Gentle Revolutionary

Gentle Revolutionary

28 June 2016

One of the 20th century's most influential scholars and social
activists fulfilled his days abandoned to God, living to pray.
Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) occupied professorial chairs at some of
the world's most prestigious universities, served France as a
diplomat, and all the while (in complete union with his beautiful wife
Raissa) sought "to follow the contemplative voice in the world".

Jacques was, in the truest sense of the word, a prophet insofar as he
spoke of and then lived a contemplative life which was indicative of a
way and mode that was for "another" (our?) time.  He always maintained
the profoundest affection, respect and connection to the Church's
"ancient", traditional houses of prayer and monasteries.

But both he and Raissa were strongly drawn to associate themselves
with the earliest followers of the somewhat eccentric, fiercely devout
ex-soldier and hermit, Charles de Foucauld.  Charles (and later the
Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus) conceived of a contemplative
life which was to "imitate the poor and humble life of Jesus in
Galilee".  It was a way of being, as opposed to doing; "sharing in the
existence of the most underprivileged, wearing no religious habit,
engaging in no proselytism, and spending time in adoration".

Jacques was very committed to a vision of the Church (and
contemplative communities too!) no longer being a "fortified castle"
but rather  an "army of stars thrown across the sky".  Thus he foresaw
prayer houses increasingly need to be found "in those points of the
world where men have a terrible need to be animated by hearts devoted
to contemplation".

It is important to grasp:

1)   The contemplative life (living to pray) is not just for a
spiritual "elite"...e.g. those living vowed lives within
well-established and reputable houses of prayer.  Nor is it a vocation
for "left-overs"; devout folk who fail to "make it" in local church or
missions ministries.

2)   The contemplative life is at one and the same time about being
apostolic (respecting and taking instruction from our monastic
ancestors!), and also being prepared and fluid enough to be radically
adapted to new times and new generations.

Jacques speaks authentically and compellingly for both of these
propositions, upon which we need to be squarely founded.  How else to
avoid slavishly imitating the past, running after the latest fad, or
just becoming inert through uncertainty and vacillation.

How hard is it really, to set aside a corner in a little-used room,
adorn one of its walls with the confronting Icon of our salvation, and
covenant with oneself to pray the Psalms there on behalf of the whole
world, at set times of the day and the night?

"The task which the new age we are entering expects of Christians,"
writes Jacques, "is so difficult that we cannot possibly accomplish it
unless there are multiplied, in the very heart of and throughout the
world, constellations of spiritual energy composed of humble stars
invisibly shining, each a contemplative soul given over to the life of

Through such ordinary, hidden and apparently unproductive souls,
Raissa writes, "the living water of love and its divine taste reach
those whose vocation comprises more activity".  If the contemplative
stream ceased to flow entirely, she concludes, "hearts would soon be
dried up"!

Such people, according to Raissa, are not only reservoirs of God's
grace and love, but are "the unfailing memory of the Eternal amongst
us".  They are "a memory without which darkness would obscure the
earth.  A memory in which we possess the archives of sanctity".

"Raissa's Journal" Ed. Jacques Maritain, Magi Books 1974.
"The Peasant of the Garonne" Jacques Maritain, Holt, Rinehart & Winston 1968.
"Beggars for Heaven" Jean-Luc Barre, Notre Dame Press 2005.