Prayer is the place where "heart speaks to heart," as John Henry Cardinal Newman says. Using Scripture, we can enter into Jesus' experience of Holy Week; we can place our hearts into his. We can read the Passion accounts of the Gospels and ask Jesus for the gift of compassion, of suffering with him in his agony. Jesus himself invites us to do this when, in the midst of his agony in the garden, he calls to his disciples and to us:
Remain here and keep watch with me.
St. Ignatius of Loyola proposes a deeply personal and imaginative way to remain with Jesus. A master strategist and student of the human soul, St. Ignatius articulated a process of praying with Scripture that allows us to encounter Jesus personally. This kind of imaginative prayer engages all the senses and has come to be known as Ignatian Contemplation. At the Apostleship of Prayer, we call it praying with the heart.
Here is a guide we use to help people pray with the heart:
In the days leading up to Easter, we can try setting aside some time to encounter Jesus in his Passion. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, perhaps an entire hour. The Scriptures are readily available online. The USCCB provides the Passion according to Matthew
, and John
. Reading part or all of one account of the Passion, then entering into prayerful contemplation of the Scripture, allows us to draw close to the Heart of Jesus.
Scripture shows us that each person who meets Jesus is never the same afterward. As Peter Kreeft writes in his 2012 book Jesus-Shock
, “Those who meet Jesus always experience either joy or its opposites, either foretastes of Heaven or foretastes of Hell. Not everyone who meets Jesus is pleased, and not everyone is happy, but everyone is shocked.” Maybe Holy Week doesn't shock us any more. We may be used to its rhythm--maybe we crave it each year; maybe we're bored or intimidated by the long liturgies and epic Scripture readings. Whatever our situation, Jesus calls to us exactly where we are right now. "Remain here and keep watch with me." Pope Francis confirms this in Evangelii Gaudium
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord." The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.
A son of Ignatius and practitioner of Ignatian Contemplation, Pope Francis asks each of us to "take this risk" of encountering Jesus in a personal way. Praying with the heart, meeting Jesus in Scripture this week may be shocking, especially if we've never imagined ourselves interacting with Jesus one-on-one:
- while he eats with his friends
- while he prays a little way off from where his disciples sleep
- while he faces Pontius Pilate and Herod
- while he carries his cross. . . .
Jesus calls to us now as always, always inviting, always merciful. "Remain here and keep watch with me," he says to each of us. What an exquisite place to spend Holy Week: in the open arms of Jesus, leaning our weary heads against his Heart.
The Last Supper, artist unknown [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons