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Contemplative Dimension of Being Human Gives Life Flavor: Pope Francis at General Audience

Pope Francis at his general audience address in the library of the Apostolic Palace May 5, 2021./ Vatican Media.

Pope Francis on Wednesday encouraged people to embrace the contemplative dimension of being human both in prayer and their daily lives.

In his general audience address on May 5, the pope said that the “contemplative dimension of the human being -- which is not yet contemplative prayer -- is a bit like the ‘salt’ of life: it gives flavor, it seasons our day.”

“We can contemplate by gazing at the sun that rises in the morning, or at the trees that deck themselves out in spring green; we can contemplate by listening to music or to the sounds of the birds, reading a book, gazing at a work of art or at that masterpiece that is the human face,” he said.

The pope said that for those who live in a big city, where everything tends to be “artificial and functional,” there can be the risk of “losing the capacity to contemplate.”

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Pope Francis recommended contemplative prayer, “the ‘breath’ of our relationship with God,” which he said “sharpens our gaze” and “purifies the heart.”

“Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus,” he said, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

He recounted the story of a peasant in Ars, France, who told St. John Vianney while praying before the tabernacle: “I look at him and he looks at me.”

“The light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men,” he said.

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“Everything comes from this: from a heart that feels that it is looked on with love. Then reality is contemplated with different eyes. ‘I look at Him and He looks at me.’ It is like this: loving contemplation, typical of the most intimate prayer, does not need many words.”

The pope stressed that in the Gospel there is “no opposition between contemplation and action.”

Jesus “never lacked the time, space, silence, the loving communion that allows one’s existence not to be devastated by the inevitable trials, but to maintain beauty intact,” he said. “His secret was his relationship with his heavenly Father.”

Pope Francis spoke from the library of the Apostolic Palace due to coronavirus restrictions. The speech was the 32nd reflection in his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he launched in May 2020 and resumed in October following nine addresses on healing the world after the pandemic.

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At the end of his audience, the pope reminded Catholics to pray the rosary throughout May. He mentioned that this month Catholic shrines around the world are hosting daily rosaries prayed for the intention of an end to the coronavirus pandemic and the resumption of work and social activities.

“There is only one great call in the Gospel, and it is that of following Jesus on the way of love. This is the pinnacle and center of everything,” Pope Francis said.

“In this sense, charity and contemplation are synonymous, they say the same thing. St. John of the Cross believed that a small act of pure love is more useful to the Church than all the other works combined.”

“What is born of prayer and not from the presumption of our ego, what is purified by humility, even if it is a hidden and silent act of love, is the greatest miracle that a Christian can accomplish. And this is the path of contemplative prayer: ‘I look at him, he looks at me.’ This act of love in silent dialogue with Jesus does so much good for the Church.”