St. John Paul II on “Schools of Prayer”

Too little known is John Paul II’s spiritual testimony Novo Millennio Ineunte, “At the Close of the Great Jubilee Year 2000.” As we begin the new millennium, said the great Pope, above all we must “contemplate the face of Christ.” And he explains why. The quotation below nicely frames this in terms of evangelization, a nice contact with the Aparecida document.

We often hear of how people today want “spirituality, but not religion.” We can approach that phenomenon with scolding. But John Paul approaches it with evangelization. They want spirituality? We have that! And we have it more deeply, because we can enter into the journey “totally sustained by grace”: Christ graces us new depths of spirituality.

Notice that at the end he says “our Christian communities” – not “some communities,” or “here or there,” but any “Christian community” worthy o the name – must “become schools of prayer.”

And schools, finally, that by teaching us to fall in love with Christ teach us also the true meaning of falling in love with our neighbor.

pope-john-paul-II Is it not one of the “signs of the times” that in today’s world, despite widespread secularization, there is a widespread demand for spirituality, a demand which expresses itself in large part as a renewed need for prayer? Other religions, which are now widely present in ancient Christian lands, offer their own responses to this need, and sometimes they do so in appealing ways. But we who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Saviour of the world, have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead.

The great mystical tradition of the Church of both East and West has much to say in this regard. It shows how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart. This is the lived experience of Christ’s promise: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21).

It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union”. How can we forget here, among the many shining examples, the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila?

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine “schools” of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly “falls in love”. Intense prayer, yes, but it does not distract us from our commitment to history: by opening our heart to the love of God it also opens it to the love of our brothers and sisters, and makes us capable of shaping history according to God’s plan.

What “Christian communities” are you part of? How could they become better “schools of prayer”?

eric.m.johnston

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