I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me. — Habakkuk 2:1a
“So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray…” Jesus begs Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gesthemane. The Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord is upon us, an invitation to once again watch and pray with Jesus in the garden, on the cross and in his triumphal resurrection. But how shall we pray?
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests praying with the Gospels by reverently placing ourselves into the stories, imagining the scenes in detail. To see where you are standing and with whom. Is it cloudy? Can you smell the dust, the bread baking? Where is Jesus and what does he have to say to you? Who are you in the scene?
This is precisely the approach recommended in an Easter homily given by St. Gregory Nazianzen, a fourth century bishop and Doctor of the Church. What St. Gregory and St. Ignatius have in mind goes beyond a replaying of an historical event, or even a prayerful contemplation of Jesus’ experience. These meditations should propel us outward.
“If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up the Cross and follow,” says St. Gregory. If you are Mary of Magdalene, call out to the Lord, listen to him and then go, proclaim what you have seen. Stand at the gates of heaven as Christ ascends, raise the gates to let him enter.
To pray through these days as St. Ignatius suggests, set aside some quiet time, and find the Scripture passage you want to enter into. Mark your Bible, or find it on the web. Begin by asking God for the grace to be at his disposal in this time of prayer. Then set the scene, and slowly imagine yourself there.
Don’t worry about being historically correct, whether you see the Gesthemane of Jesus’ time, or your own garden. When you have finished, speak to Jesus as you would to a close friend. What is his desire for you, here and now?
We retell the story of our salvation not merely to know we are saved, but to grasp more deeply our own role in the coming of the Kingdom. Who are we, where do we stand as Jesus enters into these mysteries? What is he saying to us? Go, wash each other’s feet. Go, stand watch for one another and pray. Go, offer yourselves for the poor and the forsaken.
Go, proclaim the good news.
Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart;
and there hold me, refine, purge and set me on fire,
raise me aloft, until my own self knows utter annihilation. — Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.
To read: A selection from St. Gregory Nazianzen’s second Easter homily, given on Easter in the church at Arianzus, a small village in what is now Turkey where the bishop lived the last years of his life in retirement.
To listen: Arvo Pärt’s “Lametate”
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr, and an adjunct scholar of the Vatican Observatory.