“Without me, you can do nothing.” These words from Christ Himself in the Gospel of John (John 15:5) capture the essence of how our attitude towards prayer should be. Prayer involves our effort and cooperation with grace, especially in the early stages. But without the grace of God, we cannot achieve anything through prayer. In fact, contemplative prayer is something granted to souls entirely at God’s discretion. You cannot follow some special formula to arrive at union with God.

That being said, we can look to the Scriptures and the saints to see how we can grow deeper in our prayerful relationship with God our loving Father. In particular, the Gospel of John and the person of John the Evangelist provide great insight into understanding the contemplative life. In the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus gives the analogy of the vine and the branches, telling his disciples to remain in Him. To remain in Him means to be faithful in prayer, to accompany Him in the good times and in the difficult times. Despite Jesus’ words only one of the Twelve remained with Him at the foot of the cross. Why is this? What is it about John that he remained faithful when the others scattered?

John remained at the wounded side of Christ, mourning with him, consoling Him, being there for Him. He knew where his hope was, even when darkness descended and all seemed hopeless. John is said to represent the contemplative Church while Peter represents the active Church. Both are essential to the life of the Church, but we can learn a lot about prayer from the saints who were contemplatives.

By looking at the Gospel of John and the person of John the Evangelist, we can begin to discover the mysteries of prayer and the challenges of being faithful to Christ.

This Spring the Avila Institute will be offering an online course called Contemplative Prayer and the Beloved Disciple taught by Professor John Johnson (Dates: March 10, 17, 24, 31, April 7, 21). The course will cover the following:

St. John the Evangelist’s insights into our Lord’s Heart offer the Church a model of apostolic life and Christian contemplation. Only in imitation of the Beloved Disciple are we able to stand with Mary at the cross and fully share in Christ’s saving passion. When others flee, John stays. In this, our Lord is greatly consoled in His final hours by the love of His friend. Similarly, in these, the last days, Christians must adopt the charism of the Beloved Disciple in order that union with Christ might be achieved through a share in His suffering. This charism is particularly Marian and Eucharistic. Most of all, it is contemplative: St. John is uniquely suited to receive the secret of our Lord’s heart: the secret of Love.

Art for this post on Saint John the Evangelist: St. John the Evangelist (shown with his traditional symbol; at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Steinauer, Nebraska, USA), Corbert Gauthier, 2013, copyright, all rights reserved, used with permission.