“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). At any given point on our spiritual journey after we have firmly resolved to deepen our relationship with Jesus and be encountered by Him daily through His Word in scripture, we may find that our experience of prayer is parallel to various moments of Jesus’ life, particularly those of the Paschal Mystery. Through our prayer, the Lord allows us to enter into His passion, His burial, His resurrection as well as His three years of earthly ministry.
Perhaps early in our walk with the Lord, shortly after we are first called by Him into deeper discipleship, we, like the disciples, leave our old selves behind to follow the Lord, so enthralled are we by the wonders He works in our lives and in the lives of those around us. In prayer, we relish in feeling the Lord’s nearness and activity in our soul. There is relatively little disappointment or discouragement because the Lord seems to either reveal Himself according to our expectations or go beyond them in a delightful way. At this point, the song of our soul seems to echo Peter’s words on Mount Tabor: “Lord it is good that we are here”, so great and wonderful are the love, joy, and peace that He reveals to us.
As we know, these strong initial experiences of prayer eventually give way to something much more unsettling and confusing: like the apostles, we are scandalized by the contradiction of the cross. Up until this point, we believed that we knew where the Lord was leading us. After all, the crowds are flocking to us and Jesus is foretelling a new order, and He is promising us privileged positions in His kingdom! We too ignore Jesus’ warnings and predictions of His passion, assuming our life of prayer is supposed to be one of merely consolation, devoid of sacrifice. Suddenly we find ourselves with the Lord on His cross, crying out: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!” We struggle to make sense of how we came to be here and how this could possibly be a part of God’s plan for our ultimate happiness.
Prayer on the cross is naturally uncomfortable, and still we find ourselves writhing against the nails of desolation that hold us in place, looking for some of that sweet consolation of the past. It is here that we discover just how frail we really are, and we experience first hand our own lack of faithfulness in adversity. How much easier it was to be true to the Lord when His loving hand of consolation was upon us! Our only viable option at this point on the cross is, like Jesus, to resign ourselves to God’s will and abandon ourselves to Him in a total gift of self. We offer Him the prayer of: “Lord, I don’t understand this, but I trust that that this is part of your plan and that you will bring a greater good from my suffering, even though I can’t see it right now.”
Naturally, our experience of the cross in our lives and in our prayer is never left behind (“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23), for the Lord knows that we need it, but at a certain point, we may transition from the pain of the cross to the darkness of the tomb. Initially this darkness is unfamiliar and unsettling, but perhaps after a while, we become accustomed to it because we derive some pseudo-comfort from this period between the cross and the resurrection. In our prayer, we were never meant to stay here: in God’s plan, the tomb was never supposed to be seen as the final destination. The tomb is a pit stop, and no one wants to stay at pit stop longer than necessary. Yet, it is relatively easy for our time with the Lord to be lifeless, confined in our narrow perceptions of what our prayer ought to look like.
From the tomb, the Lord is calling us back into the light, and He is rolling back the stone of our prison, revealing His glorified life, not simply the earthly life that we were originally accustomed to. After a few days in absolute darkness, this new light initially feels uncomfortable and painful, but in a different way than the cross. At this point, we are called to make a leap of faith into the blinding unknown before us. There is a temptation to hold back, to restrict our prayer to the small space of our tomb because it is all that we know.
We must not close in on ourselves in our prayer, reducing our encounter with the Lord to mere routine; rather, we have to consciously open ourselves to the workings of the Holy Spirit, the true protagonist of our prayer. It is through the Holy Spirit that the Lord makes all things new, and so that we can say that we have been in the tomb too long if prayer has become boring, predictable, and lifeless. We know that we are being guided by the Holy Spirit in our prayer and not merely by our tired old routine when we are lead to greater strides in love manifested in concrete acts of virtue throughout the day. Where there is growth in prayer, there is always growth in virtue, in generosity towards God and neighbor.
During this Easter season of new life, we are called to follow our Lord out of the tomb and into His marvelous light. Leaving the “tomb” in our prayer and relationship with the Lord is not a single decision made once and for all but a daily act of faith in which we repeatedly abandon ourselves to the care of our Providential Father. By saying our “fiat”, our “yes” with Mary to that which we do not yet comprehend, we gain access to true freedom of life, like that of our Resurrected Lord. Our minds and hearts are naturally too dynamic to remain stagnant: we quickly lose interest when we are fixated on ourselves and on our own tired attempts to fit God’s immensity and constant newness into our little boxes. Only by fixing our eyes on the Risen Christ with His burning, yet pierced Heart are we enthralled and drawn out of ourselves and our creativity fully tapped, our love maximized, and our vision of this world and eternity clarified.
The Lord is risen! Alleluia!
Let us not leave ourselves and our prayer in the lifeless old tomb of our routine and small expectations. Let us rise and fix our eyes on Jesus who continually reveals His Father to us and us to ourselves!
Reflection and resolution:
-Where do I find myself in my relationship with the Lord in prayer: in the passing excitement of Jesus’ ministry, like on Mount Tabor? on the cross with the Lord in His passion? in the narrow tomb of my own expectations of God? in the light of the Resurrected Lord, animated by the Holy Spirit in prayer?
-What attitude is the Lord asking me to cultivate in my prayer? Gratitude for his consolations or for a share in His redemptive cross? Abandonment and trust in the midst of a trial? Docility to the Holy Spirit and generosity in service towards those in my daily life?
-How is the Lord asking me to live more fully in the newness of His Spirit and Resurrection today? Perhaps I will begin my prayer and all of my tasks with a short invocation to the Holy Spirit and conclude with a simple prayer of thanksgiving.
April’s meditation is by Joel Haug