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Prayer & Risen Jesus

The people in the Gospel stories had a great advantage over us when it comes to prayer. Jesus was present to them as a person, whom they could see and touch. The Jesus we know through the Scriptures no longer exists. Only the Risen Jesus exists. This leads us to two questions: First, in light of the Resurrection, to whom do we pray? Second, what is the place of the historical Jesus in our prayer life?

Fr. William Johnston, SJ. in an introduction to The Cloud of Unknowing answers our first question in this way: “Now the Christian, following St. Paul, does not pray just to a historical figure but to the now existing risen Christ who contains in himself all the experience of his historical existence in a transformed way, as he indicated by showing his wounds to his disciples.” So, the object of our prayer is clearly the Risen Jesus.

In response to the second question about the place of the historical Jesus in our prayer life, Fr. Johnston states that the problem is that “Christian theology, following the New Testament, situates the historical Jesus at the very heart of prayer—Christ the man, the Incarnate Word.” We are comfortable with the historical Jesus. We can have thoughts and ideas and images of Jesus through his life events. We can have no adequate picture of the Risen Jesus. How then do we make our prayer Christocentric and at the same time relate to the Risen Jesus?

The Jesus Process. We have described the results of Jesus’ Resurrection as the Jesus Process, described in this program. First, let us revisit that concept and then explore its relevance to our prayer life. Jesus’ lived experience on earth is the core element driving the Jesus Process. Christ, as the Risen Jesus, no longer limited by time or geography, transforms Jesus’ historical experience into a power source, present here and now in the 21st Century. Out of this power source, the Risen Jesus gifts us with his Spirit who empowers us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us and manifest his powers for others.

Seeing the historical Jesus as the catalyst of the Jesus Process enables us to make our prayer Christocentric and at the same time enables us to embrace the imageless Risen Jesus. Besides being the catalyst of the Jesus Process, the historical Jesus is our powerful psychological anchor in our efforts to encounter the mysterious Risen Jesus, according to the mystic St. Teresa ofAvila.

Power Source—To the two questions we raised at the very beginning about the place of the historical Jesus in our prayer, we should add one more question: What is the place of the Risen Jesus in our prayer life?  We must situate the Risen Jesus at the very heart of our prayer, the very center of our prayer. For while the historical Jesus is the catalyst of the Jesus Process, it is the Risen Jesus who POWERS the Jesus Process.

Through the Risen Jesus sacramentalizing Jesus’ life and actions on earth, the Risen Jesus empowers us to practice union with Jesus’ life and actions. Through the Risen Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit upon us, the Risen Jesus empowers our hearts to be awakened to the Holy Spirit who grows our faith, our hope and our love. And through the Risen Jesus incorporating us into the Body of Christ, the Risen Jesus binds us to our sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ, and empowers us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation by being sacraments of peace, healing and forgiveness for others, by being compassion and communion to others, and by being channels of faith, hope and love for others.

Our prayer should always begin by praying to the Risen Jesus, the power source of the Jesus Process. Before we say prayers of petition, thanksgiving or adoration, let us begin by praying that the Risen Jesus unite us with the human experiences of Jesus, such as Jesus going off to the mountains to pray. Let us then ask the Risen Jesus to open our hearts to the initiatives, invitations and inspirations of the Spirit. The Risen Jesus brings all the players in the Jesus Process together to make our prayer effective.

Also, in centering prayer we should begin by praying to the Risen Jesus. In centering prayer, we attempt simply to be fully present with all our heart and mind to the presence of the Risen Jesus. It is a wordless, imageless way of prayer to the Risen Jesus who is imageless. So, it is a very appropriate form of prayer.

An important aspect of centering prayer is our intentionality. Here we attempt to establish beforehand our desire to surrender to the Risen Jesus’ mysterious presence. Praying the Jesus Process prepares us for centering prayer. Before we begin, we should ask the Risen Jesus to give us the desire of the historical Jesus for contemplation, and the fire of the Spirit to lose ourselves in union with the Risen Christ.

Let us make the Risen Jesus the center of our prayer life. The Risen Jesus is the only Jesus we have!

Community Power

Through the ongoing Incarnation of Christ, each of us has the powers to heal others and to bind others to Christ through our love. Our powers are derived from the fact that we as individuals are incorporated into the Body of Christ. The question remains: Does the special presence of the Risen Christ in communities give any special powers to those who come together in community?

Growth Power. Something happens when people come together in the name of Christ. The Risen Christ is present, gifting them with His Spirit. In this environment, they have the capacity to actualize the power of the indwelling Spirit within each other. Given the chance, the Spirit releases dimensions of our personalities that in our ordinary lives we are unwilling or unable to display. We call these growth experiences moments of Spirit-empowerment through Christian community, Cursillo’s special charism.

Psychologists tell us that we grow or become more fully ourselves through other people. As Christians, we would say that differently, because we believe that there is essentially a spiritual reality that we are dealing with, namely, an encounter with the Spirit’s power in our relationships. Of course, we must come to Christian community (Ultreya, Group Reunion, etc.) with openness to the empowerment of Christian community, with an awareness of Cursillo’s charism, and with an expectancy that the Spirit will empower us to grow individually and as members of our community.

Prayer Power. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us: “Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds.” But why does God not answer our prayers? We ignore the meaning of Christ’s ongoing Incarnation. In his book, The Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser answers that question by making two distinctions. First, when we petition God through Jesus Christ, what is being asked for must be asked through Jesus Christ and ourselves as members of the Body of Christ. Second, he says: “Prayers of petition have power to the extent that they are linked to concrete action within a community of faith and love.” For example, our personal Palanca is part of a communal effort to petition Christ’s Spirit for candidates’ conversion. Christ’s ongoing Incarnation has changed the way we petition God: we flesh out our petitions with action.

Forgiveness Power. As Catholics, we believe in the forgiveness power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That said, Rolheiser points out the role of community in having our sins forgiven: “To state things rather crassly…if I commit a serious sin on Saturday night and, whatever my physical state on Sunday morning, enter a church with some sincerity and contrition in my heart, I am forgiven my sin. I am touching the hem of Christ’s garment….We can forgive each other’s sins; not we, but the power of Christ within us.” He points out that St. Augustine stated that when Christians stood around the altar as a community and prayed the Lord’s Prayer, any sins they had ever committed would be forgiven. Such is the forgiveness power of community.

Infallibility Power. Infallibility is another power of Christian community. Are you surprised? Fr. Ladislas M. Orsy, SJ, a professor of law at Georgetown University, quotes the Vatican ll documents: “The whole body of the faithful who received an anointing which comes from the holy one…cannot be mistaken in belief. It shows this characteristic through the entire people’s supernatural sense of the faith, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful’ it manifests a universal consensus in matters of faith and morals.” Fr. Orsy writes: “Infallibility is not the exclusive privilege of the pope and of the bishops in council: it resides in the whole people.” Of course, the pope is the guide and spokesperson for the gift of infallibility.

Jesus’ Priestly Mission

Sacrifice and prayer characterize Jesus’ priestly mission. Jesus through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished to God to cleanse us from our woundedness. Heb 9:14. Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself to the Father reveals the third mission received by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, the other two being his kingly and prophetic mission. While his priestly mission culminated in the sacrifice on the cross, it had unfolded in Jesus’ life of prayer which we will focus on here.

Praying Jesus. We only get brief glimpses at the praying Jesus in short sentences, even scraps of sentences, in the Gospels. Further, what is left unsaid is that it was the Holy Spirit who urged Jesus to pray. Prayer time for Jesus was a time of Jesus’ companionship with the Spirit. It was a time when Jesus was refreshed, drew new strength, became re-created, built himself up to face the upcoming conflicts.

In Luke 5:15ff we read: “Great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, BUT he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” Note that Jesus would not allow himself to be overwhelmed by the crowd and give up his time for prayer. On another occasion, “Jesus departed to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself and from them he chose twelve. Luke 6:12ff. It is as though by day Jesus carried out the Spirit’s inspirations he had received at night in prayer.

The Spirit was Jesus’ constant companion. When Jesus went to the mountain and was transfigured before the apostles, his intent was to pray. His transfiguration was the Spirit’s surprise for him. In the supreme moment of offering his life, the Spirit was with Jesus in Gethsemane to sustain him. It was “in the Holy Spirit” that Jesus, “in the days when he was in the flesh offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears”.

All the prayers of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels have one feature in common: he addressed God as Abba, as Father. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa states: “Now we know that it is the Spirit who raises the cry ‘Abba!’ from Jesus’ heart: ‘At that very moment, he rejoiced in the Holy Sprit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father (Abba), Lord of Heaven and earth’”. Luke 10:21. We might reason that it was in Jesus’ prayer time that Jesus searched for his identity and that the Spirit progressively called forth Jesus’ radical faith in God’s love for him and God’s mission for him. The Spirit was the soul of Jesus’ prayer.

Praying Cursillistas. We are called to carry on Jesus’ priestly mission. How? First, we must “spiritualize” our prayer. It should be done “in the Holy Spirit”, as was Jesus’ prayer.St. Paul in Eph6:18 tells us: “With all prayer and supplications, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.” We must spiritualize both our liturgical and private prayer. The liturgy will be either a structured approach that enables people to get through a period of time or it will be a heightened spiritual experience that transforms us through the Spirit who reveals the meaning and significance of Jesus’ words and who unites us in Christian community. The Risen Christ gifts us with the Spirit at Mass! Further, believing deeply that the Spirit is our guide and mentor will dramatically change our private prayer.

Second, we must spiritualize our Cursillo activities of palanca and prayer by performing them with the support of the Spirit. We should also understand that the Spirit through these activities unites us with Jesus who treasured prayer and sacrifice. It is our way of manifesting the Risen Christ within us.

Third, we must spiritualize the relationship between our prayer and our action. We can mechanically pray before an activity or we can pray first and act on what emerges from our prayer. That way we act out of the Spirit’s inspirations.