepare myself through the practice of compassion for celebration. As a result, the Mass ritual and words have become more meaningful. And when I began the exercise of centering prayer, I was greatly helped by my practice of compassion. For now I was being fully present, in a caring and attentive way to the Spirit within me. Here the practice of compassion becomes prayer─without the words. It becomes love of God.

I see a commonality between these three different experiences of compassionate living. First, all three─aesthetic, relational and spiritual─demand that we encounter the other in a peak experience, employing our mind, heart, gut and will. We must experience our full personhood in play. We must be fully engaged with the other.

Second, all three demand that we fully gift ourselves to the other, whether the other be the arts, other people, or God. Self-gift is key.

Third, all three require that the Spirit empower us to offer ourselves as self-gift. For as Theologian Gregory Baum reminds us: “Human existence is so deeply wounded and threatened by sin that the passage from fear to trust, from hostility to love, from ignorance to self-knowledge, from passivity to creativity, from self-centeredness to concern for others, are never purely natural events, determined by our own resources. They are always gifts.” Always begin: “Holy Spirit, enable me to live compassionately.”

The Spirit permeates all of our life and enables us to experience our high points. The spiritual life is all about being present to the Divine Presence. Compassionate living is at the heart of a Spirit-centered spirituality. Make the practice of compassion a habit!

Eros–driven Jesus

The previous article described my newly discovered perception of the Holy Spirit as Divine Eros. Divine Eros is the Spirit of Love directing arrows at my heart to awaken it to the possibilities of love. For me that was a peak experience, seeing the Spirit as well as myself in a whole new light. Then I realized that our peak experiences may well reveal to us something about Jesus, for he was the most human of all human beings.

Could it be that Jesus too must have experienced the Spirit of Love as Divine Eros? I think so. Jesus was familiar with the Song of Songs from the Old Testament and the erotic love relationship described in that book. He understood that the Divine Lover was searching for the beloved and the beloved was searching for the Spirit of Love, and he was the beloved. What emerges from this perception is not the typical holy-card Jesus but the Divine Eros-driven Jesus, the fully alive Jesus who did everything with passion.

Further, the Spirit operated in Jesus’ life, just as the Spirit operates in our lives. The Spirit would have invited Jesus to ever deeper faith, ever firmer hope and ever greater love through gifts of consolations which would have produced deep, positive feelings in Jesus. These feelings would have been the Spirit’s prompts and signs of Divine Dialogue, signs of the Divine Lover calling Jesus to discern God’s will and direction for his life.

The difference between Jesus and ourselves is that he was deeply aware, deeply expectant of the Spirit’s continuous presence in his life, Most importantly, the difference is that he surrendered to the invitations and inspirations of Divine Eros to grow in radical love. Now let’s look at three major directions the Spirit drove Jesus.

Driven to Contemplation.  It was the Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, who urged Jesus to enter into the contemplation of his Father, states Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa, OFM, preacher in the papal household.  If we think that the desire for contemplation came to Jesus without effort, we are overlooking some of the obstacles Jesus faced. Jesus was a public figure. When word spread that Jesus was in the vicinity, crowds gathered. When Jesus tried to escape the crowds by sailing across theSea of Galilee, the crowds followed him on foot. He was a celebrity whom the people would not leave alone.

Further, Jesus’ compassion for the crippled, the sick, the deaf and those filled with unclean spirits drove him to be available to all those who needed his healing power. It was the Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, who kindled in Jesus the desire to move away from the crowds and seek solitude to discover through contemplation his relationship to the Father and to discover his identity and mission.

Driven to Holy Partnership. Jesus was a radical, an extremist. He questioned every sphere of life—political, economic, social and religious. Jesus turned upside down everything in the society of his times, states Fr. Albert Nolan in Jesus Before Christianity. Jesus showed that ideas about what was right and just were actually loveless and therefore contrary to the will of God. We might add that Jesus’ teachings are radical and extreme for our times, and for all times.

However, Jesus did not come with a blueprint for the ideal life and the ideal society.  He had to discover it. His radicalism was the result of his holy partnership with the Spirit. Jesus was pursuing the wisdom of God, not human wisdom. He was driven to the Spirit to help him create a whole new life vision, a whole new world vision.

Another sign of his radicalism was his choice of disciples. His choice put Jesus on the road to Calvary right from the very beginning. For he snubbed the established religious authorities. How radical to choose as his disciples ordinary men, even a tax collector, when he could have chosen men like Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and thus break into the ranks of the religious establishment! But that was not the Spirit’s way. Jesus was responding to Divine Eros’ initiatives, invitations and inspirations to steer him, not in the ways of men, but in the ways of God.

Driven to Compassion. The Spirit of Love called Jesus into an entirely different mission from that of John the Baptist who strove to bring people to a baptism of repentance in the Jordan. Jesus did not continue to baptize. Instead, the Spirit led Jesus to understand that his mission should be directed at the poor, the sinners and the sick—the lost sheep ofIsrael. The Spirit inspired Jesus to liberate people from every form of suffering and anguish. His miracles were performed not to prove that he was the Messiah; they were performed out of compassion, states Fr. Nolan.

It was the Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, who helped Jesus prepare his heart for the ultimate sacrifice he was being called upon to make for others. In the end, Jesus would go to his death knowingly and willingly, out of deep love for others.St. Augustine said that Jesus went to the Cross as a bridegroom goes to the bridal chamber. The ultimate and crowning work of Divine Eros!

Compassion through Contemplation

In article Jesus’ Priestly Mission, we dealt with Jesus’ prayer life as revealed in the Gospels. However, what the Scriptures do not disclose is Jesus’ life of contemplation. But how else can we explain Jesus’ intimate closeness to God?

In Jesus Before Christianity, Fr. Albert Nolan, O.P. states: “It is generally agreed that somewhere at the heart of Jesus’ mysterious personality there was a unique experience of intimate closeness to God—the Abba experience…we know that the Abba experience was an experience of God as a compassionate Father.” No doubt, it was his time in contemplation that led Jesus to the heart of God, and thus to compassion for others.

Jesus’ Contemplation. Surely, Jesus practiced this wordless, imageless form of prayer that concentrates on being fully present with a caring heart and attentive mind to God’s interior presence. In his prayer he would also have experienced God as One Who was, by his very nature, for others. Contemplative prayer would lead Jesus to experience God as Father who loved all his creatures with an unconditional love. Most importantly, in contemplative prayer Jesus would experience God as Compassion who was intimately and lovingly present to all his creation.

Here is the important point. Jesus’ solidarity with God gained through contemplation created solidarity for him with all humanity. Contemplation involved commitment of his whole being to his beloved Father, and concern for all that his Father loves. Thus, his contemplation would lead him to his life vision and life mission of compassion for others.

Our Abba Experience. How do we partake in Jesus’ Abba experience? In our contemplation, such as in centering prayer, we must experience God as Compassion for others, for only then do we embrace the true nature of God. Only then can compassion for others be the fruit of our contemplation of God. Only then can we experience what Jesus experienced. We cannot rest in the enjoyment of God’s presence in contemplative prayer apart from the creation and creatures God loves.

How do we enter into God’s compassionate life? By making the Risen Jesus the focal point of our contemplation of God. Why? Because the Risen Jesus is the continuous outpouring of Divine Love, beginning with creation, the Incarnation, Jesus’ passion and death, Jesus’  continuing involvement in bringing us to wholeness and ultimately to  resurrection. Further, the Risen Jesus has bound us into solidarity with all human beings by incorporating us into his Body. So, the Risen Jesus holds all the world and all our sisters and brothers in his hands. Uniting with the Risen Jesus as Compassion for creation and others opens us up to compassion for all creation and our sisters and brothers. May the Risen Jesus stretch, extend and expand our hearts to embrace all that he loves!

Compassionate Life. The Gospels make it clear that the historical Jesus’ compassion for the suffering of others was a gut-wrenching emotion. However, Jesus manifested another form of compassion in his everyday encounters with people that shares similar qualities with contemplation. Let us look at those similar characteristics.

Both contemplation and compassion, as we are using the term here, require that we be fully present in a caring and attentive way to the other to “receive” the presence and giftedness of the other. Both require that we make a gift of our total person to the other to receive the other’s giftedness. Both require an openness to the other. When the Other is God, the experience is one of contemplation. When the other is a human person, we experience the call to compassion.

Now think of Jesus’ compassion—being fully present in a caring, attentive way—in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Or with Nicodemus who came by night to learn more about Jesus. Or with the apostles Matthew and Nathaniel when Jesus called them to follow him. Jesus gifted these people with his compassionate presence and affirmed their giftedness so dramatically that he changed their lives forever.

Earlier, we emphasized that Jesus achieved compassion for the suffering of others through contemplation of God. We also asserted that Jesus manifested a second form of compassion in his evangelization of others. Now we want to assert that compassion, in both senses of the word, can help us in our practice of contemplation of God. Both the practices of compassion to others and contemplation of God require a mode of being present to another that enables one to be affected by the presence of the other.

Therefore, practicing contemplation of God and practicing compassion to others are reinforcing practices that help us attain our spiritual goal of greater intimacy with God in our contemplation. Further, these practices encourage greater compassion to others, both those in need and those to whom we manifest Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in our everyday lives, such as to our spouses, our children, our friends and acquaintances, the present-day Samaritan women, the Nicodemus’s of the world.

Paraphrasing St. John’s Gospel: How can we be fully present with all our hearts and minds to God whom we cannot see if we cannot be fully present in a caring, attentive way to our sisters and brothers whom we can see?

Contemplation helps us to become more compassionate to others, and being more compassionate to others helps us practice contemplation of God. Together they comprise the Compassionate Life, a focused way of living, a Jesus-like way of living!