I hear the objection: ‘If the Prayer of the Heart is that important, vital, radically vital, how come Jesus never talked about it?’
Well He talked about it plenty of times, the most obvious one being: “dwell in Me as I dwell in you” (John 15).
But before addressing today’s point, let us remember that “of entering the Kingdom” of God is a fairly common indication on the movement itself of the Prayer of the Heart. Entering the Kingdom is in fact entering into God’s area, God’s domain, where He acts in a sovereign way; in a word it is to enter intoJesus’ being (Jesus is the Furnace of Love), to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus makes the conditions to enter of entering into the Kingdom: “If you do not become like children you can’t enter into the Kingdom”. God is like a child [pure, simple,…], and if we want to enter within Him, we need to become like Him, by choosing to trust Him, totally, without any conditions: and also we need to entrust ourselves (The best way to love is to give everything and give oneself).
In this post, I would like to point out one of the most beautiful, yet discreet, descriptions of the Prayer of the Heart (Matthew 11:28-30):
”Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Let us read it with its own oral swinging rhythm:
“- Come to Me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
– Take my yoke upon you
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find for your souls rest,
for my yoke is easy
and my burden is light.”
– “come to me” is the key expression that shows us what we have to do in order to do the Prayer of the heart, in order to be introduced into Jesus-Furnace-of-Love. Or at least it indicates the first part of what we have to do. In fact we need to use our free will (by choosing to give ourselves to Jesus), otherwise God/Jesus will not force Himself into us.
First we need to get rid of our yoke: i.e. all that we are carrying, the idols we have, the other gods in whom we trust, our worries, concerns, difficulties, problems…, we need to give all that to Jesus: He removes them, He takes away the weight from us, so we become free and able to move and fly… we can be in Hishands… under the Action of the Holy Spirit.
– “weary and burdened”: Jesus describes our inner state when we are not dwelling in him: we are ‘weary and burdened’. Our yoke is our worries and burdens. Instead of carrying our actual Yoke, we are invited to take His one. In fact, we are not invited to remain yokeless…
The Yoke is seen as well in the Jewish Biblical and Talmudic exegesis as the symbol of Marriage. Husband and wife will carry the same yoke, they will be married (tie the knot) and they will be bound to the same yoke.
Please have a look at a yoke (see below), how it is built and its purpose: it is a piece of wood made for two animals, and its purpose is to keep them tightly linked in their movement and journey. Where one goes, the other will go.
Jesus wants us to dwell in Him, constantly, wherever we go. He wants us to be where He is. In fact he says: “that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). Here is the entire sentence: “My Father’s house [Jesus himself (see John 2)] has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3)
This is achieved by taking His Yoke. The purpose of the Yoke is to be where He is.
Burdens make us heavy, distance us very far from God…
– “take my Yoke”: This is the second indication Jesus gives us in order to achieve the Prayer of the Heart: “take my Yoke”. By offering ourselves to Him, and wanting to do all that He wants, with no restrictions… something will happen: we will be introduced into Him, we will receive REST or, if you prefer, TRUE PEACE… an overflowing of the Holy Spirit.
This is why Saint Antony the Great, Father of all Monks, says in one of his letters that the Yoke of Christ is the Holy Spirit… being tightened by Jesus’ Yoke, we then constantly receive His Holy Spirit.
Let us see now on the following diagram how it works:
Jesus’ goal is to welcome us into the Sun (Himself). Our heart is initially heavy and weary, carrying burdens, carrying another yoke: our heart is sinking in the water of our being, sensations, emotions, imagination, thoughts.
Where is Jesus? Is He like the Sun high up, waiting for us to fly to Him? No, God became incarnate, and Jesus is at the door of our being (at the surface of the water/sea), knocking at the door of our free will inviting us to give Him our yokes and receive His.
By making this act of trust, by entrusting, surrendering, abandoning ourselves into His Hands, being tied to Him, He then takes us and introduces us into His being (the sun in the drawing), so that we receive Peace, we receive the action of the constant outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Here is the key: “come to me” means: come to the surface of the water, rise above yourself in order to love, and give me yourself. This is key to the success of the Prayer of the Heart and the only way Jesus will be able to take us and lift us (“He took-with-Him […] and went-up” (Matthew 17:1)). Jesus won’t force us, so he awaits for us to love Him: give ourselves to Him. “take my yoke” means: allow me to take you, believe in the Power of my Holy Spirit, capable to take you and lift you, introduce you into the depth of My Heart.
Conclusion: there is something that Jesus offers. He knows where we are (immersed in the water, under the weight of our yokes); He comes to us (He doesn’t await us high up in the sun, where He normally is);He comes to us and offers to free us from our burdens, yokes, tiredness, and offers us a lightweight, HisYoke, the Action of the Holy Spirit, that takes us, with its power, and puts us in Him.
Let us experience His Action, how it makes our life lighter and easier, putting speed and power into our relationship with God, easing our prayer, easing our daily life.
Why delay taking up His Yoke.
Some people might say: well His Yoke is His Cross… and it is heavy. Well this is an erroneous understanding of His Cross, because Jesus’ Cross is the centre of the manifestation of the all-powerfultransformative action of God, action that lifts us – Crucified Christ is the only ‘place’ where evil is transformed into a superior Good… the power that lifts the World…
Here again, with a correct understanding of the Power that flows from Jesus on the Cross, we experience that amazing uplifting power that transforms our life into His.
As I mentioned above, in one of his letters, Saint Antony says that Christ’s Yoke is the Holy Spirit. It is not difficult to accept this reading. The Jewish tradition – and St Paul is part of it – does talk about the “yoke of the Law” (“yoke of the Torah”) (see Galatians 5:1 and Acts 15:10). Our New Law is the Holy Spirit in our heart (see Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 8,…). So one can easily accept the reading St Antony advances of this image of the Yoke given by Christ.
If we look at a yoke we can see it is a piece of wood that binds together two animals. Normally one would spontaneously think that carrying Christ’s yoke means that the yoke will surround Jesus’ head and ours, so we would be walking together.
We need to understand who are the two persons put under the same yoke. One of them is Christ, who is the second? We find a couple of persons in the Song of Songs. The Jewish tradition says that if the Bible were to be compared to the Holy of the Temple [the room before the Holy of Holies], the Book of the Song of Songsshould be considered as the Holy of the Holies. The Catholic interpretation of the Song of Songs offers at least three different levels of readings: the Groom in the book is of course always seen as Christ but the Bride is either the Church, or the Soul, or the Blessed Virgin Mary.
If we put things in order: we should put the Mother of the Church (Mary) first, the one who gives birth to the Church, then the Church and its members. The Church is Virgin and Mother like Mary and because of Mary. The Church sees in Mary its Archetype (its best and highest realisation). This is why we see in Mary the perfect Disciple of Jesus, and its embodiment. Therefore, theologically, we should see the Archetype of the Groom and the Bride in the Song of Songs, as being: Jesus and Mary.
The Marian Spiritual Catholic Tradition underlines the unique relationship that exists between Christ and his Mother, Mary. As we previously explained, in Baptism, God doesn’t give us only the object of our belief, Jesus-God, He gives us, as well, the capacity and the means to Belief: Mary’s. He gives us not only the Divine Seed, He gives us, as well, the “Good soil” in order to receive that Divine Seed and bear fruit. He doesn’t give us only the New Wine, but the New Skin in order to contain it, otherwise, with our poor capacity for retention we will lose God’s graces. Mary’s capacity to believe is given to us. This teaching is the Holy of the Holies of Revelation, Scriptures and Theology. It sheds, in addition, an amazing light on the question of Christ’s Yoke.
Christ’s Yoke doesn’t consist only of Christ (as one of the animals) and the Holy Spirit (the piece of wood). No. It encompasses much more: it has Christ, the physical Yoke (the Holy Spirit) and Mary, as being the embodiment of the Perfect Disciple.
In her and with her, one becomes the Perfect Disciple of Jesus.
This would imply that taking Jesus’ Yoke means to enter into Mary, to receive Mary’s capacity to know and love Jesus. This is why, if we go back to the diagram of the Sea, we see that when we receive Jesus’ Yoke, in fact we are taking the place of Mary, or better said: we receive our New Being from her, in her image.
She is “flesh of Jesus’ flesh”, the New Eve, the Woman, taken from the Man, Jesus. She is bone of his bones, she is capable of containing all of Christ, in fullness, without losing any grace. Christ dwells in His Fullness in Her… therefore, if we want Him in His fullness, we need to take Mary to ourselves, receive her, in other words: Receive Jesus’ Yoke.
This is why, the fruitful Prayer of the Heart is indeed to receive Jesus’ Yoke, taking the place of Mary, in the sense of being transformed in her, of being transformed by the Holy Spirit.