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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Entering Into Prayer

March 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Prayer

For those struggling to pray, one challenge in prayer is entering into silence. It seems the moment one goes into a chapel or room or some other private place, a thousand thoughts and feelings suddenly flow. Sometimes, in fact, it is to find some relief from particularly painful feelings or haunting thoughts that we find ourselves driven to prayer. Whatever the case, it can happen that the psychological activity in terms of thoughts, feelings and memories are so intense that they completely prevent someone from praying. Brooding over injury, feeling sorry for oneself, stirring up anxious thoughts, entertaining one's self with various visual or emotional fantasies – none of this is prayer. Prayer is interpersonal and it requires leaving all of these efforts behind and searching for Jesus in one's heart.

If we keep the eyes of the heart fixed on the Lord, all these distractions are quickly left behind. So, Teresa of Avila suggests thinking about a scripture passage or reading the Bible as ways of turning our attention away from distracting thoughts. She also advises thinking about our lives and how Jesus has been present to us. Thérèse of Lisieux, in her spiritual struggles, identifies with the bride from the Canticle of Canticles and calls out to Jesus, “draw me.” Elisabeth of the Trinity asks Jesus to fixate her on him. Occasionally, even naming the distraction and offering to Jesus is helpful. For example, one might pray, “Lord, this anxiety or injury is distracting me from seeking you. I entrust this to you with all the love of my heart. Have mercy on me and free me from myself so that I can find you. I know you are waiting for me.”

Whatever the method, God's love is stronger than our self-occupations. If we are confident and determined in prayer, He comes and frees us from distractions. In fact He is coming now, in an eternal act. He is the God who comes. We have every confidence because the abyss of his mercy is much deeper than the abyss of our ego. We can be determined because He is even more determined. Once we have found Him, whatever we had to suffer along the way seems like nothing at all. Most of all, He has confidence in us.

 

Art: Detail from “The Adoration of the Child” by Piero di Cosimo, ca 1500, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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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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 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 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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