October 25, 2010

The Beginning of Christian Prayer

Jesus’ last cry from the Cross is the beginning of Christian prayer. How can we ignore the connection between what St. Paul says is the Holy Spirit groaning in us and this wordless cry of the Word made flesh? The Holy Spirit, the very Soul of our souls, pours out Christ’s prayer in us, especially in those moments when the Lord seems furthest away, when the very meaning of life seems lost. Christ cries out in us in our broken poverty, suffering this with us so that even the most severely sick, those right at death’s door, can find Him. When the cry of our hearts is taken up by the cry of his heart – this is prayer. St. Therese of Lisieux explains that this is a cry of recognition and love, a cry that embraces not only joy but every trial, even the most crushing defeats. For in this cry of faith, Christ is recognized, his love known, his joy tasted, and the cup of his suffering shared. 

The prayer of those who believe in Jesus is not their own - by a wholly simple movement of love they participate in the deepest yearning of the Lord's own heart.  That is why cultivating silence, self-possession and interior recollection are all so important.  Only faith guided by love can enter deep into the heart of the Lord - can find the heart of the Lord the depths of one's own poverty.  And He discloses the most beautiful truths to those who persevere in seeking Him.  They come to rest in knowing Him and in knowing all things in Him.  But what strange rest - for those who taste it find themselves caught up in the superactivity of divine love!  This kind of rest constantly breaks forth in new acts of compassion and concern.  This rest bursts forth with Jesus's thrill in the goodness of the Father.   This rest plunges into the very heart-ache of Christ for those who will not hear his voice.  Words fail.  This is why the great doctors of prayer describe it as a rain storm, a wild fire, a gentle breeze, blairing trumpets, delicate melodies, a loving light, fire in the night, eternity begun and still in progress.

For those who open their hearts to this kind of prayer, the movements of His heart are the gravitational force for their whole existence - in Christian prayer, the heart moves into the orbit of the One crucified by love.  Every time one dies to oneself, every small act of obedience to the Lords voice, joins us to the mystery of crucified love - the only place where human poverty and God's mercy can embrace.  Because of the Cross, Christians can finally pray in a communion of real friendship with the living God. The disciple of Christ's prayer discovers in this friendship he is totally understood and begins to understand, he is exceedingly loved and so begins to learn to love in return.