- They shall look on him whom they have thrust through (Zech. 12:10)
In a conference given to the Daughters of Charity in 1648, St. Vincent de Paul said that God fulfilled in the Brothers of the C.M. his promise to reveal himself to the little ones and the humble. The saint marveled at the finest lights and the greatest graces that God was spreading in the simple and unlearned hearts that looked for God in himself. The Founder was certain that these lights and graces turned up when Brothers made their repetition of prayer. Thus the great and incomprehensible goodness of God, according to St. Vincent, makes clear that “all learning in the world is simply ignorance besides what he reveals to those who set themselves to seek him by way of holy prayer.”
And if things hidden to the great and the wise are revealed to the least and the unlearned, then it means, it seems to me, that prayer is not the same as study. Unfortunately, I easily confuse one with the other. For attempting to pray, I distract myself too much—as St. Vincent would later put it in a conference addressed to missionaries in 1655—with seeking out motives and passages, adjusting and arranging things. Worse yet is that, while still distinguishing prayer from study, I am content with study taking the place of prayer.
But prayer is both indispensable and irreplaceable. And Holy Week is when I should especially pray, and choose what St. Vincent recommended above all as the subject of prayer, namely, the passion and cross of Jesus. It is about time, then, that I let go of these vane reflections of some ten years and the “beautiful thoughts” that have really led nowhere. It is time for me to engage in a good meditation and have the thought of the passion and death of Our Lord always in my heart (cf. Father Robert P. Maloney’s “Mental Prayer: Yesterday and Today – Some Reflections on the Vincentian Tradition,” ).
The Lord is present and he reveals himself as the suffering Servant. This presence, this revelation, proves that he is everything that I am not but ought to be. His dying eager wish is for communion, but I prefer separation. He is here as one who serves and who surrenders himself to the cross, shedding his blood for us; but I would rather lord it over others and be the greatest that everyone would serve, and look out only for my own interests. He is faithful and constant, and I am unfaithful—not say, a traitor—and as fickle as a weathervane. In such terribly agony, all the more fervently he prays, while I fall asleep from grief and thereby render prayer impossible. He does not turn back to escape from those who would beat him, pluck his beard or target his face with buffets and spitting. I, on the other hand, am a coward, no matter how brave my words sound. He pardons the fallen and the relapsed, while I make plans to take revenge on them and them do I despise. He submits to the divine plan, but I try to derail it. He asks forgiveness for his persecutors, and I seek for my enemy nothing less than the most painful eternal punishment in hell.
Oh, to think it is for my sake that Jesus is all that I am not, so as to make possible my becoming what I ought to be. Proclaims 1 Pt. 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” All this should fill me with confusion and compunction, and I should weep bitterly. I ought to give thanks to the Lord, of course, and make a firm resolution not to make him suffer again and to alleviate his sufferings in the suffering and crucified people of the world.
So that this general resolution may be more than just a “beautiful thought,” it would be appropriate for me to ask (cf. St. Alberto Hurtado’s Humanismo Social), prospectively at the conclusion of morning prayer, “What good deed toward the poor can I do today?” and, retrospectively, at night, “Have I done the good deed that I resolved to do in the morning?” If the resolution is carried out, then the contemplation of the passion and cross of Jesus leads to action, the affective to the effective.