Of course, if we have to study the history of the different schools of spirituality, we can notice not only a distinction but a division, a split between active life and contemplative life, life in the world and life away from it.
One either has to be a layman, which for quite a time, was considered a second-class citizen in the eyes of the Church, or be a priest or nun or a consecrated person if he wanted to be serious with his spiritual life.
I suppose that’s an understandable consequence of our human condition that has to develop in stages. We tend to be quite simplistic and black-and-white in mentality in the beginning, until after some time, when we know things better and have gained more experience, that realize we have to be more nuanced and more integrative of elements formerly thought as contraries.
Especially today, when we are in a better position to consider the full range of our human needs and aspirations, we have to realize that we cannot afford to continue with this dichotomy between active and contemplative life. We have to learn to be both. We have to learn how to be immersed in the world and be with God at the same time.
As a corollary to that, we need to know how to distinguish and at the same time link the material and spiritual aspects of our life, the natural and the supernatural, the mundane and the sacred, etc.
This, of course, will require a lot training, which should be pursued on the assumption that we always ask for the grace of God, for nothing prospers without asking for his grace.
That grace is always granted, and comes to us in abundance, but we have to ask for it, because we need to be aware of our need for it. Without that awareness, we can think that things would depend simply on us, on our powers, which is never true. We always need God and his grace for everything. Our life is always a shared life with God.
Yes, we have to learn how to be both active and contemplative, not only from time to time, not only on some special occasions, but all the time and in all places, whether alone or with others, doing some intellectual work or manual labor, etc.
I suppose between the two dimensions, we have to pay more attention to how to become contemplative, since to be active, with a very few exceptions, comes quite easily, if not naturally to us.
In this department, many of us are still like babies who are yet discovering their own feet and toes, and start to put them into their mouth and suck them. We have to go through the baby steps, the different drills first to familiarize and convince ourselves that God in fact is always present, that we can get in touch with him anytime, that he loves us and that we have to love him in return, not only in words but more in deeds, etc.
That’s the reason why we need to set aside time to sit down and meditate on these basic truths, letting them sink in more deeply into our consciousness so as to make them operative principles and inspiring impulses for our thoughts, words and actions.
Sad to say, these needs are hardly felt yet by many people. And that is the challenge we face today—how to persuade ourselves that we need also to spend time and effort to meditate and fathom more deeply the spiritual and supernatural dimensions of our life.
At the moment, many people are given almost exclusively to material and earthly concerns. Any attention given to spiritual and religious affairs is sparse, shallow and more formalistic than substantial, more for show than out of conviction.
We need to get out of this predicament. But how? I suppose, everyone can have his own ideas. We’ll just have to try them out with our best efforts as much as possible. If one initiative fails, then let’s try another. We should not give up.
If we have some faith, we’ll make true what a psalm says—that in the midst of the mountains, the waters will pass.