Q. Christian meditation sounds similar to contemplation: are they synonyms, or is there any difference, and which one?
LF. The terms ‘contemplation’ and meditation’ have a rich and sometimes contradictory history in our tradition. I like to start with Aquinas’ definition of contemplation as the ‘simple enjoyment of the truth’. In our theology contemplation is always a grace, a gift, not the result of human effort or technique. However, as Teresa of Avila says, we must dispose ourselves to receive this gift of ‘pure prayer’. Meditation, then, can be described as the way we prepare ourselves to receive the gift of contemplation which unites us with the prayer of Jesus and so leads us into union with the father in the Spirit.
Q. The motto of your religious order is "ora et labora", pray and work. In the acronym WCCM (World Community for Christian Meditation) work, is, instead, absent. Is there any contradiction?
LF. Meditation is work too! St Benedict speaks of communal prayer as the ‘work of God’ and the mystical tradition understands the prayer of the heart as an ascetical work. This work of prayer requires set times and a discipline, of course, but it then enters into all forms of work. Work means the transformation of energy - ultimately into the energy of love which is the life of God. So we come to understand the meaning of ‘continuous prayer’ which the monk - and all Christians - seek to achieve in whatever kind of activity he is engaged in.
Q. Following Thomas Merton, Bede Griffith and John Main, WCCM combines monastic spirituality with ecumenism and interreligious dialogue; how does that combination work in practice? Is your community open to all Christians in the sense of, say, the Taizé community, or is it a strictly Catholic institution?
LF. We are an ecumenical Christian community. The idea of ‘spiritual ecumenism’, as promoted in recent years, is at the heart of contemporary ecumenism. Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke to the Vatican Synod on the New Evangelisation in these terms last year. In that important statement he mentioned The World Community for Christian Meditation as well as Taize and Bose as examples of this new approach to ecumenism. It is built on the insight that contemplation is not a marginal issue but is at the heart of all Christian life. The inter-religious dialogue that is also part of our modern approach to evangelisation is greatly enriched by this vision of a contemplative Christianity engaging with the needs of the world and echoing the cry of the poor in the fruits of its prayer.
Q. You have met His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama more than once: how did this relation develop over the years? Does it spill over, and how, into the WCCM, and possibly into the entire church?
LF. I first met the Dalai Lama through his friendship with Dom John Main, the founder of our community. In 1995 the Dalai Lama led the historic John Main Seminar called “The Good Heart” – subsequently published in many languages. This seminar I think brought us together closely at a personal level as he shared his responses to the gospel passages that I presented him with and which were the basis of our dialogue. It was a big risk for both of us! Over the years we have led the Way of Peace events together to show that friendship born of deep contemplation between members of different traditions can be applied to the healing of the wounds and divisions in our suffering world. I think such friendship is the basis of all useful dialogue and I have been greatly enriched in my life as a Christian monk by this particular friendship.
Q. Six months ago the resignation of Benedict XVI and the election of Francesco revealed a surprising capacity for renewal of the Catholic Church. How did, and does WCCM contribute to the renewal of the Church?
LF. The contemplative life of the church has always saved it from its own tendency to become too institutionalized and self-centred. Pope Francis calls us to avoid the three temptations of 1. turning the gospel into an ideology, 2. to run the church like a business corporation and 3. clericalism.
I hope our community, by teaching the Christian tradition of meditation at all levels of the church’s life – and at all stages of the individual faith journey – is helping to avoid these dangers; and also to take advantage of the new spirit of hope and joyful energy being released in the universal church by the Spirit through Pope Francis.
The paradox is that the more deeply we enter into the mystery of Christ within the more we meet him in all the external activities of our life. The dichotomy between contemplation and action is in fact only an intellectual concept when we see that the Kingdom of God is both within us and among us – an ‘ambiguity’ found in the words of the Gospel to show us that in Christ we are all one.
This is an exciting and unpredicted time of renewal for all Christianity – a return to the basics of the gospel. These basics are exemplified in the person of Jesus – a man of action whose activity was defined by his prayer and flowed from his communion with God.
- Place: Italy
- Date: September 2013