DRAWN TO PRAYER
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Lk 9:28–36)
1. Listening to the Gospel
LUKE, EVANGELIST OF PRAYER
Luke makes prayer the heart of his Gospel. He has handed down to us many texts that nourish the daily prayer of Christians. The tradition has been to name these canticles by the first words their Latin translations: the Magnificat (1:46-55: “My soul exalts the Lord”), the Benedictus (1:68-79: “Blessed be the Lord”), the Nunc Dimittis (2:29-32: “Now, Lord”), the Gloria (2:14: “Glory to God”) as well as the beginning of the Ave Maria in the Annunciation narrative, and of course, the Pater Noster.
Luke’s gospel opens with the prayer in the temple in Jerusalem and ends in the same place with a prayer of praise (24:53). The evangelist is careful to tell us from the beginning that all prayers are heard by God and therefore answered as God desires. When we choose to pray, we must above all remember to whom we are addressing ourselves and that God will always answer our prayers. Choosing to pray is already living the answer to prayer, because by it I choose the most essential thing in the spiritual life: to put my trust in God. At the beginning of his gospel, Luke presents us with two great worshippers who spent their lives persevering in prayer: Simeon and Anna (2:27.37).
Then begins Jesus’ public life: he never ceases to pray and Luke reminds us of this at every important moment of his life, which the other evangelists do not do. We can stop to join Jesus, and
ask him to draw us more and more into his filial prayer:
- Jesus is in prayer when the Spirit descends upon him at the Jordan (3:21).
- He prays in the midst of his apostolic commitment (5:16).
- He prays at length before choosing the Twelve (6:12).
- He prays when he asks his disciples, “Who am I to you? (9:18).
- He prays on the summit of Mount Tabor (9:29), to which we will return.
- He is praying when his disciples ask him to teach them how to pray (11:1).
- He prays during his Passion, especially for Peter (22:31-32), when Peter refuses to pray (21:36).
- He prays in Gethsemane where he urges us to persevere in prayer (22:40,44,46).
- He prays on the Cross for his executioners (23:34).
- Finally, he abandons himself to the Father in prayer: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (23:46).
Let us ask Jesus to draw us into his prayer! Prayer is not a recipe, it is a life in relationship, it is the heart of our relationship with God where we concretely live our desire to depend on him, his goodness and his mercy.
THE TRANSFIGURATION, A MYSTERY OF ATTRACTION
The Transfiguration reveals to us the depth of the relationship between Jesus and his Father and this is manifested by light. The light is itself indescribable because it awakens us to a reality of unprecedented intensity: the relationship of Love between the Father and the Son. This quality of Love is offered to all men by the Incarnation of the Word who comes to deposit within each human life the seed of such a relationship. It can only grow in us if we turn to Jesus with the three disciples.
In order for us to share in the experience of Jesus, he first had to take us with him to a mountain. Jesus has to draw us into his company: for this we need to distance ourselves, to take a step back from our usual ways of relating to the everyday things of our lives. We need a fresh perspective. We are therefore invited to insist and persist in asking Jesus to draw us aside with him. Only he will be able to help us enter more deeply into the intimacy that he himself experiences with the Father. This path may seem long and difficult – we are climbing! The essential thing is to persevere, asking Jesus to draw us in no matter what happens, because, at the summit, we also will be disconcerted. Here we find Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus about his Passion and death on the Cross.
To give us the opportunity to share his filial life, Jesus will take on all the darkness of our humanity; sins, wounds, sufferings… The light in which he lives in communion with his Father, he knows how difficult it is for us to embrace. He will go and put it in the heart of darkness by his Passion and his Cross. We are invited to continually surrender our sins, our darkness, our wounds to Christ. In exchange, we receive a new capacity to welcome the light of communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. What Jesus experiences with his Father – and is revealed to us in the light of Tabor – we receive, so to speak, at Calvary. When we place all our darkness in the pierced heart of Jesus – not only our darkness but also that of others, in order to receive communion with the Father in Jesus’ heart – that communion is made manifest in our favor in the Resurrection of Jesus.
This is a long pilgrimage similar to the Exodus. Let us remember that the Hebrews had difficulty putting their trust in God. So Peter refers to the Festival of Booths (Sukkot) which is for the Jews, still today, a pilgrimage feast celebrating God’s guidance of the people during the Exodus. Drawn by Jesus to the summit of Tabor, we gain from believing daily that God is always present and at work in our lives to fulfill his promise: to make us share in the life of his Son. On the summit of Tabor, as on Mount Calvary, Divine Mercy reaches us.
Everything will then be thrown into a night so that our hearts may be opened at the sound of the Father’s voice telling us of the gift he gives daily: Jesus is present, always with us and speaking to us. His words alone have the power to awaken us! The “Little Teresa,” Thérèse of Lisieux, went so far as to say that listening to the Word of Jesus is “the sole condition of our happiness” (cf. LT 165).
Only God has the power to make us enter into this night to reveal to us the true light, the presence of Jesus within, in our heart. But this experience troubles us deeply because it reveals at the same time our misery and our sin. This revelation does not invite us to fear, to feel guilty, or worse, to turn our backs on the light. We are invited to accept our weakness and to decide from there to renew the expression of our desire to entrust ourselves to the mercy of God, this mercy manifested by the presence of Jesus with us.
“When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” Hearing and vision merge together when it comes to the Father’s voice and Jesus’ presence. The Father tells us to look at Jesus. To look at him is therefore also to listen to him. Teresa of Avila relayed this invitation to her Carmelite sisters: “I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at him.” (Way of Perfection 26:3). She also addresses all of us in this! The more we choose to look at him and listen to him, to welcome his presence, the more we will receive the desire to live more deeply in his life. Jesus is only waiting for our desire, however weak it may be at first. If we are faithful in remaining fixed on him, we will no longer be able to live outside his presence, his influence, his radiance. Let us ask with Elisabeth of the Trinity, “so fascinate me that I can no longer stray from your radiance.” (Notes Intimes, 15)
2. John of the Cross: Cantor of Mercy
To help a person in spiritual difficulty, John of the Cross wrote a prayer that would allow him to rely on God’s mercy. Today, each of us is the lucky recipient of this prayer. John of the Cross invites us to make it our own. Fundamentally, this prayer shows us our inability to save ourselves. John of the Cross invites us to move from despair to joy. Let’s first read this prayer and then meditate on it in stages:
Lord God, my Beloved,
If you still remember my sins in such a way that you do not do what I beg of you, do your will concerning them, my God, which is what I most desire, and exercise your goodness and mercy, and you will be known through them. And if you are waiting for my good works so as to hear my prayer through their means, grant them to me, and work them for me, and the sufferings you desire to accept, and let it be done. But if you are not waiting for my works, what is it that makes you wait, my most clement Lord? Why do you delay? For if, after all, I am to receive the grace and mercy that I entreat of you in your Son, take my mite, since you desire it, and grant me this blessing, since you also desire that.
Who can free themselves from lowly manners and limitations if you do not lift them to yourself, my God, in purity of love? How will human beings begotten and nurtured in lowliness rise up to you, Lord, if you do not raise them with your hand that made them?
You will not take from me, my God, what you once gave me in your only Son, Jesus Christ, in whom you gave me all I desire. Hence I rejoice that if I wait for you, you will not delay.
With what procrastinations do you wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart?
Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less or pay heed to the crumbs that fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart. (Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love)
This prayer is composed of 6 parts of unequal length. The first is the longest: “Lord God, my Beloved, (…) you also desire that.” John of the Cross starts from the description of a spiritual state of helplessness, loneliness, guilt. But soon enough, he gives us a light in this night: our faults offered to the mercy of God will give us the opportunity to know God! Whatever reality we are going through, it can always become a path if we turn to God and offer it to him. We’re called to begin from this reality, to choose it as a springboard toward reliance on the free generosity of God whose joy is to give to all, regardless of our situation. Certainly, we feel helpless, as if there is no way out. It is by persevering in offering all of this to God that we will become sensitive to his presence and to his work of liberation at the very heart of our lives.
“Who can free themselves from lowly manners and limitations (…) if you do not raise them with your hand that made them?” What an excellent way to express our fundamental problem! On our own we are incapable of establishing a true relationship with God unless he gives it to us. The only solution—and this is what we must accept—is for God to do what he alone is willing and able to do. We are invited, like the leper in the gospel, to rely on God’s desire to heal us: “If you want, you can make me clean!” Our cooperation is what God desires! In short, left to our own resources, we are without hope. This situation becomes an invitation for us to lean elsewhere: on God’s desire.
“You will not take from me, my God, what you once gave me in your only Son, Jesus Christ, in whom you gave me all I desire. Hence I rejoice that if I wait for you, you will not delay.” All of a sudden, everything becomes clear and there is a complete reversal! The one who had been asking for the grace of healing while still facing his slavery now testifies with confidence to the victory of Jesus in the heart of his misery. The confinement and solitude are transformed into communion in the certainty of Jesus’ presence. This is the essence of our collaboration: to believe that Jesus is present and in communion with us and that he wants to communicate to us who he is, no matter what state I am in, and to do so at all levels – psychological, physical, moral and spiritual. This then becomes the heart of my consciousness: that the Father gives me his Son without conditions. My day is spent choosing to move from my feelings, perceptions or thoughts to the presence of Jesus in me and for me. In doing so, I grow in the conviction that there is nothing to desire which is greater or richer than Jesus, because this gift exceeds even my deepest desires. This requirement, lived day after day, frees in us the love of God:
“With what procrastinations do you wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart? (…) Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.” Our relationship to all of life’s realities will be transformed when we focus on Christ and the mercy he offers us in every circumstance.
Let us take up St. John of the Cross’ prayer this week, praying it in communion with all those who participate in this retreat with us, in order to offer ourselves together to the mercy of God!
fr. Denis-Marie Ghesquières (Paris convent)
Pray each day of the week
with John of the Cross
Monday, March 14: to find beauty
“Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Lk 6:36–37)
“He descends in mercy on the soul, impressing and infusing his love and grace in her, making her beautiful and lifting her so high as to make her a partaker of his divinity.” (Spiritual Canticle, 32.4)
I strive to look for the beauty in people I meet today.
Tuesday, March 15: to surrender weakness
“The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Mt 23:11–12)
“How will human beings begotten and nurtured in lowliness rise up to you, Lord, if you do not raise them with your hand that made them?” (Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love)
I offer the Lord a weakness that hinders me and I ask him to free me from it.
Wednesday, March 16: cast your care on God
“Give heed to me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say! … Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them.” (Jer 18:19–20)
“Live in faith and hope, even though you are in darkness, because it is in these darknesses that God protects the soul. Cast your care on God, for he watches over you and will not forget you. Do not think that he leaves you alone; that would be an affront to him.” (Letter 20)
I will pray with the Creed, and reaffirm my faith in the Lord.
Thursday, March 17: making room for the goodness of God
“The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse—who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” (Jer 17:9–10)
“Lord God, my Beloved, if you still remember my sins in such a way that you do not do what I beg of you, do your will concerning them, my God, which is what I most desire, and exercise your goodness and mercy, and you will be known through them.” (Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love)
Do I allow myself to be renewed by the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Does it help me surrender to the will of the Lord?
Friday, March 18: to allow transformation
“But when [Joseph’s] brothers saw that [Jacob] loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.” (Gn 37:4)
“God, who is all perfect, against all the imperfections of the soul (…) does this so he might soften, pacify, and illumine it, as does the fire when it penetrates the log of wood.” (The Living Flame of Love, 1.23)
I ask the Lord to consume all my passions – jealousy, anger, pride,… and to make faith, hope and charity grow in me.
Saturday, March 19: to inherit His love
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk 15:18–19)
‘Since he is merciful, mild, and clement, you feel his mercy, mildness, and clemency;… telling you: “I am yours and for you and delighted to be what I am so as to be yours and give myself to you.’ (The Living Flame of Love, 3.6)
Do I recognize God as a Father? As a son or daughter, do I feel like an heir to his love?
Lent 2022 Online Retreat © Copyright 2022, carmes-paris.org, and © Copyright 2022, Teresian Carmelites in Austria, All rights reserved. Published in collaboration with:
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Translations provided by North American members of the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order.