November 22, 2010

Imitation of Christ - the threshold to deeper prayer

In our last post, we introduced a teaching of St. John of the Cross concerning prayer.  Namely, we considered how prayer and the spiritual life is principally God's work.  All our efforts are secondary, subordinate to the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us through faith.  This being said, it would be a mistake to assume that because something is secondary it is not important.  Our cooperation with what God is doing is vital.  He is counting on it. In fact, He hopes in us, placing important parts of his divine plan into our hands.  This is why we can always rely on the Lord when being faithful to Him is difficult - He hopes in us even more. 

So the question is, just how do we cooperate with what God wants to do in our heart?  On this point, St. John of the Cross urges us cultivate the desire to imitate Jesus in everything. Such holy desires are cultivated by studying the life of Christ.  This does not mean to pick up a textbook on Christology, although there is nothing wrong with this.  The Carmelite Doctor means to attend to Christ's life by prayerfully reading the Holy Bible, especially the Gospels.  The more we ponder his life, the more ways we discover to imitate Him in our own.  Obviously, such study goes beyond any mere cerebral exercise.  This kind of meditation is an asceticism of the heart.  St. John of the Cross's teaching resonates with the words of St. Paul to the Philippians 2:5-11: we are to conform our lives completely to the One who humbled Himself for our sake on the Cross.  Christian prayer reaches maturity through becoming Christ-like: He is our model, our exemplar for real prayer.  The moment we try to go beyond or around Him, this is the moment our prayer loses its specifically Christian character.

One of the great mysteries of Christ's life that St. John of the Cross singles out as important to imitate is the mystery of renunciation.  We will consider Christian renunciation in our next post.