Every year, in Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, maps out a weekend dedicated to formation. Topics that border on ways to make seminarian better instrument for mission are treated in this weekend. Thus, the weekend is geared towards healing the seminarians to become more open to the formation that they receive and also help the formators take stock of their formative process and thus, find possible rooms for improvement. The 2021/2022 academic/formation year was not an exception to this annual tradition, as the seminary held its formation weekend for the year from March 10 to 13, 2022. This year’s formation weekend had the theme: Meditation and Contemplation
On the first day of the weekend program, Rev. Fr. Dr. Johnbosco Okoye after welcoming the weekend’s facilitator; Rev Fr. Dr. Dominic Obielosi, opened the minds of all present to the possibility of learning new methods in formation and advised all to take whatever is to be learnt seriously.
The facilitator Rev. Fr. Dr. Dominic Obielosi kicked off the program by advising the seminarians to utilize the opportunities they have now to learn whatever will be useful for them in the priestly ministry because, “once in the field, one may not have such opportunity again to learn some of these things.”
In introducing contemplation and meditation the facilitator referred to Gen. 1 and 2 as a foundation. For him, it is God’s transcendence and man’s attempt to move beyond the present and physical to that transcendence that is the foundation of meditation and contemplation. Thus, meditation and contemplation make us aware of our spiritual nature. This is because according to him the kingdom of God is within us (Col. 3:1-5, Matt 7:21). Thus, God is ever ready to listen and communicate with us only if we prepare ourselves accordingly. He went on to give us the definition of meditation.
He opined that, meditation means to be recollected. For him, it is this “recollection” that enables most of the great philosophers, theologians, scientists etc. to achieve numerous things. In the absence of meditation and recollection we often risk filling our minds with sins and dirty thoughts. Meditation comes from Greek. “”Meditai’ meaning deep and continued reflection. Meditation has something to do with your reasoning. He went forward to state that there are two forms of meditation and they include: Cataphalic meditation which stresses the use of emotions and the Anophalic meditation which stresses the use of cognition and intellect.
At the point of meditation one goes beyond, so deep as one communes with God. The goal of meditation is therefore communion with God. For him, meditation is a form of prayer but not the only form of prayer. Prayer which for him is the lifting up of our minds and heart to God has many forms and include: Mental prayer -where we pray without speaking out, Open prayer where we voice out and Communal Prayer which we make together with other faithful. None however should be revered more than the other. Meditation and contemplation here belong to mental prayer.
The formation weekend continued on Friday, March 11, 2022 with both morning and evening sessions.
During the Morning Session, the facilitator chose the topic: “The habit of Contemplation”. He adapted this from the work entitled Noisy Contemplation, – the idea that we can still search for God even in the midst of a noisy world. He observed that we live in a very noisy world and as such can be swallowed up if care is not taken.
X-raying Contemplation, he averred that contemplation comes from the Latin term Templum which refers to the space created by the seers in the olden days which they alone could see. Some connect it to vision while others connect it to God. He further defined contemplation as the general means of speculative studies. It is a type of knowledge accompanied by light which involves intuitive knowledge. It is intuitive in the sense that one allows God to work in him. For him, people are not so much interested in contemplation because it deals with a realm seen as totally abstract and withdrawn from reality. However, contemplation is a speculation done for its own sake not for any material benefit.
He further went on to give the different Types of contemplation which include:
- Aesthetic Contemplation: this is based on the love of the object contemplated upon.
- Theological Contemplation: it is the supernatural gaze upon God
- Philosophical/Scientific Contemplation: a delightful vision of truth as it is – God.
- Acquired Supernatural Contemplation: A knowledge or perception of God as love which comes only to a disposed mind.
- Mystical Contemplation : it is a transitional stage
Again, he discussed the stages of contemplation of which he identified the first stage of contemplation as a stage of purification and cleansing. Through search and taste for God one continues to grow until he reaches the ultimate stage. One who lives a life of contemplation is always disposed to encounter God every now and then.
He ended by saying that the fruit from meditation and contemplation will help seminarians and priests to win souls for God. The power of contemplation cannot be over estimated.
Evening Conference was not different as the facilitator dwelt more on the Concomitant Phenomenon of Contemplation.
Speaking on this, he stressed that one should refrain from having unfounded expectations from contemplation. By this he means expecting such things as the gift of healing, magical powers etc. The right expectation for him should be the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Concomitant Phenomenon of Contemplation then include:
- Infused recollection or awareness of the presence of God
- Admiration or love for God
- Infused illumination or knowledge of God
- Experience of a prayer of quiet
- Prayer of aesthetic union with God
He further dwelt on the “why?” of meditation and contemplation. Which he mentioned as the following:
- To activate the power of the cosmic energy within the physical self of the person
- To have a God- experience, this is the fundamental objective of both.
- To relax the mind, body and spirit which are made possible through meditation and contemplation.
- To ensure peace of mind
Then, how to practice Meditation and Contemplation was discussed:
- Through the practice of silence and stillness we come to experience God.
- Try as much as possible to avoid distractions of all sorts
- Body posture and external self consciousness is very important.
- Master your mind as you breathe in and out
- Maintain a particularity of time that you use to meditate or contemplate
- Ensure that the location is comfortable and also free from disturbance.
Furthermore, he went on to emphasize the importance of discipline in the practice of meditation and contemplation. This is because discipline is key in overcoming various challenges including those posed to the practice of meditation and contemplation. One should be disciplined in not changing techniques often, maintaining a particular time and being regular. Discipline should also be exercised in one’s diets and drinks.
He finally discussed the tools of meditation which he identified as the external sense such as the eyes, nose, ear etc and the Internal senses which include the imagination, intuition, and memory.
On Saturday March 12, 2022, the formation weekend continued with the final conference. Here the main focus was on the Challenges that may Delay the Progress we make in our Journey to Meditation and Contemplation. The following were mentioned as the challenges to good meditation and contemplation:
1. Illusion: He warns that one should not be deceived into thinking that he/she has now started seeing God face to face. It puts us in a corner devoid of meaning and reality due to our self created expectations.
2. Voices in the midst of the Inner Voice: one should be careful of the voices one listens to. The sole voice we should listen to is the voice of Jesus Christ. Such deceptive voices that distract us such as social media, alcohol, peer pressure, anger etc should be shunned in meditation and contemplation.
3. Jealousy: this creeps in due to our inability to discover our own gifts and utilize them for the best. Jealousy thus, makes us become angry at the gift or progress of others. With jealousy you can neither meditate nor contemplate, for you no longer have God but the object of the jealousy in mind. The case of Abraham and Lot in Gen 13, 5-8 and Joseph and his brothers in Gen. 37 should be an example for all.
4. Materialism: this eats up the spirit and makes meditation and contemplation impossible.
5. Prejudice: this is judging someone even before experiencing him/her. This may lead one into losing some of his/her blessings such as the case of Jesus and Nathaniel; the latter who would have lost great blessing of being an apostle of God because of his prejudice (Cf. Jn. 1:45-49).
6. Pride: this is one of the greatest barriers to meditation and contemplation.
7. Anxiety and worries: these put our mind at unease and therefore prevent us from being relaxed and focused for the practice of meditation and contemplation. He however gives us seven reasons why we should not be anxious or worried as derived from the Gospel of Mathew 6:25-34.
After the question and answer session, the first Vice Rector, Rev. Fr Kevin Udenwagu thanked the formation weekend facilitator, Rev Fr. Dominic Obielosi for his efforts and also admonished the students to always come for this type of program with writing materials to pen down things that touch them the most. This was followed up by the closing remarks by the Rector, Very Rev Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa who spoke extensively about his relationship with the retreat facilitator. He also advised the seminarians to take home whatever they have learnt and begin to practice them. He especially advised them to imbibe the spirit of silence and form appropriate perimeters that will help them in the practice of meditation and contemplation.
With the closing prayer said by Rev. Fr. Dr. Johnbosco Okoye, the formation weekend came to a successful end.