Heart to Heart: Explosive Prayer


Rosa sat perched on the bench, legs crossed. I settled down beside her with my tipsy paper plate, glancing around at the lush lawn humming with conversation. It was Mother’s Day at Villa Maria Guadalupe. The sun glanced through the fresh green leaves, illuminating the colorful array of toddlers clutching cupcakes, moms sitting leisurely beside parked strollers, and older children chasing after soccer balls.

Rosa smiled cheerily at me, and we introduced ourselves. After making some small talk, we began chatting about goodness of God.

“God speaks to me,” she said, “I believe it.” She leaned forward, her large, dark eyes sparkling. She told me she had been so worried about her pregnancy, until she had a dream in which she had a profound experience of her baby being blessed. She then told me of the powerful awareness she had that very morning as she approached the altar in the chapel, where the priest was holding the Holy Eucharist.

“The closer I got, the stronger I felt the presence of Jesus. It was so strong. I have never felt His Presence like that before,” she grew excited, “So strong. And then I went back to my pew, and I was crying, crying.”

“Wow.”

“And I never cry, you know. I am strong. I never cry like that.”

Her eyes filled with the memory.

“You know why you felt that?” I asked, “You know why you felt that strong presence of Jesus?”

She shook her head slowly.

“Because that is Jesus.”

Rosa gazed, wide-eyed, almost in disbelief.

“It is Jesus.”

More than anything, Jesus desires us to spend time in a heart-to-heart encounter with Him. Yet too often, we tend to “junk up” prayer (to borrow a phrase from Fr. Armand M. Nigro, S.J.). We so desperately want to pray, but we don’t know how to begin. We sit before the Blessed Sacrament and make shopping lists, or we frantically plead with the Lord when we want this or that, or we keep hitting up against the interior wall of silence and we don’t know how to get beyond our restless hearts. We can become overwhelmed with distractions and even become worried that somehow, we are not “praying right”, and so try anxiously to do something brilliantly productive in prayer. We often get discouraged when we don’t experience prayer as we want to.

We can forget that prayer is not about doing something, but rather about being with Someone. Prayer is an encounter. Mother Teresa would tell her novices that when they entered the chapel, they should say to Jesus: “Here I am, Lord. Love me.” Prayer is not rattling off words, nor a simple psychological activity, nor punching the clock, nor magic, nor ritual words and postures. It is not a monologue where we speak at God, but a dialogue where we converse with Him who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Prayer is about falling head-over-heels in love with the God who is head-over-heels in love with us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560). He yearns, he thirsts, he pants for our love. Only we can love him in the way we do. His Heart craves for, pines for our love. But it’s “only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought’, are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer” (CCC 2559).

Rosa came before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament without even knowing that it was He, yet she was able to experience His Presence in a deeply profound way. Without even knowing it, she had disposed herself to prayer: she had come before him in her total vulnerability. Jesus desires that we come before Him totally transparent, just as we are – no more, no less. To enter into prayer is to enter into the full reality of ourselves and His love for us, even the times when we are raw and wounded… especially those times. For His Heart is raw, too; eternally pierced, eternally tender. He continually calls to us: “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you.” (Jeremiah 31:3).

The word “mercy” comes from the Latin word misericordia, which literally means “the heart that gives itself to the miserable.” How often might we feel miserable! Yet Jesus never ceases to give himself to us. He is never discouraged by our weakness or failings or sins. Sometimes we can feel that we are unworthy, or too sinful to come before the Lord, or that somehow we have to earn his love by good deeds. We can try to avoid the silence of prayer because we are afraid. Afraid of coming face to face with our selves, with our insufficiencies and imperfections and inconsistencies. Afraid because we are not enough. Afraid that we don’t matter. And so we fill our worlds with noise. We even fill our prayers with noise – the noise of self-analysis, and worry, and fearful begging, and rationalization. We forget the shockingly simple reality we do not have to perform for love; it is freely given. St. Therese of the Child Jesus says, “In order to love Jesus, to be a victim of his love, the more weak and miserable we are, the more fitting are we for the operations of this consuming and transforming Love…” When the desires of our hearts meet the desires of the Heart of Jesus, there is an explosion, because our hearts were made for the immensity of God Himself.

In this month of June – which is traditionally highlighted by the two spectacular feast days of Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart of Jesus – let us take a bold step and allow the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus to draw us to himself. Let us lay aside our defenses and let Him love us as we are, with all our quirks and messiness. Let us encounter Him in the Sacraments, especially the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, where he communicates himself to us in a particularly tangible way. Let us make time each day to encounter Him in the silence of prayer and in His Word to us in the Holy Scriptures. Like Rosa, let us let ourselves be vulnerable before Him, so that we may surprised by Jesus and his bold, undaunted love for us.

“Come, let us worship Jesus, whose heart was wounded for love of us.” (From the Invitatory for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Liturgy of the Hours)