Divine Word Missionaries

Breaking News

Info & News

from the Generalate

from the Provinces

Back to

Centennial Symposium

Members' Area

Site Map


Centennial Symposium

Contemplatives in Mission

Fr. Nestor Inacio Schwerz ofm
English Translation

Vedi l'originale in italiano >>


I am not here as a theologian or academician nor am I here as contemplative monk. My point of departure is the experiences of accompanying and working with my fellow brothers in the Order and other missionaries. What I share with you this morning is nothing spectacular or altogether new. I believe we all share basically the same hope and the face the same problems.

Missionary consciousness is becoming weak in our Orders. But in the initial formation there is much emphasis on mission . The missionary journeys and practices of St. Francis of Assisi have not much following today. There is a real and disturbing resistance to go out, to be on the way, to reach out to peoples and cultures outside oneself, to make our missionary presence felt , to live in creative fidelity and to explore newer and more effective ways of evangelization. The challenges we face to day inhibit us from exploring new forms and initiatives. We have a rich contemplative tradition, but we cannot say we are contemplatives. Precisely so we need to be contemplatives and optimists.

What is contemplation?
What kind of contemplation do we need for our mission today?

Under this section we do not intend to enter the contemplative life as a specific vocation in religious life, be it Christian or of any other religion. We also do not want to deepen the inner dynamics or the method of the exercise of contemplation.

In the Lectio Divina contemplation comes after reading, meditation and prayer. Contemplation is not a rational activity of reflection, nor is it meditation, nor simply prayer; but it presupposes all these exercises. Contemplation has a dimension of gratuity, an apparent passivity in front of a reality, and an aspect of mystery with a capacity to penetrate us with its beauty, light, strength and depth.

It is a special spiritual experience, which is lived as an experience of interiority. It is a special religious experience which leaves the field of the intellect behind and makes the facts of faith understand with a different “taste”. It is a way of clinging profoundly to the mystery, of allowing oneself to be transformed by the mystery. More than an activity of the human intellect or of the mind to appropriate to yourself the reality, it is an event which breaks into the human life in a characteristic way like grace and gift. (cf. Hans Schaller. Betrachtung. In: C. Schütz (org). Praktisches Lexikon der Spiritualität, Herder, 1988, p. 138-144)

It is characteristic of the religions to find in the contemplative spirituality their deepest union with God. The human spirit feels the need to nourish itself with the true, with the beautiful, the good and the noble. It is a spiritual state in which the believer abandons him/herself to God in the search for the answer to his existential question. The human being who lives the life of the Spirit, brings alive his/her own faith when he/she enters in contact with God. (cf. Contemplazione di Dio. Symposium Assisi……)

Contemplation in the Traditions of Religions

History presents us with concrete examples of contemplatives and mystics of various religions, be it in the great oriental traditions, be it in the native populations in America or in other continents. In the country I come from, the South of Brazil, we have the traces of the presence of a people who is profoundly contemplative, e.g. the people of the “Guarani”.

These people have the understanding that all beings are a Word of the highest divinity. This asks from them the capacity to listen in order to understand the Word. Therefore it is a people who are deeply silent. When a baby is born the religious leader, the “Paje” recollects himself to choose the name. This name has a religious meaning and expresses a real mission. Each person is an expression of the Word and has to seek and find the significance of being happy and whole. These are a people who seek the earth (researches) without evil. They reveal an impressing reverence for the earth and for all creatures. They show it by showing resistance to use more technology than necessary for getting farm products, because they see in it an aggression towards nature.

It is a people who hardly enter into a conflict with other peoples and prefer to look for an earth without evil, an utopian world, in which reigns harmony between humans and other beings. They are a people with a deep sense of religiosity , of family and community life, with respectful and loving care for children and the elderly without exclusions or marginalization. But sadly it is also a people who die out in a commercial society which sees the earth as a merchandise that can be used and exploited. The Sons and daughters of these people are forced to migrate into cities and into misery.

Recently I had the privilege to meet with a group of “Sufi” in Turkey and with Buddhist monastic life of men and women in Korea. They are profoundly contemplative groups, dedicated to meditation and prayer. What impressed me most was that they were persons of peace, of dialogue and openness towards things which are different; they were profoundly cordial, welcoming, of a simple lifestyle, poor, austere and non consumeristic.

Sufism represents a long experience of spirituality. The sufi confraternities have taken a certain healthy distance from the world as it was considered by some to be an essential and vital element of the Muslim society- “the heart of Islam”. They claim: “Often we are unconscious of the richness which comes from God because of the hardness of heart and the sin of oblivion.

The sufis are considered ‘heretics’ by the official Islam and often they are persecuted. But they have the admirable attitude of dialogue, of openness towards others, of peace and tolerance, of respect and cosmic communion.

The Budhist Contemplative Tradition is a rich tradition of wisdom, ethics, meditation and contemplation. It is fundamental for Budhism to awaken the inner desire in order to make room for the search for truth - truth about oneself and about all other things, and for full illumination which alone can understand re-incarnations and life in its wholeness. The method is demanding because it needs discipline, perseverance, austerity of lifestyle, precise methods of meditation and prayer with special accent on silence. It is a way of human perfection based on education of the heart by means of the contemplative practice of respect for life in all its manifestations, of mutual love and care for the poor. In Budhist monasteries one is often profoundly impressed by the cordial welcome offered to all.

Quite obviously they keep a distance from the worldly realities and from historical happenings. But in dialogue they reveal their conscience and consciousness towards all the great problems of humankind. They are capable of assuming attitudes and positions with a special political significance, as it was the case of the monks of Myanmar, who were persecuted, attacked and imprisoned by the forces of the government.

Contemplation in the Hebrew and the Christian Traditions

In the Hebrew and the Christian traditions contemplation has to be understood in its profound relationship with the Word: as a way of belonging to God with the whole heart. In the Biblical narratives God himself appears as the first contemplative. After he had created all by the power of his Word, he sanctified the sabbat as the day of contemplation. “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good” (Gen 1, 31).

In Sacred Scripture to contemplate means, in the first place, to enter into familiarity with the Word. The Biblical God is a God who communicates himself, a God who speaks. His Word is efficacious and creative, is an ”illuminating lamp” (cf. Ps 118, 105), it is “ rain which waters and makes fruitful the earth” (cf Is 55, 10), and “makes warm the heart” (cf. Lc 24,32). To discover the Word of God means to enter into light (cf Ps 118,129-130).

The Word indicates the deep soul of the reality, which while it is Being and Existence, is at the same time hidden and veiled. When God pronounces his Word he brings forth what is “in” the things, unveiling their inner face, their vocation and their identity. When God talks to us, God communicates himself, “throws himself to us”, and gives himself “over” to us in the freedom of Love and in his being and acting.

Enzo Bianchi says :

“It is for this that the Word of God fills the universe, for his will is imprinted into each thing, as it is the only fountain of all that lives. In the word of God we have come to existence, we move and are, as he guides and emerges each thing”. He concludes with a very important affirmation: “When we hear his (God’s) voice and remove the veil, we discover the true and profound reality and we find ourselves unexpectedly in front of the author of things who communicates with us.”

The Word also indicates the act of God- his act in the complexity of events. God intervenes in history and makes it ‘salvation’ history. The believer has therefore to discern to find in the complexity of the personal, social, political, cultural events, the presence (kairos, the favorable moment) of God. In the Old Testament the consciousness of the nearness of the loving God is evident. Yahweh, the absolute transcendent Lord, comes near to man, chooses him and protects him. Even more: he loves him as deeply as a father loves his son, or a groom his bride. “What is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him” (Ps 42, 2-3). (Josè Luis Illanes. La contemplazione di Dio nella tradizione cristiana: visione sintetica. In: L. Touse (org.). La contemplazione cristiana: esperienza e dottrina. Lib. Ed. Vaticana, 2005, p. 15-16)

The contemplative is one who, exactly because he has integrated what is divine and what is human, is completely filled by the word of God. He/she succeeds by “having the same blood” to understand the infinite and the smallest presences of the word of God in each reality in history. The contemplative is not a man cut off from history, he is one who has the eyes of the heart so sharp that he can see the presence of the God where others see only the presence of evil and sin… He indeed knows in his heart that from every angle, from the darkest corners of the earth every thing and every existence invokes and calls insistently for his Lord.” (P. Sandro Carotta osb….)


The Christian disciple must both listen to and learn from the Triune God to know what he (God) thinks, feels, desire, wants, and reveals. The disciple must also listen to and learn from the Church, from its magisterium, its theological and spiritual riches. It is important that the disciple listen to and learn also from the people, the audience to whom he addresses as a missionary in order to proclaim the Good News.

In order to collaborate with both Jesus Christ and His Spirit in the missions, both an assiduous contemplation and profound communion with him (Christ) is needed.

Only the Spirit can thrust persons and communities in all directions:

  • towards outside: The Spirit moves the community towards other people, cultures, and other religions.
  • towards all: The Spirit does not exclude anyone; he wants to reach everyone. He is like the wind which no one knows where it comes from or where it’s going. He gives us the freedom to love all without limits, spurring us onward beyond the borders.
  • towards the poor: The Spirit makes us contemplate the face of the poor, the suffering, the marginalized, and excluded. At the same time, he awakens within us solidarity to work for peace, human rights, justice, and reconciliation.
  • towards the future: The Spirit assures hope for the future, even in the most chaotic situations, in pain, violence, and in situations of death.
  • towards the earth: The Spirit spurs us onwards to assume an attitude of responsibility towards our common home, i.e. planet earth. He prompts us towards all creatures, environmental justice, the defense of the Amazonia, and towards a new rapport with nature, overcoming the logic of the market.

Contemplation helps us to believe more deeply in the Risen One and announce his Kingdom in the horizon of the eschatological fullness of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Apoc. 21, 1). The God-with-us is always the God who walks before us; he is the absolute future for the Church, for religious life, humanity, and creation.

December 2008, Rome.