SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Battle of Contemplative Prayer

October 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Contemplation, FEATURED

There much pre-occupation with ecclesiastical authority. It is time to remember that the Church not only has a head, but a heart – and for the heart of the Church, the Head, the Bridegroom laid down His Life. No one can act in the person of Christ the Head and betray this self-gift of the Lord – to do so is to lose one's own integrity and poses a threat to the integrity and dignity of others. The royal road to the heart, to the self-donation for the sake of the heart, this is the humble pathway and great battle of contemplative prayer.

There is a certain cynicism in ecclesiastical circles regarding contemplation and the mystical tradition of the Church. Too many mistake silent prayer for self-absorption and so cut themselves off from the source of the Church's holiness. Others limit themselves to an outward show to garnish credibility, admiration and political capital. This is a foolish mistake.

Whoever believes that contemplative prayer is an escape from the troubles of this world or else some other therapeutic occupation has never really prayed. This most vulnerable form of prayer is not about religious feelings and safe ideas. This surrender of the heart peers into a dangerous abyss — if you are not careful, you will fall in.

Yes. This tearful abyss is dangerous for mediocrity and a half-lived life. This spiritual death is perilous to a comfortable existence. In this prayer of self-abnegation, one slips down a slope of human misery and heartache.  One suffers the truth about one's own life and the world. One faces off against all kinds of irrational and diabolic powers. It is a fight to the death — and it is one's own life that is given up and sacrificed.

For this abyss and the battle fought there is circumscribed by an even deeper abyss. Human misery and evil are not deeper or more extensive than the mercy of God. They are limited — Divine Mercy limitless.  In this divine limitlessness is the ground of our existence – the place where all that is true about human is held up. Silent prayer is drawn by the gravity of this love no matter the misery it suffers or battles it fights on the way.

Here, in the immensity of Divine Love, we find the only hope for the holiness of the Church. Here we find the gravitational center that draws us is the very source of her life. Go here and find the power to tear down walls of corruption and secrecy that threaten her fruitfulness. Go into this great silence and receive that undying energy that builds up honesty, purity, and solidarity. For Love rebuilds what we have destroyed. This purifying Fire is the source of renewal and reform – its radiance unmasks deceit and its warmth melts the coldest heart.


Editor's Note: For more from Dr. Lilles, see his books: “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer” and “Fire from Above”. He also collaborated with Dan Burke on “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and “Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux”.


Image credit: Photo by Joshua Davis on Unsplash

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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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