A Dwelling Place for God

Saint Clare does not teach a human contemplation based solely on human experience, but rather a biblical contemplation, in which God alone remains the decisively active person. In verses 23-26 of her Third Letter to Saint Agnes of Prague, she quotes a part of the Gospel according to John, which is a key to understanding contemplation and its practice. The section is from John 14:21-23, and in Latin and English reads:

Qui diligit me diligetur a Patre meo, et ego diligam eum, et ad com veniemus, et mansionem apud eum faciemus.

Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and will love him, and we shall come to him and make our dwelling place with him.

It is useful to look at translations into other languages of "making a dwelling place." Here are the German and Italian versions:

Wer mich liebt, wird von meinem Vater geliebt, und ich werde ihn lieben. Und wir werden zu ihm kommen und wohnung bei ihm nehem.

Chi mi ama sara 'amato dal Padre mio; anch 'io I'amero' e il Padre mio lo amera'. lo verro' da lui con il Padre mio e abiteremo con lui.

In another English version, "dwelling place" becomes "make our home with him" or "make my abode with him." Another ltalian version of the text goes, "faremo dimora presso di lui." In the original Greek text it reads, ...monan par auto poiasomentha." We could just as easily say that a "safe shelter" is given here.

The first part of the sentence shows us how we prepare ourselves for contemplation; in the second part, we are told what happens during contemplation. It is noteworthy that a sentence fragment is missing between both sentences, "...if he keeps my word."

Clare has placed the emphasis in the first section on love, through which we become a home for the Lord. The omission of the sentence fragment could be regrettable. It could be that Clare took this quote as part of a prayer, and not from the Sacred Scriptures. But since love holds the word here, our explanation of contemplation could go from the entire written text:

Whoever has my commandments and obeys them, is the one who loves me. But whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.

If someone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him.

Contemplation is a matter of love. Only a loving person will be able to contemplate. A loving sister will do something concrete, keep the word of Christ. Moreover, she will focus on the word of Christ. Without knowledge of the word of Christ, the gift of contem-plation will not suffice for her. When she hears the word of Christ, she will turn to his voice.

Contemplation, therefore, begins when we, out of love for Christ, take the Scriptures and let Christ speak to us through its words. The point of departure for our contemplation is first of all the Sacred Scripture. By the Scriptures, we can first learn what contemplation means and how we can practice it.

After we have opened the Sacred Scriptures and have accepted the word of Christ, some-thing special happens: the Father and the Son make a dwelling place with us, that is, they stay with us. Contemplation is not primarily an act of the sister, but rather, the act of God making a dwelling place in us.

In contemplation, we let God find a dwelling place within us, that is, reside within us. Many people think that contemplation is a human effort. It certainly is, but before this it is God who makes a dwelling place within us. The word con-templation itself is indicative. Literally, the word means to live together. This signifies much more than what we usually mean; it indicates a loving regard. It is about God living together with us. God, who lives together with us works through us, so that we can live well with God.

We need not worry that we would not be able to have God live within us. If we rely on the Holy Spirit, then we will be inwardly prepared, so that God can live with us.

At this point, if we read three lines further from the Sacred Scriptures, we can establish how Jesus makes us aware of the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Thus we should call forth the Holy Spirit after we have heard the word of Christ. The Holy Spirit will take part in the dwelling of Father and Son within us.

In sum, we can observe the following steps to help us prepare for contemplation:

1. Our heart and spirit will begin to love.

2. In this loving state, we will open up the Sacred Scriptures and hear Christ's word.

3. We will ask the Holy Spirit to teach us and remind us of what Christ had to say.

Now God begins to make a dwelling place within us. Now we find ourselves in contemplation. As we consider that the Virgin Mother was blessed with all of this after the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, we will see that our Franciscan contemplation, as followers of Saint Clare, is also Marian.

Father Herbert Schneider, O.F.M.,

Delegate for the Poor Clare Nuns


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