Contemplative Gaze

“It’s quite true that we are absurd and frivolous, that we have bad habits, that we are bored, that we don’t know how to look at anything or understand anything.” – The Idiot

Pokémon Go took the country by storm this July, and the effect was visible as the hidden world of gaming came to the public square. While witnessing the swarms of crowds shuffling along the shore line of Indian Point Park in Providence, I was reminded of Br. Jonah’s experience at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last year. “People don’t know how to look anymore.” There was an eerie calm in the park as flocks of individuals walked silently past one another. Their faces shone not golden from the light from the sun, but a pale blue from the screen of their phones. The beautiful scene in God’s creation would not suffice for the afternoon, unless it could be experienced and “augmented” through a screen.

This game has given people the opportunity to recreate and get outside, and that is good. A far healthier way of enjoying the day than in a basement. Yet there’s still something odd about traveling to compelling sites only to “augment” the experience. The trip to such-and-such a place is not remembered as what one saw or learned from visiting the site. Instead, the place is remembered à la Pokémon Go. The gamer overlooks beauty in favor of triviality.

Yet the truth is, we often overlook spiritual realities and trade the higher for the lower. There are a number of world affairs, concerns, anxieties, and stresses that loom over our pursuit of that which transcends. We do not “augment” reality but rather distort it by overlooking that Jesus is alive and is with us, Emmanuel.

We Catholics search out God in prayer and study, but at times this search can be distorted by the preoccupations of other things. When this happens, the rosary can sound more like the shifting gears of a sports car, and lectio divina is measured by pages per minute. While the intention may be there in the heart, the attention to the presence of God may be lacking.

I think this is what the spiritual writer Jacques Phillipe is alluding to when he writes,

“And how does one grow in this total confidence in God; how can we maintain and nourish it in ourselves? Certainly not only by intellectual speculation and theological considerations. They will never withstand the moments of trial. But by a contemplative gaze on Jesus.

When we race through prayer or through our study of Scripture and theology, we are going about it without a contemplative gaze. We don’t know how to look and see the Lord present with us. It is when our prayer and study become truly attentive to the reality set before us that we open ourselves to receive Jesus in such a way that we know Him more intimately and grow in love of Him.

The true contemplative gaze fixed on Christ comprehends the words of St. Paul, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). This is most eminently seen in the life of Our Lady.

In Rosarium Virginis Mariae, St. John Paul II deems the Blessed Virgin our “incomparable model” in contemplating Christ. He goes on:

In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Lk 2:7). §10

Mary’s connection with reality was not distorted as ours often is. The trials she faced in Bethlehem, Egypt, and Cavalry did not turn her look away from her Lord. Within the stall, she did not simply see a poor child needing to be saved from a tyrannical king. Rather, she saw God who humbled Himself that He might save man from the tyranny of sin. His fleshly resemblance to her was fashioned in her womb, but her spiritual resemblance to Him, He fashioned in her gaze.

We can follow after her example in our prayer and study. Attentive like the Blessed Virgin Mary, our hearts will burn for the consummation of St. John’s words, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3:2) When we have a contemplative gaze upon Jesus, we become like Him.

Image: Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Nativity (detail)

You May Also Enjoy:

The Devil’s Martyrs and Contrition "To depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:28). Sin is something altogether mysterious and awful: a turning away from God and a turning to the changeable good. As broken human persons, we create for ourselves a myriad of excuses for the sins we commit. It seems that our changeable and too easily distracted mind can hardly conceive of the idea of the Supreme Good (God) and still less hold It as the object of its preference over and above al...
St. Patrick’s Slavery Similar to the Irish people, St. Patrick moved from slavery to slavery. Looking at the life of today’s celebrated saint, we see three modes of slavery which are emblematic of the people he helped save. St. Patrick and his flock have been slaves to humans, sin, and Christ. The life of Patrick shows us the healing and freeing power of grace which removed the yoke of man and sin and replaced them with the sweet yoke of Christ. The opening words ...
Biases and Nudges Snickers is obviously the best candy bar. It’s also strategically placed at the checkout line of most grocery stores. This convenient and predictable location makes it easy to verify the aforementioned laudatory status. And if you disagree and think another candy bar – say Milky Way – is better, well, that is fortunately available at checkout lines too. Those who produce and purvey these wondrous snacks understand the importance of product pos...
Rivalry “Rivalry ought really to be considered a good.” The Dominican saint Catherine de Ricci wrote this provocative statement in a letter on Palm Sunday. Her words seem to parallel those of Gordon Gekko, the notorious villain from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, who proclaimed, “the point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” St. Paul condemns Gekko in writing, “The love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tm 6:10)...
Br. Irenaeus Dunlevy, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Irenaeus Dunlevy was born ​the youngest of four children ​in Columbus, Ohio​.​ ​He grew up in the ​rural ​southeast suburb of Canal Winchester. ​A​fter leaving the area for college, his family joined the ​Dominican ​parish of St. Patrick’s in Columbus. ​He received a Bachelor and Masters of Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University ​and practiced for a religious architecture firm in the DC area.​ Br. Irenaeus entered the Order of Preachers in 2013.​​ On