Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Column: Passion plays

In the midst of a crazy Holy Week, I found Pärt's Lamentate to be a spot to rest, to wait, to contemplate.  It's worth the 37 minutes, or even 3.

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly on 23 March 2016.

I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me. — Habakkuk 2:1a

“So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray…” Jesus begs Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gesthemane. The Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord is upon us, an invitation to once again watch and pray with Jesus in the garden, on the cross and in his triumphal resurrection. But how shall we pray?

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests praying with the Gospels by reverently placing ourselves into the stories, imagining the scenes in detail. To see where you are standing and with whom. Is it cloudy? Can you smell the dust, the bread baking? Where is Jesus and what does he have to say to you? Who are you in the scene?

This is precisely the approach recommended in an Easter homily given by St. Gregory Nazianzen, a fourth century bishop and Doctor of the Church. What St. Gregory and St. Ignatius have in mind goes beyond a replaying of an historical event, or even a prayerful contemplation of Jesus’ experience. These meditations should propel us outward.

“If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up the Cross and follow,” says St. Gregory. If you are Mary of Magdalene, call out to the Lord, listen to him and then go, proclaim what you have seen. Stand at the gates of heaven as Christ ascends, raise the gates to let him enter.

To pray through these days as St. Ignatius suggests, set aside some quiet time, and find the Scripture passage you want to enter into. Mark your Bible, or find it on the web. Begin by asking God for the grace to be at his disposal in this time of prayer. Then set the scene, and slowly imagine yourself there.

Don’t worry about being historically correct, whether you see the Gesthemane of Jesus’ time, or your own garden. When you have finished, speak to Jesus as you would to a close friend. What is his desire for you, here and now?

We retell the story of our salvation not merely to know we are saved, but to grasp more deeply our own role in the coming of the Kingdom. Who are we, where do we stand as Jesus enters into these mysteries? What is he saying to us? Go, wash each other’s feet. Go, stand watch for one another and pray. Go, offer yourselves for the poor and the forsaken.

Go, proclaim the good news.

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