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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Contemplation in the Streets

Carlo Carretto (born 1910) was an Italian Catholic activist who at age 44 answered the call: “Leave everything, come with me into the desert. I don’t want your action any longer. I want your prayer, your love.” Carretto joined the Little Brothers of Jesus who model their lives after blessed Charles de Foucauld and spent the next ten years in the remote Saharan desert of North Africa. Following his time of prayer and solitude in the desert, he returned to Italy where he continued to serve as a Little Brother of Jesus until his death in 1988.
I wanted to share an abridged version of chapter ten, “Contemplation in the Streets” out of “Letters from the Desert,” one of Carretto’s many books. Even the abridged version is a little long for a blog post so I’ll be splitting it into two separate posts:

"The life of Charles de Foucauld opens up a new understanding of the spiritual life in which many will force themselves to make the fusion between contemplation and action – really living and obeying the first commandment of the Lord, “Love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself.”
“Contemplation in the streets.” This is tomorrow’s task not only for the Little Brothers, but for all the poor.
Let us begin to analyze this element of “desert” which must be present, especially today, in the carrying out of such a demanding program.
When one speaks of the soul’s desert, and says that the desert must be present in your life, you must not think only of the Sahara or the desert of Judea, or into the High Valley of the Nile.
Certainly it is not everyone who can have the advantage of being able to carry out in practice this detachment from daily life. […]
[T]he same way is not for everybody. And if you cannot go into the desert, you must nonetheless “make some desert” in your life. Every now and then leaving men and looking for solitude to restore, in prolonged silence and prayer, the stuff of your soul. This is the meaning of “desert” in your spiritual life.
One hour a day, one day a month, eight days a year, for longer if necessary, you must leave everything and everybody and retire, alone with God. If you don’t look for this solitude, if you don’t love it, you won’t achieve real contemplative prayer. […]
But the desert is not the final stopping place. It is a stage on the journey. Because, as I told you, our vocation is contemplation in the streets. […] It calls us to the life of love. It invites everybody to a life of action which, couched in contemplation, is a witness and presence among others.
Convent walls are becoming thinner and the ceilings even lower. The laity are becoming conscious of their mission and are searching for a genuine spirituality. It is truly the dawn of a new world to which it would not seem unworthy to give as an aim “contemplation in the streets” and to offer the means of achieving it.
But there is another basic element of the contemplative life, above all as it is lived in the world: poverty."

[read "Contemplation in the Streets: Part 2"]

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