ANIMA CHRISTI: Invitation by Marie Paul Curley

Meditations on a Timeless Prayer

Invitation by Marie Paul Curley

From Soul of Christ

The Anima Christi or Soul of Christ prayer has long been popular with Roman Catholics.  It dates back to the early fourteenth century, 150 years before Saint Ignatius of Loyola recommended it in his Spirit Exercises, thus ensuring that this beautiful prayer would not be lost over time.

What is the ageless appeal of the Soul of Christ prayer?  Its warmth and familiarity with Jesus ease me into praying, especially if I feel dry or distracted.  Right away, it leads me into my relationship with Christ.  But the Soul of Christ is not just intensely personal.  This timeless prayer also connects us with the great mysteries of our faith in a personal way that both comforts and challenges us.  When I pray, “Body of Christ, save me,” I make an act of faith in the Incarnation, and presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and the mystery of our redemption.  This rich prayer is well worth exploring deeply, not just for its history and recommendations from the saints (Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Blessed Peter Favre, Blessed James Alberione, among others), but also for its solid premises about the spiritual life that can nurture our spiritual growth.

Praying the Soul of Christ daily for many years has shaped my prayer life profoundly, helping me to:

  • nurture and foster my personal relationship with Christ – a relationship that is close, personal, and spiritually intimate, and that transforms me and my relationships with others;
  • pray with my whole self to Christ in both his humanity and divinity;
  • pray with the great mysteries of our faith – the Incarnation, the paschal mystery, the Eucharist, and Christ’s saving love for us – in a way that connects with how I live my life here and now;
  • unite the desire of my heart to the desire of Jesus that I may be so transformed that I can say with Saint Paul: “For to me, living is Christ,” (Philippians 1:21).

The underlying premise that I find the most appealing in this prayer is its relational familiarity with Jesus.  Sometimes we followers of Christ can make our faith overly formal, intellectual, or result-oriented.  I know that I’ve fallen into the trap of focusing too much on adherence to doctrine or a strict moral system.  Perhaps because doctrinal orthodoxy and observance of the commandments are somewhat measurable, we find reassurance when we can point to them as proof that we are faithful followers of Christ.

Knowing the Creed well and living the commandments are both important aspects of our response to Christ.  They are part of the truth that he brings, freeing us from the intellectual errors and moral obstacles that can hinder or prevent a living encounter with him.  But the first priority of a follower of Christ is encountering him – an ongoing encounter with the Son of God that transforms our entire lives.

“Cafeteria Catholicism,” where people choose to believe and live only those teachings or moral precepts that they find appealing, is a troubling symptom of a faith that hasn’t been fully integrated with life.  In a true encounter with Christ we recognize that our whole lives are to be centered in him, like Saint Paul discovered on the way to Damascus.  When we truly meet Christ, “cafeteria Catholicism” begins to lose its appeal because the will of God takes precedence – the will of God and the church’s teaching.  We find the strength to live God’s will in our ongoing relationship with Jesus.

The heart of Christianity is encountering Jesus Christ, and Christian discipleship is about continually growing in union with him.  The focus of the Soul of Christ prayer is to live more deeply united with Jesus by our personal participation in the paschal mystery – Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.  The urgency of the petitions in this prayer reminds us that we need Christ and the salvation he brings us, and that our relationship is not one-dimensional.

Even when I’m suffering through a dry spell in my prayer, the Soul of Christ provides a personal connection and an “easy in” to my daily encounter with Jesus.  The petitions help me to remember and acknowledge that the Jesus who suffered and died for me is present, listening to me, wanting to draw me closer to himself.  The confidence expressed in every line reminds me that Jesus wants to bless me with the fruits of his suffering, death, and resurrection so that he touches me, heals me, and saves me today.  My prayers of petition become a thanksgiving to the risen Master who loves me so much.

Seven-year-old Danny was well prepared to receive his First Holy Communion.  About a week before the big day, he asked his godmother if the TV reporters would interview him for the nightly news.

“Why?” asked his clueless godmother.  “Why would the news reporters be there?”

“Because I’m going to receive Jesus for the first time!” the boy blurted out.  “This is the most important day of my life until I get married!”

Sometimes a child’s faith gives us clearer vision.  Danny was right: the Eucharist is big news.  Receiving the Eucharist is the most important event of our day or of our week, because the Eucharist shapes our entire life.  The tremendous gift that Jesus gives us in the Eucharist – himself – can completely transform us if we allow Christ to live and work freely in us.

The Soul of Christ is an ideal Eucharistic prayer, fostering that transformation in us.  Traditionally, the Soul of Christ was recommended for praying after communion, when it is sometimes easier to focus on our relationship with Christ.

Transformation in Christ is the key to the Soul of Christ prayer, and also to the spirituality of Saint Paul, who expresses this directly: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” (Galatians 2:20).  Saint Paul’s letters are full of references to living in Christ, but many people today find his letters inaccessible.  In the early twentieth century, the young Italian priest, James Alberione, felt that Saint Paul’s spirituality was what the church needed – in his time and in the future millennium.  Father Alberione was not only personally inspired by this great saint.  He gave Saint Paul as protector, patron, and guide to the ten institutes of the Pauline Family he founded, entrusting them with the task of being “Saint Paul alive today.”  Thousands of members of the Pauline Family today strive to live Saint Paul’s spirit as illumined and lived by Blessed James Alberione.

Blessed James develops the Pauline theme of life in Christ through the focal point of the description Jesus gave of himself at the Last Supper: “I am the Way; I am Truth and Life,” (John 14:6).  By encouraging the Pauline Family to live Jesus as Way, Truth, and Life, Blessed James gives us a concrete and holistic way of understanding holiness and “life in Christ” in our daily lives:

  • Jesus is our Truth, who sanctifies our minds and gives us the gift of faith so that we can put on the mind of Christ.
  • Jesus is our Way, our model, who invites us to walk with him and imitate his example in doing the will of the Father. Jesus’s way gives us the strength to love others – especially those who are “least” – in every situation.
  • Jesus is our Life, offering his life to save ours, seeking to draw us always deeper into the embrace of God so that we can love with the Heart of Christ.

Blessed James Alberione’s holistic Pauline spirituality, which he drew from the Letters of Saint Paul, has inspired me as a Daughter of Saint Paul and as I’ve prayed the Soul of Christ daily at his encouragement.  Alberione’s thoughts and insights are reflected here in these pages.  I’ve also included some of Blessed James Alberione’s most beautiful, privately written Eucharistic prayers, making some of them available in English for the first time.

My hope for those who read this book is that the Soul of Christ will become for you, too, a treasure that will enrich your spiritual journey, nurture a fuller transformation in Christ, and engender a greater joy in the marvelous gift of the Holy Eucharist.

Suggestions for using this book

Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer can be used for spiritual reading, for meditation or personal prayer, and for Eucharistic adoration.  Each chapter considers one petition of the prayer.  To make it easy to use, each chapter is divided into two main sections.

The first section is a reflection on each phrase of the particular petition from a Eucharistic perspective.  The wording of this prayer is so rich that the reflection is meant to be simply a starting place for your own contemplation of Christ and the mysteries of our faith.

The second section explores the petition more prayerfully in the light of a particular scripture passage.  You can continue reading this section straight through – as you have the previous one – or you can use it for praying an hour of adoration with the assistance of the additional notes in the margins.

The three-movement hour of adoration was developed by Blessed James Alberione.  In the first movement of the Pauline Hour of Adoration – Adoring Jesus Truth – you are invited to pray with the word of God.  The scripture passage is chosen to enrich your reflections on the theme of the petition from the Soul of Christ prayer.  During this time of profound listening, allow the word of God to shape your thoughts and attitudes.

The second movement, Following Jesus Way, gives you the opportunity to reflect on your spiritual journey in the light of the scripture passage: the ways that God is at work in your life, your thanksgiving to God for his loving providence, that challenges that you face, and the invitations that God holds out to you to change and grow closer to him.  Through the questions offered for an examination of conscience, you can ponder God’s loving invitations and how you have responded to them, ask God’s forgiveness for your sinfulness, and pray for the grace and strength to respond more fully to God’s love in the future.

The third movement in the Pauline hour, In Union with Jesus, is a time for prayer of union with Christ, our Life.  Thematically selected prayers are offered that can help you to deepen your union with Jesus; offer him your hopes, joys, sufferings, and efforts; and learn how to more fully share God’s love with others in your daily life.  This is a time for prayer of the heart, when you and Jesus can speak heart-to-heart about your desires and the needs of the world, offering all with Jesus to the Father.

The Appendix, How to Make a Pauline Hour of Adoration, contains further explanation of the Pauline Hour of Adoration.

The hours of adoration can be used individually or in a group.  When prayed individually, the prepared “hours” are meant to be adapted to your needs – the material is more of an outline or resource to help you begin or deepen your adoration.  For group use, the leader can simply add hymns and times of silence to allow each adorer to deepen the readings and reflections.  A little additional preparation can enrich the group prayer, such as inviting adorers to bring their own Bibles or requesting someone besides the group leader to read the scripture reading aloud.

The foundation of the Soul of Christ prayer is woven as a recurring theme throughout the pages of each meditation: God’s saving love for us revealed in Christ Jesus.  Christ’s love for us is absolutely faithful, limitless, and unconditional – we are cherished for who we are, and at the same time we are invited to grow more fully in union with him.

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