The Power of Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer has immense power against all kinds of evil. This silent movement of the heart unveils self-contradictions and rash judgments that threaten one’s own integrity and, at the same time, this vulnerability to God is healing balm for the integrity of others. This deep stillness of spirit allows God to establish one’s whole being in His very Presence so deeply that one cannot remotely guess how profoundly hidden one’s life has become. At the same time, in this hiddenness, life flows anew in this old, tired world.

This kind of prayer involves renunciation. One must renounce all forms of bitterness and resentment, even when these are evoked by seemingly just causes, to protect the delicate work that God’s love is bringing to perfection. One must renounce the frustrated anger that would lash out and assert itself when circumstances and events seem to be spiraling out of control.  This means humility — what Divine Presence is unfolding within can never be controlled by any created power. One must also renounce all self-pity and anxiety — indulging such self-occupation renders the heart too small for the Living God. All lesser loves must find their proper place before this one Love.
This adoration soaked in tears also involves sacrifice. Though a thousand schemes and opportunities for self-preservation flood the mind, this movement of the Holy Spirit requires us to be resolute not only in renouncing these, but also in picking up the Cross of self-abnegation out of an obedient love for God. Though other dreams and ambitions shine from every side, this surge of the heart to the Lord evokes a singleminded faithfulness that stays the course. Some have gladly sacrificed careers, worldly honors, and friends to attain this pearl of great price. Others have even left family, and language, and country because of where this humble pathway leads. Once one begins this difficult pilgrimage from the surface of life to the depths of God’s love, there can be no looking back.
Only this prayer can traverse the abyss of human misery. As it climbs the steep ravines of virtue, of insight, of integrity, it slides down further the slopes of inadequacy, of powerlessness, of painful voids. What draws it forward is not desire for victory or fear of failure, but the Hidden Presence of Love Crucified. What gives it confident assurance is not its own progress or industry, but the One who has Risen from the dead.  Rooted in His Presence by faith, this quiet stillness knows that deeper than the abyss of misery is the abyss of mercy – to fall into this abyss is to be raised to heights that this world cannot contain.
No wonder this kind of prayer allows us to pray in reparation for our own sins and the sins of the world. When one can no longer weep for one’s own sins, it is possible to begin to weep for the sins of the world. When one knows how much one needs the mercy of God, one self-identifies with everyone who needs this mercy – and deep heartache for the plight of humanity grips the soul. Such grief is honored by God. No sin can bend as low as this humbled knee. No evil can reach as high as this bowed head. No rant can be heard as clearly as the confession of this tongue.  Such prayer knows the deep things of God and opens up space in the wilderness of human freedom for the Lord to make all things new.

Editor’s Note: For more from Dr. Lilles, see his books: “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer” and “Fire from Above”. He also collaborated with Dan Burke on “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and “Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux”.

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Image credit: Photo by Joshua Davis on Unsplash

 

About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John’s Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor for Queen of Angels House of Priestly Formation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy.

Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer,” a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Therese of Lisieux. And, his book “Fire from Above” was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at BeginningtoPray.blogspot.com

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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