Why should we bother with contemplative prayer? Isn’t it a bit weird? It’s all very well for monks and nuns and mystics like John of the Cross — but is he actually for real? They say he’s dangerous. Negative. Pre-Vatican II.
These aspersions are cast, sometimes by priests, not just on “little John” but on other saints considered out of date and no longer relevant. But John’s lifestyle, like any saint’s, and like ours, if we’re serious, was a Gospel lifestyle — and the Gospel, let’s remember, is pre-Vatican II.
If we’re going to Mass and Reconciliation, praying the Rosary and so on, isn’t that enough? Well, yes — and no. We’d probably get into heaven eventually, but only saints get home free. Only the pure in heart shall see God. The zapping theory, of being instantly purified by the very sight of God, sits well with the politically correct concept of the Almighty as all merciful, while conveniently — for this life, if certainly not for the next — overlooking the truth: God is also all just.
From what we hear of purgatory from saints who’ve been shown it, it seems a good idea to get our purification over and done with beforehand. Which is where contemplative prayer comes in. You could carry on praying actively and maybe become devout, even holy, but never “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). For the perfection Jesus commends to us all, without exception, we must sit back and let God take over. Teresa of Avila assures us that with the development of divinely infused prayer, as God pours into our heart his Spirit of light and love, we’ll see our faults and want to get rid of them; bathed in his love we’ll want to share it with others — which only serves to increase our love and holiness and, incidentally, our happiness.
What’s more, the measure of our love for God at the moment of death is our measure of glory for all eternity. When we die, the game’s over. We could call purgatory injury time, except that, no matter how many wounds we receive during life, in purgatory we can’t add to our score.
So it’s now or never. “Everything we gain,” says Teresa, “comes from what we give.”
What we give to God here on earth is what he will give to us for ever in heaven.