The Resurrection is a mystery of the triumph of divine mercy over human misery. When the Father raised Christ Jesus from the dead, humble humanity was not overcome, surmounted or diminished. Instead, all that is good, holy and true about this life was rescued from futility and death. Christian contemplation beholds this victory and by faith allows the splendor of Easter morning to baptize the soul anew.
The prayer of faith sees the resurrection of Christ from the dead has the first fruits of an astonishing work of God. The Risen Lord animates this work of new creation as a fountain of grace, a boundless source of divine love flowing into our parched hearts. Those who drink from these living waters are no longer prisoners to the dying life we now live. Humble prayer drinks this in and discovers the hidden fruitfulness of God. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, Christian prayer rises up in faith. To believe that Jesus is risen from the dead is to lift up our hearts to the Lord and take our stand on the firm ground that knows evil is not the last word about our lives. This faith may well be tested by our mediocrity and repeated failures, but if we do not deny Christ, He will not deny us – instead His faithfulness to us is being revealed in our struggles to be faithful.
The Risen humanity of Christ is the very yeast of prayer so that even in the depths of our most bitter struggles, prayer rises to God. By His passion and death, Christ sewed into the mystery of sin, the mystery of grace. The mystery of grace makes all things new so that even when we fall short, turning to the mystery of mercy we can always make a new beginning. In this work of grace, it is God’s inexhaustible love and not our failures that define who we are. He continually lifts us up.
Prayer is all about grace, the grace that flows from the wounds of Christ. This sheer gift entrusted to humanity can only be welcomed in humble faith. It is the gift of the merciful love of God at work in us.
Prayer ponders the dimensions of merciful love, a suffering love pierced to the heart over the plight of another. God is pierced over the plight of each one of us. This is why He could not bear that we should suffer alone. To show us how much He has implicates Himself in our misery, He suffered death on the Cross for us. So that we might know our dignity, our freedom, the saving truth about who He is and where we stand before Him, Christ drained to the dregs the cup of our misery, treasuring each drop because He treasures each of us even more. Prayer is the response of a heart that is moved with gratitude for this inestimable gift and, in this gratitude, opens the heart to be like God’s – pierced by love.
Christian contemplation takes all of this in by faith. In the dawning of the Third Day, we come to know how no sin, no addiction, no shortcoming, no weakness, and no other burden of guilt can overpower or exhaust the love of God at work in those who believe. This suffering love is the truth and this truth is what sets us free. Even when believers allow themselves to fall back into the slavery of sin, the very thought of this new freedom stirs a longing to return to the life of faith. This is a holy freedom filled with God’s ineffable freedom, a freedom to turn back, to reverse course, to rediscover the embrace of the Father. It is a freedom that is expressed in conversion from sin and renunciation of anything that threatens our dignity as sons and daughters of God. It is a freedom to seek the goodness and mercy of God yet again.
To pray in this freedom is to keep vigilance with the eyes of the heart so that with every breath, in every moment, we might gaze on a love so much stronger than any form of slavery or even death. A new life blood animates the spirits of those who live by such contemplative faith so that even when they suffer death, the life by which they live only becomes stronger. Here, precisely because they are more fully alive, their praise becomes all the more beautiful. Unfolding in all kinds of astonishing ways throughout space and time in the lives of those who put their trust in the Risen Lord, this illuminating work of love brings the only thing really new our old, tired existence has ever known. Here, prayer that lets itself be captivated by the freshness of merciful love ponders a true word of hope for a discouraged world.
Christian prayer extends through the vast horizons of love, pioneered by Christ, into human poverty. The mysterious prayer of the Lord, a prayer that implicates the whole of His sacred humanity in merciful love, effects radical vulnerability and complete trust in the goodness and wisdom of the Father’s plan in every situation, no matter how difficult. Here, the prayer of the Word made flesh is not merely an example for us to follow. His prayer is a new principle that animates the cry of recognition and love that lives in the Church and resounds throughout the cosmos in every trial, suffering, and joy.
Art for this post on Contemplating the Triumph of Mercy: Detail of Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (León, Guanajuato) – Resurrection mural (The Sacred Heart of Jesus Expiation Temple in León, Guanajuato, México), artist not identified, photographed by Nheyob, 28 June 2016, CCA-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.
By 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 at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. 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 Blessed 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 Thérèse 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