SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Marriage, Prayer and the Cross (Part III of III)

August 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Marriage, Marriage Spirituality, Prayer

In our last post we considered the power of God's love as the ground of married love. In this post, we will ponder the divine love which looks on marriage with resurrected eyes and delve deeper into the kind of prayer faithful marriage requires.

Marriage, PrayerResurrected Eyes. The Gospels invite us to contemplate all marriage, even difficult and failed marriages, with resurrected eyes.  This is a perspective one gains by turning to the Cross. Today, married couples need to rediscover this gaze of love and its salvific powers.  It is a renewal of the mind that God accomplishes through mental prayer, the prayer called contemplative.

Mental Prayer. Mental prayer means praying with the attentive love of an open heart.  It is a holy listening which welcomes the Word of Truth, the Word of the Father. It is a search for truth in which His voice resounds.  It is seeing sin for what it is and surrendering our standards to His. He does not excuse our cowardice to confront sin nor does He tolerate the bitter resentment with which we entertain all kinds of false judgments against each other. He cannot show us His mercy if we hold our petty grievances over one another's heads.  At the same time, He also knows that it is not within our power to forgive or forget an offense.  Beholding His humility moves us to let go of our pride.

It is thus that He waits for us to seek His help, to wrestle with His questions, and to ponder His answers. Through mental prayer, a contemplation drenched in tears, we come to welcome His gentle rebuke and beg Him not to leave us.  The fire of His love does not allow our cold false judgments to stand. His light expels all the dark hubris in which we are wrapped.  It is this kind of wisdom that protects our relationships with those He has entrusted to our care.

What about those moments when we've lost all courage, when we have searched for a word of hope, and found nothing to sustain us in our faithfulness? God does not abandon those who lose heart even when they have abandoned one another.  Just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus walked away from the events at Golgotha, so too do those who turn toward divorce.  Who can grow deep in prayer when they run from the Cross?  Yet, is it not true that the Lord also goes to these disciples and gently explains the Scriptures to them until they recognize Him and feel themselves compelled to turn back and rejoin those they have forsaken?

Marriage requires ardent prayer, prayer in which we allow Him to question us and in which we consider His answers anew. This goes beyond methods of therapeutic meditation.  It is deeper than the effort to relax tension and manage anxiety.  It is not about surviving – it is about living life to the full.  It is a heart-to-heart, living encounter.  This kind of prayer requires that we pass beyond “self” and enter into a vulnerable silence in which we are completely open to the delicate touch of God.

Making Space for God. For those who would engage the Lord is this sacred conversation, prayer must become the priority of the heart. With the ears of the heart, one must be wholly attentive to the subtle tones of the Bridegroom's voice.  With spiritual eyes, one must be vigilant for the saving light of faith. He reveals to us our misery and the secret judgments we have made against Him with great tenderness and concern. It is a gift from God to see one's own misery, one's own lack of love against the fullness of love He wants us to know.  It is a grace to renounce accusation, judgment and resentment before the mystery of His mercy.  It is a participation in the passion of Christ to pray for someone who has betrayed us, denied us and abandoned us – to whisper from the depths, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do”

It is only through begging God in tears that our own fat ego dies. It's by becoming humble and contrite that Christ raises us up.  Here is where one finds the courage to forgive, be reconciled, and begin to love again.

Only prayerful, suffering love makes space for God to do something beautiful.  He loves to empty tombs if we allow ourselves to be buried there.  He loves to restore and rebuild what everyone else believes is lost – but He does so in ways that always exceed the power of imagination or clever calculation, in ways that demand trust, that require an obedient surrender of will, an abandonment of our hearts into His Hands.

Ordering Lives towards God's Love. Every station in life has its cross. Marriage, consecrated life, and the single life each must be painfully ordered toward the love of the Lord. Before her death, Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity came to understand the suffering and insecurity of her own prioress. She wrote to her prioress a letter that she asked be read only posthumously.  It would be many years later when the prioress finally surrendered this note – a note stained with tears. Blessed Elisabeth pleads with her superior to let herself be loved. The letter has become one of Blessed Elisabeth's major spiritual works and is entitled, Let Yourself Be Loved.  What she promised her prioress is true for anyone who struggles with their vocation and is discouraged by their own failures: God's “love will know how to rebuild what you might have destroyed.”

 

Editor’s Note: For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his new book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, an experience like no other. Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.

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Art: Bodas or The Wedding Feast at Cana, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1672, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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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

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