Taking off on Pope Francis’ urging “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them…unfailingly each day,” I want to continue to examine how we can concretely and actually do this. There are two important practices to develop. First is setting aside time each day to allow this encounter to occur. Second is to develop an openness to recognize the encounter whenever and wherever it occurs. The two are related, but different.
First is the most obvious, if not the easiest. Each day we must set aside time to pray. In our hectic world this is not easy, but as a New York mystic once told me, “yesterday’s prayer is like yesterday’s breathing. It won’t help you today. You have to pray and breathe ever day.” Just as you cannot go very long without breathing, you cannot go very long without praying. It really helps to have a set time and routine. It is just too easy to miss it if you don’t set a routine.
There are many different forms of prayer because there are many different types of people. Often it takes a person a while to discover the right way for him or her to pray. And in different situations, or different periods of a person’s life, different forms of prayer may be more suitable. The Rosary is a method of prayer many people have found valuable for a long period of time. Contemplative prayer, charismatic prayer, singing as a form of prayer, lectio divina, using your imagination when praying over Scriptures, Liturgy of the Hours, memorized prayers like the Our Father or the Morning Offering, meditation, and many other forms of prayer can be used. Daily Mass is an excellent way. Which form of prayer is not so important, but setting time aside to pray is. These prayer experiences are the building blocks for the personal encounter with Jesus.
An important part of the prayer time has to be dedicated to listening. This is very difficult for us. We hear so much, but unfortunately we listen little. Listening is an art that must be developed. We have to listen to the message and the emotions behind the message. In prayer we are listening to ourselves first of all. What is going on in my heart, in my guts, in my being? Where is it coming from? If it is from the Lord, what is it telling me? But we are also listening for the Lord. It is very uncommon for the Lord to speak to us directly, but rather we hear the Lord in the reactions that are going on inside us. What attracts us? What repels? How are we being pulled, lead, directed? This is the tricky art of paying attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit inside us. It takes practice, and it is not necessary to get it 100% correct each time. It takes some perseverance and patience – qualities I struggle with.
Perhaps the prayer time will be wonderful and fill you with a sense of Jesus’ presence and His love for you, but don’t count on it. More likely it will be like a lot of interactions you have with other people around you in your family or at work: more or less utilitarian and plain, and even a bit dull. That is OK. That is how relationship works. There are a few precious high points of emotional intensity, and a lot of ordinary times of useful but kind of boring communication. And it won’t be any different in a relationship with the Risen Lord. Most prayer experiences are day-to-day mundane interactions that are rather humdrum. That is just the way it is. But that can still be an encounter.
Next week: Openness to encounter at all times.