This Sunday marks the first Sunday of the Holy Season of Lent, a time which our Christian tradition calls our attention to the three pious exercises of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Though different in emphasis, these three spiritual exercises are closely related.
Prayer is the sacred experience and encounter with God, a moment of intentional intimacy with God.
Fasting disciplines the body, killing the attractions of the human flesh and makes the human being more attentive and spiritually alert to God.
Almsgiving reminds us that we cannot love God without loving the neighbor, and that for the Christian, the way to God always passes through the way to the neighbor, for God is love (1 John 4:8).
And isn’t the Holy Season of Lent a reminder of God’s unconditional love, the measure of God’s love which is to love without measure?
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in him might not perish but might have everlasting life.John 3:16
That is the story of Lent, namely, God’s gift of His Son, for the salvation of the world.
I encourage everyone to give of yourself generously this Holy Season. Create time for Prayer. And this brings me to the point of our reflection these weeks, namely, on Christian prayer.
Dear Holy People of God, last week we began our explanation of Contemplative Prayer. We explained Contemplative Prayer as letting ourselves to enter into the presence of Christ, to open ourselves in the scenes of the Gospel, to be active in the happenings of the Gospel actions. As we pointed out, the first step of Contemplative Prayer is the Preparation for Prayer. We indicated that we have to prepare for prayer, by positioning ourselves in a spirit of recollection and silence–it is not easy for the human mind to become recollected and refocused, it is not ‘magical’. I further indicated that we need to have a Specific Grace or Graces in mind when we get into prayer. In other words, come into prayer with an expectant faith.
When I read the Bible, I notice that God is happy when we ask him for things. Sometimes he says yes, other times, no. We must be open to both yes and no from God. Like a mother or a father, God sometimes says yes, you can have it; and sometimes, no, you can’t have it.
And again, as we pointed out last week, the third aspect of Contemplative Prayer is to allow myself to be actively present in the company of Jesus. Honestly, God does not like passive presences. Repeatedly in the Gospels, Jesus tells us to watch, to be alert, to be conscious. How do we allow ourselves to be pulled into the presence of Jesus?
Last week, I invited us to a contemplative prayer with the text in which Jesus goes to the house of Simon Peter and meets Simon’s mother-in-law sick in bed with fever (Luke 4:38-40). With Contemplative Prayer, you allow yourself to be present with the scene of the action. In this instance, therefore, you are there when Jesus comes in. Perhaps you are also a friend of Simon, and you have come because you heard of the illness of his mother-in-law. There is anxiety in the air. There is, perhaps, uncertainty. Medicine was not as developed then, so perhaps, we are unsure of the nature of the illness. Then Jesus comes in, goes to her sick bed, and restores her to health. Life returns, joy returns.
After Jesus restores the health of Simon’s mother-in-law, he turns his attention to those present. Jesus goes round greeting the other guests. And Jesus finally meets you. You are not ill with fever, but you have so many other things that leave you as ill as Simon’s mother-in-law. Perhaps, the issues you are dealing with are even worse. Jesus looks at you, and you are afraid that this man who is such a wonder worker, a miracle worker, might be able to see through you, see through the cosmetics, the masks. He is able to see you inside out. He is able to see what others don’t see. You are looking at Jesus and Jesus is looking at you. You say nothing yet to Jesus, and Jesus says nothing to you, as well. You are just there, present. You and Jesus. Jesus and you.
Let’s enter into another scene of the Gospels, the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5). You are seated in a quiet space or taking a walk by the beautiful coastline of Salem or Manchester by the Sea. You look around you and you see many people seated and looking at Jesus. For some reason, you find yourself sitting close to Jesus as he begins speaking: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God; Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth; Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall be satisfied; Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted…Now, assuming that you are sitting there and listening to all of that. You feel the breeze blowing. Then for some reason, your gaze catches that of Jesus. You are looking into Jesus’ eyes, and Jesus is looking into yours. You say nothing yet to Jesus, and Jesus says nothing to you as well. You are just there, present.
You and Jesus.
Jesus and you.
(To be continued)