Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Learning Contemplation From Mary

By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published January 31, 2013

CONYERS—The Cistercian order is closely identified with devotion to Mary. All Cistercian houses are dedicated to the Virgin. The official seal of every monastery bears her image. In art, she is depicted often as protecting members of the order under her mantle. Every night in Cistercian monasteries, the Salve Regina is sung at the end of Compline to conclude the liturgical day.

This image of the Presentation of the Lord at St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell, is one of three Joyful Mystery images in the far left stained glass windowpane in the left transept of the church. Photo By Michael Alexander

Asked to offer perspective during this Year of Faith dedicated to Mary, Father Gerard Gross, of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, advised looking to the saints and monastics, who write about the Virgin from spiritual depths of contemplation and reflection.

The naïve approach of hoping to model one’s actions on Mary is missing the essential step of first learning from her, he said.

“Before we can be like Mary, we need to look to Mary,” he said.

He recommends reading passages like the one from the homily by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, reprinted below, and by other Cistercians, that offer brief, poetic lines, inviting slow reflection, rather than a hurried push to fill the brain with information.

“It is contemplative reading. It is made to be used and highlighted,” he said. “I read and I pray. I read continuously. When something speaks to me powerfully, I stick it in my palm computer, or underline it.”

In St. Bernard’s homily, he is struck by the saint’s encouragement to “look to Mary” in every difficulty and every circumstance throughout the day.

“It’s the constant looking to Mary. It is not a matter of setting aside your 15 minutes or hour to pray to Mary. It is more contemplative. It is a way of life: the constant contemplative looking at Mary,” Father Gerard said.

She is the example of living with the mystery God works in her life and not attempting to unravel it or understand it, Father Gerard said. In Luke’s Gospel, passages repeatedly say that Mary, and also Joseph, do not understand the events, the prophets’ words, and even the actions of Jesus, for example, when he stayed behind in Jerusalem and his parents were frantically searching for him.

The response of Mary is described as keeping “words in her heart” or “pondering these things in her heart.”

“Mary pondered these things throughout her life. She didn’t solve the mystery. She couldn’t comprehend, but she treasured these things in her heart,” he said.

“That is the key contemplative aspect of life that is very important for everybody. We don’t come to depth if we—so to speak—Google it and come up with the answer,” Father Gerard said.

“No. We need to ponder it, we return to it. We ponder the mysteries of life like Mary. We return to them and we come to understand them with greater and greater depth,” he said.

Contemplation is a gift, the monk said, and while we can dispose ourselves toward it, by seeking quiet times and listening, “it is a gift God gives as a surprise.”

“The surprise of the Spirit can come when we are noisy,” Father Gerard said, citing St. Paul’s rash ride on his horse, where he suddenly encountered God knocking him over and speaking to him.

Those who are out in the world and active in life can follow a monastic practice which doesn’t take much time, but has great spiritual effect, he said.

In the community, a time of 15 minutes of spiritual reading is set aside daily where the monks hear in silence a short passage from spiritual writers while they eat.

“It has a profound effect on the community,” he said. “Every day we have this one little 15-minute period, so we are picking up a lot” over time.

The practice can be emulated by busy people, he said. Even five minutes a day of spiritual reading, done daily, would be very enriching over time.

“In fact, we recommend about Lectio Divina, when something speaks to you, stop and don’t go any further. Stop. Stay with it. It penetrates more deeply when we get less of it.”

In the case of spiritual reflection, less is really more, he said.

“It probably increases our understanding to take a little bit every day. The deeper process of penetrating our life and changing our heart is more likely to happen.”

“If we take it more slowly piece by piece, it is much more likely to challenge us,” the monk said.

St. Bernard Of Clairvaux: In Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary

And the virgin’s name was Mary

Let us say a few words about this name

which means ‘star of the sea’ and is so appropriate to

the Virgin Mother …

she it is

whose brightness

both twinkles in the highest heaven

and pierces the pit of hell

and is shed upon earth

warming our hearts far more than our bodies, fostering virtue

and cauterizing vice …

O you

whoever you are

who feel that in the tidal wave of this world you are nearer to being tossed about among

the squalls and gales

than treading on dry land:

if you do not want to founder in the tempest

do not avert your eyes from the brightness of this star.

When the wind of temptation blows up within you

when you strike upon the rock of tribulation

gaze up at this star

call out to Mary …

Following her

you will never go astray.

Asking her help

you will never despair.

Keeping her in your thoughts

you will never wander away.

With your hand in hers

you will never stumble.

With her protecting you

you will not be afraid.

With her leading you

you will never tire.

Her kindness

will see you through to the end.

Then you will know by your experience

how true it is that

the Virgin’s name was Mary.