Across the globe, many Catholic dioceses celebrated the feast of the Epiphany yesterday, while others will do so on its traditional day 6 January. Here is a Carthusian reflection for this glorious feast. Like many Carthusian writings, there are gems here which are more applicable for those called to the contemplative life. But surely each of us can take something of what is shared here and apply it to our own lives.
The birth of our Lord is a renewal of creation. The Fathers of the Church have compared the Infant-God hidden under the triple veil of the maternal womb, of a cave and of night, to a secret seed whence a new Flower will blossom, for the joy of the world. All life, it so happens, is born in secret and is veiled in its beginnings with mystery and silence. And our Lord is Life itself: Ego sum vita… I am Life (Saint John 14:6). We shall never meditate enough on this Name, so rich in its meaning, that God has given to Himself.
The life He communicates to us is not the life of nature but of grace. Nevertheless, the first is the figure of the second, and the latter the fullness of the former. All life is freely given. In a living person life is the first and fundamental gift for which there can be neither preparation nor merit. It is not for nothing that the supernatural life is called grace, for it is life essential: a birth more mysterious, a gift more pure and unmerited, than that of nature, for it is a participation in the divine prerogatives that no created intelligence would have thought possible. We must possess the spirit of grace, the spirit of divine liberality which, when we receive God’s gifts, makes us welcome without hesitation all that He offers us so lavishly, and when we give, constrains us by a consummate generosity to imitate the divine abundance of that living water, sharing it with others, whilst we ourselves drink deeply of the source.
Among the faithful generally, it is by prayer and recollection that grace is diffused. With us, it must do so above all under the form of the interior life. Interior-ness is a characteristic of all life. An inanimate stone has a kind of activity, but it is only on the surface; it only resists shocks from without. Living things, on the other hand, discern and utilize whatever is good for them: an inner sense guides their conduct and growth. The spiritual life is even keener and more powerful still: there is nothing from which it cannot draw profit. The faithful soul finds its good in everything that affects it; a principle more profound than that which governs the life of nature causes it to derive strength and development from its contact with everything. When it is not so with us, when we allow the accidents of life to upset us and turn us from our path, it is surely because our life is not sufficiently interior. We must descend into the depths of our being, remain patient and still and re-find in the solitude where God dwells, that divine intelligence, that mysterious force, thanks to which we are again able to assimilate harmoniously without exception all that happens to us and around us.
As for us, the life of grace, the interior life, is developed under the form of the contemplative life. Perhaps, in order to make this union and fusion of man with his Creator clearer, we should express ourselves more simply, and it would be truer to say in general that we lead a life of union and love. Nonetheless, we rightly speak of it as the contemplative life to denote the ideal of a love essentially direct and disinterested. For contemplation is the act of a soul rapt in admiration in the presence of something more beautiful than itself. Such, indeed, is the nature of admiration, the force of beauty thus contemplated, that it can make us lose ourselves, utterly unconscious of our self. The act of contemplative love is at once the simplest and most direct. Here again we cannot help remarking the continuity of the processes of nature and grace. All life is love, and all life is forgetfulness of self. Life consists in losing oneself so as to gain a higher good. In all nature life can only be perpetuated by the immolation of the individual, sacrificed generation after generation, so that the flame of life it has received may be passed on and continued, undiminished, a living flame.
But it is, above all, in the realm of grace that abnegation is both a necessity and a joy. Qui perdiderit animam suam… he that shall lose his life for Me shall find it (Saint Matthew 10:39). The soul has the power to forget itself more than any other living thing: it has, if it so desire, the absolute limpidity of a mirror. Possessing no longer any form of its own, it reflects all the splendor of the infinite Majesty. To contemplate God thus, in the calm of recollection, is the source of all true wisdom. We are not masters of ourselves, we shall never know true justice or prudence, until by a brave and sincere gesture of welcome, we allow God to fulfill His will in us, and be in us all He wants to be.
May Mary, whose feast it is also, Mary full of grace, the most interior and hidden of virgins, whose soul is lost in pure admiration of the divine Majesty and thus utterly free, teach us to receive Him, and to love and contemplate Him, as she herself does.