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The Paradox of Holiness and Communion

October 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Communion, Holiness, Prayer

The Paradox of Holiness and Communion

To be holy is to be set apart. To be in communion is to be in solidarity with one another. Prayer both sets us apart and establishes us in a deeper communion. It is a paradox. Although this mystery is not completely solvable, one hint is the relational dimension of prayer. It is ordered to a real friendship with the all holy God.

In asserting this, the paradox in question can never be simply an intellectual puzzle – it is existential and evokes a response. This friendship ‘sets us a part’ in the sense that we make God the priority of our heart and allow Him who is not of this world to become the life-principle of our soul. This means we are in a sense dead to the things of this life or at least not animated by them. Here, this “out of this world” orientation of Christianity can be disconcerting. Sometimes we struggle with a fear that if we really begin to pray, we might lose out on some beautiful things in this world. But living by faith does not mean that Christians care any less about the affairs of this world nor do they enjoy life any less, and this is especially true when it comes to our friends including all those the Lord has solemnly entrusted to us and to whom we are likewise entrusted for this brief time we have together in this life.

This is where the paradox comes in. Even though God's love orients us to a life beyond this world and sometimes away from some apparent forms of communion this world recognizes, the net effect of this new orientation is that Christians are free to be even more engaged in the lives of others. This is because God is love – the deeper our communion with Him, the deeper our solidarity with those we love and the greater our ability to love. Such love is not limited by our human frailty.  It is a divine gift and charged with the power of the Holy Spirit. By continually entering into the love of God through prayer, Christians discover new capacities to love those they hold most dear, and they experience a deeper communion with one another.

MirrorVisageDElisabethDeLaTriniteThis paradox is taken up by Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity who often wrote to encourage friends to love prayer. One letter suggests that prayer should not be limited to any quantity of memorized formulas that one mindlessly races through. It proposes a more authentic, a more personal, and a more consuming kind of prayer. Elisabeth, in fact, envisions a form of prayer which permeates every moment of one's life. She explains it as a ceaseless occupation of the heart, “the raising of the soul to God through all things.” In this same letter, she asserts that if we engage such ceaseless prayer it “establishes us in a kind of continual communion with the Holy Trinity.” In this communion with the Trinity, we also find a spiritual solidarity with one another, a “meeting of our souls.” By ceaselessly raising our soul to God, we enter “more deeply into ourselves” “where the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit dwell” and, she claims “in Them we will be One.” (L 252)


Art: Face portrait of Elisabeth of the Trinity [mirror image Portrait visage d'Elisabeth de la Trinité], Willuconquer, undated, CC, Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s Note: For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his 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 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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