Praying Through Lent
Traditionally, throughout the Lenten season, we are encouraged to fast, to give alms, and most of all, to pray. In all her Revelations, Julian never writes about fasting or almsgiving, but she becomes eloquent when revealing what the Lord said to her about prayer:
"I am the ground of thy beseeching. First it is my will that thou have it, and next I make thee to will it, and next I make thee to beseech it—and thou beseechest it! How should it then be that thou shouldst not have thy beseeching?”
In these astounding words, Christ explained to Julian that the ground of all our heart's longing is precisely God's Will. Our deepest desires to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to experience, to create, to study, to work, to be of service to others -- all these "holy" impulses arise from within the depths of our being, from the Divine Source of our life. And so, all the truest longings for which we pray are, in fact, Christ's own longing for our complete well-being and happiness. Therefore, we should pray with total confidence that if Jesus has placed these longings within our souls, Jesus will be their perfect fulfillment. Indeed, they are already being fulfilled, even though we may not be able to see how or when or in what way.
Prayer as our Response to God
Julian became convinced that when we pray it is in response to
God’s own desire to grant what we most urgently need. She insisted that our prayers of beseeching do not cause graces and gifts to come to us from God. It is God’s own goodness, the ground of all that is, that initiates every good thing he ever chooses to give us. He is ready to give before we even ask.
Yet we may object: If God already wants to give us graces and blessings, why do we have to pray? Precisely so that we may become more open, more docile to the work the Lord is doing in each one of us, more receptive to the graces he longs to give us, and better able to bear the full weight of his love.
In essence, our devotion to prayer and contemplative silence prepares the ground for God's planting of seeds in us that may not sprout for decades. Yet sprout and grow and bear fruit they will, in God's good time. We must never lose hope that our prayer is efficacious. Christ is ever and always receiving our prayer in his Heart and transforming it into his own mercy and plentiful graces.
Therefore, Julian urges us to take heed of the Lord's words to her: “Pray wholeheartedly: though thou think it savour thee not, yet it is profitable enough, though thou feel it nought. Pray wholeheartedly, though thou feel nought, though thou see nought, yea, though thou think thou might not [have any strength]. For in dryness and barrenness, in sickness and in feebleness, then is thy prayer fully pleasant to me, though thou think it savour thee not but little. And so is all thy living prayer in my sight.”
Inevitably, there will be difficult and very dark times when we simply cannot pray. At least not in words. Then we must simply sit in silence and allow the Spirit to intercede for us, "in sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26). At other times we may almost forget how to pray. We feel too worn down by suffering, by sadness, by loss. Yet especially then, we are never alone in our prayer. In Gethsemane, Christ himself experienced fear, betrayal, and a terror that almost overwhelmed his very human soul. It was then that he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Like Jesus, sometimes the only prayer we can pray is: "Be it done" -- whatever you want, in whatever way you want, in whatever time or place or circumstances you want. This is the same total and unconditional Fiat that Mary said to the angel just before the Incarnation. We may never really know or understand what is being "done" or "how" it is going to be done, but (over a long, long period of time) we do learn to trust that God's will is the only Will we really want to be "done."
If, during this Lenten season, we could learn to surrender to the Divine Will in prayer as Jesus did, as Mary did, as Julian learned to do, then we would become better able to see that holy Will "being done" in every situation: blessing and healing our families, empowering our work, comforting and transforming our tortured world. Let us pray ardently through this Lenten season that "Thy will be done" in each and every one of us. And then, gradually, we may be gifted with the spiritual eyes to see signs of impending resurrection, even now.
PLEASE NOTE: Quotations above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013, 2014), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the written permission of the author.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.