Tag Archives: contemplation




The prophet gives a minute description of the four holy living creatures which in the spirit he foresaw, as being to come, when he says: “Every one had four faces, and every one four wings.”

What is signified by face if it be not recognition; or by wings, unless it is the power of flight? For it is by the face that a man is recognised; but by their wings the bodies of birds are raised in the air. Thus the face pertains to faith, the wings to contemplation.

For in our faith, we are known by almighty God, as he says of his sheep: “I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me.” And again he says: “I know whom I have chosen.” For by contemplation, we are raised above ourselves, as it were, to heaven.

– St Gregory, Pope, Homily 3, Book 1; An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns & Oates, London, 1964


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(To learn how to pray the Holy Rosary, please click here: How to meditate on Our Lord Jesus’_life / the Gospels with the Rosary  )

To know, love and imitate Our Lord Jesus Christ – such is the principle of Christian life, the secret of perfection. True perfection consists formally in the love which unites us to Jesus, but as one cannot love without acquaintance, and affectionate acquaintance engenders imitation – one is anxious to resemble those whom one loves – it follows that the imitation, as well as the knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ, form, as it were, the integral parts of that perfection, the essence of which is love.

The Rosary is the school where Mary trains us daily in the Christian life. There, not only does this divine Mother fill our understanding with the knowledge of Jesus and our hearts with love of Him, but she completes her work by imprinting on us, by imitation, the image of Him who is the First-born of all the elect. To this last point I would particularly direct your attention.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the First-born of all the elect.

Created as we are to the image of God, we feel the need of perfecting with us this divine image, of drawing out all its splendour, by imitating more and more closely our sovereign model. In the beginning, the angel and the man, intoxicated with foolish pride, wished to push the divine resemblance beyond all limits, even to the extent of absolute independence, which is the attribute of God alone. Avenging His slighted rights, God struck down Lucifer, and severely punished the first man. The punishment of the latter, however, was not untempered with mercy. God raised Adam and Eve anew, and once more showing Heaven to them, revealed to their eyes through the distance of ages One whose imperfect image they were henceforth to bear, till they at length resumed His glory.

Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God the Father, appears at the centre of the new creation as the finished model which we all must copy, which we must all resemble if we are to be counted among the children of God. To the Blessed Virgin, who formed this divine exemplar, is allotted the task of reproducing His likeness in each one of the elect. The Rosary is the mould into which she casts souls, to form them to the divine image; or let us say, rather, that with the Rosary, as with a chosen instrument, this admirable artist sculptures, paints, and imprints the image of her Son. She sculptures it in the neophytes, paints it in souls more advanced, and imprints it in hearts which are responsive to the lightest touch of grace.

The purgative, illuminative and unitive life 

Spiritual authors tell us that in the work of perfecting us, and forming us in the likeness of Jesus Christ, it is necessary, first, to take away, like the sculptors, then to add, like the painters, and finally to apply and unite closely, like the printers.

The purgative life

In the purgative life, in which the soul divests itself of its vices and bad habits, it is necessary above all to cut away. In the Rosary, therefore, Mary sculptures certain souls, refining them by the practice of poverty, of mortification, of ever increasing detachment. In the joyful mysteries, she takes from us the love of earthly treasures by showing us Jesus poor and shelterless; in the sorrowful, she destroys our love of ease, our desire for pleasure, by opposing to our sensuality the terrible sufferings of our Saviour; in the glorious mysteries, she severs the last ties which bind us to earth, elevating our hearts by the spectacle of Jesus ascending into heaven.

As the sculptor first rounds off a block of marble, then gradually outlines the statue, and finally completes it with little touches of the chisel, so the Blessed Virgin, after the sinful habits, removes the small defects, even to the last lingering imperfections of a soul which generously penitent abandons itself entirely to her.

The illuminative life

In the illuminative life, in which the soul devotes itself particularly to progress in virtue, Mary resembles the painter who adds colour to colour, mixing and blending them suitably, in order to produce an accurate and life-like portrait. When the soul, purified of its faults, presents, as it were, a spotless surface, the immaculate Virgin complacently deposits on this stainless background the colours of all the virtues, spreading perpetually a new layer of grace; and the Rosary is the rich palette from which she draws the tints which contribute to the perfection of the image, which she wishes to produce. Under the brush of this incomparable artist the dazzling whiteness of faith, the celestial radiations of hope, the soft crimson of charity, the shades and reflections of all the virtues mingle on the countenance of the soul, formerly gloomy and darkened, and stamp upon it the supernatural expression which distinguishes the children of God.

Ah! could we, by a life of piety and habitual recollection, by frequent meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, keep our soul always ready, spread forth to its utmost limit, like a precious canvas, on which Mary might exercise her divine art by completing in us the image of her Son!

The unitive life

In all cases there is no better way to obtain a perfect resemblance in a short time than to reproduce the model itself by applying it to the surface on which it is to be represented. The image shows itself immediately, distinguished by an accuracy far greater than could be obtained by endless touches of the brush.

When a soul has arrived at the punitive life, that is, at such a degree of love for God as excludes all return to self, and justifies the words of the great apostle: “It is no longer I who live, but Jesus Christ who lives in me” – then Mary imprints Jesus in this soul, as on soft, pure wax. In a moment the celestial image appears, no longer merely in outline; it is reflected each day more faithfully in the affections, in the desires, in every act. Pone me ut signaculum super cor tuum, ut signaculum super brachium tuum. Jesus is set like a seal on the heart and on the arm, in the intention and in the deed.

The contemplative soul, closely united to God by love, receives, in passing through the mysteries of the Rosary, the impression of this divine seal. Mary herself applies it, and, according to the mystery, she reproduces Jesus humble, gentle, obedient, Jesus in His wisdom, power, goodness and infinite grace; or again, as in those modern portraits which light produces with such exactitude, Mary, admirable light emanating from the Sun of Justice, transmits in perfection the features of the divine model, imprinting them with the utmost fidelity to the depths of the heart.

An imperishable resemblance to the Father who is in heaven

Who then, faithful to this Rosary, would not allow himself to be worked upon by Her who knows so well how to mould a soul, how to paint and imprint Jesus on it? Let us dispose ourselves daily by a life of mortification, of recollection and intimate union with God, to aid Mary in her admirable work, unquestionably more admirable than all the works of nature, for the material creation even in its most beautiful manifestations, offers only a distant reflection of God, while the soul devoted to the Rosary, closely united to Christ, bears an imperishable resemblance to the Father who is in Heaven.

– Laverty & Sons, 1905




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Previous: Silence of self love


Step 8: Silence of the mind

Silence useless thoughts, pleasing and natural thoughts; truly these only damage the silence of the mind and not the thought in itself which cannot cease to exist. Our mind wants the truth and we give it falsehood! Now the essential Truth is God. God is sufficient for His Divine Intelligence and is not sufficient for poor human intelligence!

A contemplation of God which is sustained and immediate, is impossible in the infirmity of the flesh, without a particular gift of the Divine Goodness; but silence in one’s own exercises of the mind is, with respect to the Faith, to content oneself with its obscure light.

Silence to the subtle reasoning which weakens the will and makes love become arid. Silence in one’s intention: purity, simplicity; silence to self-seeking; in meditations, silence to curiosity; in prayer, silence in one’s own dealings, they do nothing but hinder the work of God. Silence to pride which seeks itself in everything, everywhere and always, that wants that which is beautiful, good and sublime; it is the silence of holy simplicity, of total dispossession, of rectitude. A mind that fights against such enemies is similar to those Angels who see the face of God without interruption. The Lord raises up this intelligence to Himself, always in silence.

Next chapter

– From: The Twelve Degrees of Silence, Supplemento am.n. 2/2008 di “De Vita Contemplativa”



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Previous: Silence of the heart


Step 7: Silence of self love

Silence in the sight of one’s own corruption, of one’s own incapacity, silence of the soul which takes pleasure in its own lowliness. Silence to praises, to esteem. Silence in the face of contempt, preferences and complaints: it is the silence of sweetness and of humility. Silence of human nature in the face of joys and pleasures.

The flower blossoms in silence and its perfume praises the Creator in silence

The flower blossoms in silence and its perfume praises the Creator in silence: the interior soul must do the same. Silence of human nature in sufferings and contradictions. Silence in fasting, in watching, in labours, in cold and in heat. Silence in health, in sickness, in privation of everything: it is the eloquent silence of true poverty and of penance: it is the most loving silence of death to all that which is created and human

It is the silence of the human ego which passes to the Divine Will. The shudders of human nature are not able to disturb this silence because it is above human nature.

Next chapter: Silence of the mind

– From: The Twelve Degrees of Silence, Supplemento am.n. 2/2008 di “De Vita Contemplativa”


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Previous: Silence with creatures


Step 6: Silence of the heart

If the tongue is mute, the senses are calm, if the imagination, the memory and creatures are silent and they establish solitude, if not around, at least in the most intimate part of this soul who is the spouse of Christ, the heart will also make little noise.

Silence of affections, of antipathies, silence of desires which are too ardent; silence of a zeal which is indiscrete, silence of exaggerated fervour; silence even of sighs! … Silence of love in what she has that is exalted, not of that holy exultation of which God is the Author, but of that in which human nature is mingled!

Silence of love and love in silence.

It is silence before God, beauty, goodness, perfection.

Silence that has nothing awkward about it, nothing forced: such silence does not harm the silence of humility, as the beat of the Angel’s wings, of which the prophet speaks, does not harm the silence of their obedience, as the fiat does not harm the silence of Gethsemane, as the eternal Sanctus does not harm the silence of the Seraphim! … A heart in silence is a virgin heart, it is a melody for the Heart of God! The lamp is consumed without noise before the Tabernacle and incense rises in silence to the Throne of the Saviour, such is the silence of love!

Such is the silence of love!

In the preceding degrees, silence is still the lament of the earth; in this one the soul, due to its purity, begins to learn the first note of that sacred canticle which is the canticle of Heaven.

Next: Silence of Self Love

– From: The Twelve Degrees of Silence, Supplemento am.n.2/2008 di “De Vita Contemplativa”



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Step 1. Speak seldom with people and often with God

Step 2. Silence in work, in movements

Step 3. Silence of the imagination

Step 4. Silence of the memory


Step 5: Silence with creatures

Oh, the misery of our present condition! Often the soul, attentive over herself, discovers that she is conversing interiorly with creatures, replying in their stead. Oh, humiliation which has made the Saints groan!

Then this soul must gradually withdraw into the innermost depths of that hidden place, where rests the inaccessible Majesty of the Holy of holies and where Jesus, her Consoler and her God, will reveal to her His secrets and give her a taste of future blessedness.

Then He will infuse into her a bitter disgust for all that which is not Him, and all that is earthly will, little by little, cease to distract her.

Next chapter

– From: The Twelve Degrees of Silence, Supplemento am.n.2/2008 di “De Vita Contemplativa”



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Step 1: Speak seldom with creatures and often with God

Step 2: Silence in work, in movements


Step 3: Silence of the imagination

This faculty is the first which knocks at the Spouse’s garden; inexplicable disturbances accompany it, vague impressions, sadness. But in this secluded place, the soul will give to the Beloved proofs of her love. She will present the beauty of Heaven, the charms of her Lord, the scenes of Calvary and the perfections of her God to this faculty that cannot be annihilated. Then she will also rest in silence, she will be the silent handmaid of Divine Love.

Step 4: Silence of the memory

Silence of the past… forgetfulness. It is necessary to saturate this faculty with the remembrance of the mercies of God… It is gratitude in silence. It is the silence of thanksgiving.

Next chapter

– From: The Twelve Degrees of Silence, Supplemento am.n.2/2008 di “De Vita Contemplativa”


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Previous chapter


Step 2. Silence in work, in movements.

Silence in walking, silence of the eyes, of the ears, of the voice; silence of one’s whole exterior being to prepare the soul to tread with God.

With these first efforts the soul merits, in that which depends upon her, to understand the voice of the Lord. How well compensated is this first step!

He calls her into the desert; and that is why in this second state, she withdraws herself from all that could distract her; she withdraws herself from noise, flies alone towards Him Who is alone. In Him she enjoys the first fruits of Divine union and the predilection of her God. It is the silence of recollection or recollection in silence.

Next chapter

– From: The Twelve Degrees of Silence, Supplemento al.n.2/2008 di “De Vita Contemplativa”


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Contemplation, that is to say, the mystical experience or resolution of one’s own relationship with God, is a grace. This is habitually stated and is repeated on the occasions of specific gatherings and studies which have a certain solidity and value on a critical level (some more valuable than others). And who would deny this?

Not wanting to govern the ungovernable work of God, one can assert with complete tranquillity and certitude that contemplation is truly a grace for a variety of reasons: because from all eternity God had thought of and prepared it; or because it coincides with the grace of the universal call to holiness; or because, at a certain moment in the spiritual journey, God crowns the desire of a soul passionately seeking Him with this grace.

He who is putting these thoughts together is of the opinion that the reason for this should be given to the second motivation listed above: the mystical life is a grace because it is the very grace of the universal call to holiness. By this I do not mean to say that the other reasons are unfounded; it may well be that, to the contrary, there is something true in each of them and that they complete one another. One thing is certain: it is a grace and, in so far as it coincides with the call to faith and salvation, it is the most noteworthy grace. One should not have recourse, therefore, to the formula “extraordinary grace” because, as has been said, it is the normal development, even at its highest point, of baptismal rebirth.

When this development does not come to fruition it is not a sign that there was not the vocation, nor that grace had lost its efficacy in the journey, but that the lack of correspondence on the part of the one called had neutralised, at least in part, that grace.

Where there is generous and sincere correspondence in the supernatural organism in all of its components – sanctifying grace, the theological triptych equipped with the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – vigorously leads and expands unto the complete maturation of transforming union. This, in my modest opinion, is the true sense of Eph. 4:13; this is the explanation which is most convincing and adherent to the text. Anyone who does not thwart his own vocation through lack of commitment or dissipation, but corresponds to it fully, develops his own supernatural organism, which reaches the complete maturity of “perfect manhood,” that is the “mature measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Even from this can be deduced that the grace of contemplation, which is available to all, is the terminal point of everyone’s developing process. It is, therefore, the “mature measure” of the truly adult Christian. How one may come to that full age, does not follow a single, methodical path: “in domo Patris mei mansions multae sunt” (Jn 14:2). If he arrives by this path or by that path, it does not matter. Nor is it important that one arrives and many others do not. What is important is that all are capable of arriving by virtue of the fact that, as St Teresa of Avila points out, Jesus says to everyone, “Come.” (The Path of Perfection XIX, 15).

A luminous and persuasive example accompanies the mystical journey: Mary, the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ and , therefore, of the Church and of each member in particular. She is our travelling companion along the way, a way that She, in an exemplary manner, undertook by saying Her “Yes” to God, a “Yes” which changed the destiny of human history. After that “Yes” She was the first to be elevated to the heights of mystical union, under the action of the Holy Spirit (Ascent III 2,10), an action She generously welcomed through Her “Yes”. “Overshadowed” by the divine Spirit in order to conceive the Redeemer (Living Flame B and A III, 12), She immediately became His Mother. Notwithstanding the fact that Her state of union did not carry with it the necessity of suffering, God united suffering to Her “Yes” so that her coredemptive merit might be all the greater (Spiritual Canticle B XX, 10 – A XXIX, 7). She was an example of unreserved docility (Poetry VI, 8) and of total adherence to the divine project of universal salvation. She was humble, obedient and angelically chaste: it was in response to this, Her personal vocation, that She was intimately united to the Father and the Holy Spirit through the Son.

We will be like Her if, in following Her, we allow ourselves to be docilely carried by God “upon His wings” (Dt 32:11).
– B. Gherardini in ‘De vita Contemplativa’, Year VI, No 6, April 2012


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Far from being mere spiritual fervour, the flame of love or “divinisation” is a transforming grace which fuses the human and the divine in such a way that the former is annihilated in the latter. But to reach this height, a total detachment from and denial of self is required because heading down the road of transforming union only occurs when every other road has been renounced.


In the heavily stereotyped classification of mystical experience, experts say that the UNITIVE WAY follows that of the ILLUMINATIVE WAY, and the illuminative way that of the PURGATIVE WAY. It is always necessary to restructure and clarify things a bit, especially in this field where the intellect is not the lord and master and finds itself cataloguing and appraising phenomena which transcend it.

The classification per se is not a sin: it is but an external grazing of a precious subject whose internal content, even if not entirely impenetrable, does not allow itself to be easily grasped. Without a doubt these three phases are real; and they indubitably manifest the characteristics for which they are typically known. The field determinations and their respective differences, however, often seem a bit excessive both because some phenomena, without being common, repeat themselves and because the exact meaning of a mystical experience, especially at the highest levels, can never be adequately explained in human terms.


Nonetheless, it is opportune to cross over the threshold, not only in order to enter into the CASTLE, but to take a look at some of its secret rooms as well.

Up to now we have only had but a glimpse of them. We have been granted, in special moments of grace, the possibility of giving them a cursory glance. But now we would like to explore them. In those moments when prayer opened our hearts to God’s PURIFYING and ENLIGHTENING action, or in which our free will received the solicitations of grace to allow itself to be PURIFIED of all residue of sin and attachment to self, and the soul was ENLIGHTENED about the path to be undertaken, we truly remained, more or less at length, in those very rooms where there was the joy of resting in the Father’s bosom and of having the Most Holy Trinity repose in our heart. We experienced a total union of two objects united by Love.

Then the heavenly light, while it did not extinguish itself, nonetheless was distanced and the vision of those rooms grew feeble. As if engulfed anew in the purgatory of our initial spiritual undertakings, we found ourselves once again, not in the ‘quiet,’ but in the rage of a purifying battle. And yet we were often enveloped – and with the passing of time with greater frequency – by the splendour of heavenly light. During the illuminative experience the memory of this remained and this nourished the hope of experiencing that union yet again. Actually, the nostalgia of having tasted it made us long for it to be renewed and prolonged as a perennial communion.


It is precisely this communion which is of interest when it speaks of the UNITIVE WAY. It is here that the process of maturation, binding God and the mystic into one has its coronation (cfr. The Ascent). In other words, it is here that the process reaches its peak. The soul now awaits the ‘spiritual engagement’ and akspiritual marriage,’ those two extraordinary experiences upon which converge the entire development and unfolding of the unitive relationship. ‘Divinisation’ we called it. The mystics call it the ‘flame of love.’
And what we are dealing with here is a true flame whose effects, at times, are even visible and distinguish themselves clearly from common fervour. It is a flame which brings to mind the ‘flames’ of the Song of Songs (8:6) and Jeremiah (20:9). Or even more, it is that ‘fire’ which Our Lord brought to this world (Lk 12:49). When it blazes, nothing can resist it.


The ‘divinisation’ then has the signs of a fusion: just as metals are fused under the action of fire, so too in the ‘flame of love,’ on the supernatural plane, God and the mystical soul become BUT ONE. In reality we are speaking of a most intimate, radical and complette participation of the mystical soul in that transforming grace which engenders a new and blessed life (cfr. The Dark Night II, 9, 4). In a word we are dealing with the fusion of two operative principles, the divine and the human: not in a sense of a new metaphysical reality, but in that of a new way of being united which occurs under the decisive action of the divine principle and wherein the human is annihilated (cfr. The Ascent I, 11, 3).

Just as some habitual imperfections impede the mystic soul from crowning his journey of communion with God (cfr. The Ascent II, 5, 4), in the same way, the emptying of oneself helps it: the radical detachment of one’s thought, desire, feeling and imagination (cfr. The Ascent II, 4, 4).

As soon as the detachment would abandon the shifting sands of pious intentions and would respond to a firm and irremovable decision of the mystic, the divinisation becomes a fact. On the way of transforming union, in fact, one enters into the very act in which every other way is abandoned (cfr. The Ascent II, 4, 5).”
– Brunero Gherardini, published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly Magazine for Monasteries), Year V – Number 7 – July 2011.


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