January 31, 2012

Heaven in Faith Series - Going Deeper into our Hearts

Towards the beginning of the Confessions of St. Augustine, he asks the Lord to enter his heart.  This house he explains is too small and too cluttered to be a dwelling place for God, but when the Lord enters in, He has the power to expand this sacred chamber of our being and to purify it.  He makes it into heaven -- that spiritual place where He reigns over all.

The soul is meant to be a kind of heaven, a place where the reign of God is on earth as He is in Heaven, where his will is done, and where his Kingdom comes.  St. John of the Cross interprets Jesus's word in Luke 17:21 "the Kingdom of God is within you"  as referring to "the substance of the soul."  The substance of the soul, this is the depths of what and who we really are.  This truth is deeper than anything we are able to do - what we do merely expresses this deeper truth.  So God not only wants to permeate all our actions - He wants to permeate our being with his transforming presence, infusing the very heart of who we are with the excessive love He has waited to reveal from all eternity.   This means the place God dwells in us is deeper than all psychological operations conscious or unconscious.  This means the Kingdom of God - the gift of his mysterious presence which makes all things new - this is something deeper than spiritual "thoughts" or "experiences" or "feelings."  It is something much deeper than any mental state or euphoria.   It is true that to feel his presence or to be able to think beautiful thoughts about Him, such moments in prayer are no small grace.  These moments bathed in (sometimes ecstatic) wonder are always a great gift.  Yet when we do not feel Him, when it feels like He is most absent, if we have been faithfully searching for Him, He is in these moments even closer to us.  Indeed it is in those painful moments when our hearts ache to see Him in the face of our weakness that we do not mistake the gift for the Giver.

In the very misery which haunts our hearts He longingly waits for us - thirsty for our trust, hungry for our company. His appetite is insatiable. How long will we put off this Love which is more present to us than we are to ourselves?  And what is the misery which engulfs us but the abysses in our hearts which were meant to be filled with love but in which love is absent?  Growing in deep prayer means seeking Him in these places in our hearts and believing that we will find Him.  Deep prayer is about trust in divine mercy.  It is a seeking informed by the conviction that God has implicated himself in our misery and aches for us to entrust to Him the painful burdens which we cannot bear on our own.   He does so for no other reason than He loves us and longs for us to be free -- because once we are free, He can finally share the gift of friendship He has longed for us to have from before the foundation of the World.  Yet He knows our hearts and that of which we are afraid.  So He has descended into our misery that we might find the courage to face it and with Him triumph over the absence of love threatening our existence.   The Risen One has won the right to dwell in these places by his death.  So it is before the Cross that our misery meets its limit in the limitlessness of God's mercy.     Elisabeth of the Trinity reflects on this teaching in her retreat to her sister.   Please click here for the third day of her reflections episode 3 and here for episode four.  


  1. Your words here are achingly beautiful, Dr. Lilles. For me, the timing of this post is impeccable and I will ponder this long, perhaps printing this out so that I can take these thoughts with me to adoration.

    Thank you for this gift.

  2. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus draws heavily upon the themes talked about in this post. In "The Imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus", in the section on purification of the heart, there is a particular prayer which connects the heart with God's house (i.e. the temple). By making efforts to expel the cares of the world and undue concern for self, our hearts can effectively be made "a house of prayer" rather than "a den of robbers."

    Great post!

  3. I keep returning to this. Thank you for the beautiful words.