Local professor’s book, retreat to explore transformation through prayer
By Nissa LaPoint
What American society needs most is a spiritual revolution.
A return to prayer is essential to answering the needs of a culture exhausted in commercial and material pursuits, marred by immorality and a crisis of faith, said spiritual theology professor Anthony Lilles of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
Specifically, an adoption of contemplative prayer—one expression of prayer that fixes on Jesus through the Gospel—will bring answers to Catholics’ deepest spiritual and culture needs, he said.
“The Church needs contemplative prayer now more than ever,” Lilles said. “We live in a culture that doesn’t listen to the Word. As a result of thinking we can take care of our problems without God, our society is disintegrating before our very eyes.”
In his soon-to-be-published book titled “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Beginning to Pray,” Lilles presents a case that contemplative prayer is the way to reach Christ on the cross and bring real spiritual transformation.
He will use his book as the basis for a three-day retreat about Carmelite spirituality starting Nov. 2 at the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Denver.
In his book, Lilles draws on his lectures given to first-year seminarians about prayer. He also bases his book on the spirituality of four historical doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Anthony of the Desert and St. Augustine. He also references the message of Blessed Pope John Paul II, who at World Youth Day in Denver called Americans to a renewal of prayer. He once exhorted: “Be proud of the Gospel of Christ. Shout it from the rooftops.”
Lilles contends that prayer is necessary for a renewed sense of vigor that will in turn build a culture of life and civilization of love, as Blessed John Paul II once said.
The breakdown of American culture, as he explains, stems from a spiritual life sans the Gospel.
“There is today a lack of confidence in the Gospel of Christ and that lack of confidence translates into spiritual insecurity where people aren’t looking to their Catholic faith to answer their deepest spiritual needs,” Lilles said.
Rather than an unattainable form of prayer meant for the Church’s elite, contemplative prayer is achievable for any Catholic, he said.
“Catholics are more disposed to contemplative prayer and have actually experienced it more than they realize,” he said, likely through the sacraments like first holy Communion or confirmation.
“Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Beginning to Pray”
Carmelite Prayer Retreat
Anthony Lilles of St. John Vianney Seminary will present “Hidden Mountains, Secret Garden,” a retreat to delve into the wisdom of Carmelite masters of prayer.
The nearly 200-page book is not a step-by-step guide to prayer but a theological understanding of prayer for which every person hungers.
He introduces “lectio divina”—Latin for “divine reading”—a process of reading, meditating, praying and contemplating Scripture and the writings of the Church’s fathers and doctors.
This is followed by the concept of “conversatio morum,” meaning a “conversion of one’s whole way of life” to the risen Lord.
He relays some of his concepts through the conversion story of a suicidal atheist who sat down to read Scripture and discovered his purpose in life: a friendship with God kept alive through prayer. The pursuit of his life became this friendship that brought him the love of the presence of God, he wrote.
Catholics too can discover this prayer.
“Sacred doctrine, prayerfully considered, allows us to glimpse (Christ), as in a mirror, so that the substance of the truth we believe might pierce our hearts,” he writes. “This was the experience of World Youth Day. This is the ongoing experience of the men who have devoted their lives to searching for and serving the Lord. If we conduct this search well, it should take us, in the end, to the Cross—the true source and summit of our spiritual revolution.”