Using language of adoration or vilification and everything in between, Pope Francis has been described as many things by many people. Yet the Pontiff has never been labelled a contemplative. Until today, when the Bishop of Rome labelled himself exactly that.
During Mass on Feb. 3 in the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives, Pope Francis cited the importance—and the simplicity—of being a contemplative and how he practices that form of prayer.
Pope Francis used that day’s Gospel story (Mark 5:21-43) and discussed the contemplative practice of visualizing the story in your mind’s eye. “I see Jesus was in the midst of the crowd; there was a big crowd around him,” the Pope said about the scene. This soon prompted him to ask, “Didn’t Jesus ever rest? I can think: Always with a crowd. Most of Jesus’ life was spent on the road, with the crowd. Was there no rest?”
Francis then gave contemplative prayer a simple and profound explanation. “What I just did with this Gospel is the prayer of contemplation,” Francis said, which involves, “taking the Gospel, reading it, imagining myself in the scene, imagining what happens and talking to Jesus about whatever is in my heart.”
Perhaps because of Pope Francis’ reputation as “man of the people,” who is adept in administration and quick to candor, it is so hard to see him as a practitioner of contemplative prayer. Or perhaps the reason is because Catholic-lore has often portrayed “contemplatives” as a distinct subset of men and women removed from society in a cloister or hermitage, spending a superhuman quantity of hours in meditation on divinity. .
Whatever the cause, the assumptions remain that contemplative prayer is for the elite few and labelling someone contemplative is asserting that they have large quantities of time to hunker down and commune with the Lord.
Pope Francis says those assumptions are not true. He suggested in his homily that everyone spend 10 minutes a day in contemplative prayer. “Today find 10 minutes — 15 at the most — and read the Gospel, imagine the scene and say something to Jesus. Nothing more,” the Pope said.
Mother Cabrini’s accomplished so much in so little time that it is reasonable to assume that she did not have the time for contemplative prayer—at least in our traditional notion of long, arduous contemplation. After all, hospitals and orphanages and nursing homes don’t build themselves. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini biographer Segundo Galilea agrees, saying “Frances Xavier felt the chronic fatigue of twenty-five years of missionary activity. She felt the burden of founding, struggling against obstacles, which would have disheartened anyone…”
Galilea says about Mother Cabrini exactly what Pope Francis told the world on Feb. 3. Namely, that you can be active and busy, accomplishing a great deal in a hectic world, and still find time to be a modern contemplative. Galilea says of Mother Cabrini: “She learned to love Jesus in her immigrant brothers and sisters. This mission, therefore, was her life, although the contemplative trait remained. She felt it in the course of her long journeys, in certain moments of retreat…”
Galilea tells us that the Saint was like today’s Pope. “Mother Cabrini from childhood was a woman of prayer, a contemplative. What filled her life was God; not what she did for God.”
If the Pope and a Saint can find time for contemplative prayer and to be “contemplatives” while building historic resumes of achievement, then no one else can claim to have too little time. As Pope Francis said on Feb. 3, “Today find 10 minutes — 15 at the most — and read the Gospel, imagine the scene and say something to Jesus. Nothing more. Your knowledge of Jesus will increase and your hope will grow.”
Nothing more than gaining knowledge of Christ and growing hope? Well then—nothing more than gaining everything.
By Christopher Grosso, Senior Writer, Cabrini College