The Necessity of Prayer for Contemplation

So if contemplation is so important for our lives, indeed it part and parcel to our transformation in Christ, how is it to be done? Dietrich von Hildebrand answers:

The true Christian must at any cost conquer a place in his life for contemplation. He must firmly refuse to let himself be dragged into a whirlpool of activities in which he is driven incessantly from one task to another, purpose succeeding purpose, without a pause. The present period of perpetual unrest, in which the machine has come to be the model, the causa exemplaris, of well-nigh all things, in which everything is caught in a process of instrumentalization, in which Leistung (“achievement”) with the emphasis on quantity and mere technical perfection, has assumed priority over being in a substantial and meaningful sense – this period of shallow hyperactivity is only too apt to drag us into that whirlpool of outward preoccupations.

All our actions, even those with a religious or moral importance, which therefore essentially appeal to the contemplative attitude, we tend to perform in the manner of discharging a duty or of acquitting ourselves of a task – not to say, of turning out the required output. We live in uninterrupted tension, never ceasing to be conquered about what has next to be settled; and many of us no longer know any alternative to work except recreation and amusement.

I believe this is what I called “noise”. So how are we to overcome all this noise and achieve a contemplative frame of mind1? von Hildebrand answers:

First, we should consecrate every day a certain space of time to inward prayer. There must be such a fraction of the day, in which we drop all our topical or habitual concerns before God, facing Him in complete emptiness, so as to be filled by the holy presence of Christ alone.

Yet, we must guard from performing the inner prayer as though we were dispatching a business among others, assimilating it to the rhythm of current tasks. We must really loose the spasm of activity and be dominated by the consciousness of departing in our inward prayer towards the superior realm of ultimate being, in radical transcendence of the aims and concerns which habitually rule the course of our thoughts.

All these we must leave behind, pronouncing a nescivi (“I have forgotten”)….

Inward prayer is the utmost antithesis to all tense activity: we cannot practice it fruitfully unless we succeed in extricating ourselves from the rhythm of affairs to be settled. To preserve that pragmatic attitude during our inward prayer is to falsify the latter’s essence to the point of absurdity.

1 This is not to say our entire lives are to be spent in perpetual contemplation. Dietrich von  Hildebrand makes a sharp distinction between recollection and contemplation.  In Recollection “we become or make ourselves empty of pragmatical concerns, directing ourselves to the absolute…. In this respect, recollection is a preamble to contemplation…. Whereas our earthly life could not be purely contemplative, it should always remain recollected.”


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Liturgy of the Hours

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