Pentecost can be a difficult day for contemplatives. Contemplatives know about the Holy Spirit, to be sure. They can probably identify ways in which the Spirit is breathing life into “these bones;” they can probably point to places in their lives where they sense the flame of the Spirit alighting. But they may not always be sure what to do with the Spirit’s gifts for service, or being commissioned, or being sent out, or preaching the gospel or winning converts. Contemplatives tend to live or worship in monasteries and convents like here and have great focus on the interior life; but Pentecost is “out there,” concerned with opening the way of eternal life to every race and nation. How might a contemplative make sense of a life of prayer alongside the feast of Pentecost and preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth?
I don’t have a definitive answer, but I can tell you where I am at present. At present I am mulling words from Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. In her final chapter, Theresa chides her sisters for wanting to pray solely for the sake of enjoyment. The point of contemplative prayer, she says, is service. (This is a long quote; bear with me!):
This is what I want us to strive for, my Sisters: let us desire and be occupied in prayer not for the sake of our enjoyment, but so as to have strength to serve… You will object that you are unable to bring souls to God, that you would do it willingly but that you do not know how… You will object, too, that you cannot convert souls because the Sisters you live with are already good… Sometimes, the devil gives us great desires so that we will avoid setting ourselves to the task at hand, and content ourselves with desiring the impossible rather than doing the possible… We shouldn’t build castles in the air, but must concentrate on those who are in our company… Such service will not be small, but very great and very pleasing to the Lord. By what you do in deed – doing that which you can – His Majesty will understand that you would do much more. Thus he will give you the reward he would if you had gained many souls for him… For the Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done.
Those of us who are here tend to be people of prayer, and we may be contemplatives. Nonetheless, we are called to preach the gospel and win souls for Christ. We are to do so in a way that is possible, that has to do with those who are in our company, that is in the context of our task at hand, doing what we can – rather than what we can’t – and doing it with love. For the Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done. And He understands that – in doing that which we can – we would do much more, and he will reward us as if we had gained many souls for him.