What is it like for Christ to disclose his mysterious presence in prayer? When asked this question, our hearts go to the beautiful descriptions we find in the Life of St. Teresa of Avila, the Confessions of St. Augustine, the Life of Antony, the poetry of St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul, and Bl. Elisabeth of the Trinity’s Prayer to the Trinity. In these works we find such a variety of experiences, it is reasonable to observe that each time Christ manifests his heart, He does so in an intimate, beautiful, and unrepeatable way.
From what they have written, it is reasonable to conclude that He has a plan for each one of us and this plan includes a special disclosure of his heart, a beautiful secret He yearns to share. By virtue of the dignity in which we are created He respects us too much to force a friendship. So the Almighty God patiently waits for just the right time, testing our readiness, all the while carefully preparing the perfect circumstances for this encounter.
What is it like? He sometimes visits us when we are not looking for Him. But these visits are momentary and usually for the purpose of waking us from our spiritual slumber. Real prayer is not about a momentary experience, rather it is about dwelling in communion with our divine Friend. While we are praying, should we be aware that we are praying — we have not yet begun to pray. At least, we have not yet begun to pray in friendship love for real friends are more attentive to one another than they are to themselves. Real prayer is completely absorbed in Him.
He loves to dwell with hearts that are vigilant and persevering in their search for Him. As the heart questions and seeks, it confronts all kinds of voids and inadequacies. At the same time, it must ward off distractions. Sometimes it labors ardently to attend to the One whom it knows is there by faith – but it cannot feel, or think, or intuit, or imagine. It searches for Him in the Sacred Page – the Holy Bible as entrusted to us in the liturgy and through the wisdom of the saints who have gone before us. This prayerful heart also carefully examines its whole life in light of the Gospel scrutinizing memories, especially the painful ones, for signs of his presence. Often everything is just dark because Christ challenges us beyond ourselves into places we are unfamiliar. All that can be done is to cleave to Him by faith.
This is already a deep contemplation, a real encounter, a profound union with Him, a deep adoration of one’s whole being. We find ourselves constantly dying to our old way of life in this kind of prayer and what once animated us no longer can claim our deepest spiritual center. A new freedom is being born. Such mystical union is so much the more fruitful because it is imbued with love, trust, surrender and hope in Him. His very life animates the soul that dies to itself and helps it persevere in its arduous quest through all kinds of trials and difficulties.
The saints also tell us that this darkness is not the final word. Sometimes there are pledges of love, foretastes of a glory waiting to be revealed. Indeed, there is fire in the night, flashes which illumine the soul with dazzling splendor. All at once, the Bridegroom is there, astonishingly present in a manner that could never have been anticipated. Such is the mysterious presence of the One we recognize in the Breaking of the Bread. For those who yearn for real friendship with the Lord, a glance of heart piercing love is exchanged and the soul is all at once washed in a breaking wave of exploding jubilation, carried on a deep current of sweet sorrow, and established in a peaceful stillness from which nothing can disturb it.
To know Him and to be conformed to his death: such knowledge is excelling. In such knowledge one drinks love to the dregs. Inebriated with the Holy Spirit, one sees the cosmos through resurrected eyes. To behold this mystery even in the darkness of faith leaves the heart baptized in tears, the thoughts bowed in adoration, the intuition humbled in holy dismay, the imagination helpless in wonder, the memory forgetting everything but hope.