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ARTICLE: ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN PRAYER

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V. ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN PRAYER

Jesus warned his disciples through a parable to put their spiritual foundation on rock and not on sand. The house built on rock can resist any storm and flood. Referring to prayer Jesus says: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and yet don’t do what I tell you? Any one who comes to me and listens to my words and obeys them – I will show you what he is like. He is like a man who, in building his house, dug deep and laid the foundation on rock. The river overflowed and hit that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But anyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a man who built his house without laying a foundation; when the flood hit that house it fell at once – and what a terrible crash that was!” (Lk 6.46-49).

A healthy tree requires deep roots. If not it will uproot itself even while bearing large quantities of fruits. Jesus says: “ I am the vine and you are the branches,. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me” (Jn 15.5). We can apply this comparison to the way we pray. When we speak of Christian prayer, we cannot but pinpoint its fundamental roots in the life and teaching of Christ our Saviour, on which it stands. Christian prayer ought to be Trinitarian, Christological, Ecclesial and Soteriological in nature. Any other form of prayer, i.e., Hindu or Buddhist, cannot be identified with Christian prayer because of the lack of these four most important ingredients. Christian prayer is rooted in the life and teaching of Christ, who revealed to us the Trinitarian dimension of God and through his own life and example and taught us how to pray; and redeemed us through his passion, death and resurrection (the Paschal Mysteries) to make us one body – the Church (Ecclesial) and through it to preach the kingdom to other nations (Soteriological). That is why St. Paul says “For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express” (Rom 8.26).

 

Trinitarian Dimension

This dimension is fundamental to Christian prayer, as it spells out the most important ingredient of prayer. After His resurrection, He revealed the doctrine in explicit terms, bidding his disciples to "go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Mat. 28:18).  

 

St. John in his Gospel establishes the Divinity of Jesus Christ (John 20:31). In the prologue he identifies Him with the Word, the only begotten of the Father, Who from all eternity exists with God, Who is God (John 1:1-18). The immanence of the Son in the Father and of the Father in the Son is declared in Christ’s words to St. Philip: "Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?" (14:10), and in other passages he makes it explicit saying “All that my Father has is mine; that is why I said that the Spirit will take what I give him and tell it to you” (Jn 16.15); “I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17.21). The oneness of their power and their action is affirmed: "Whatever he [the Father] does, the Son also does in like manner" (5:19, cf. 10:38); and to the Son no less than to the Father belongs the Divine attribute of conferring life on whom He will (5:21). “If you love me keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. He is the Spirit who reveals the truth about God” (John 14.15-16). In John 10:29 we are privileged to call God our Father. None other religions have this privilege. This is the uniqueness of Christian prayer. Various texts of the Gospels also will certify this dimension:

 

Christological Dimension

Prayer unites us to the Spirit of Christ in our attempts at communication with God. This is mainly because, Jesus has taught us the right method of prayer. When you pray, pray as follows: “Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” (Lk 11.2ff). The Our Father is not only a prayer, but a way of life indicative of Jesus’ life. He continues, “when you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that God will hear them because of their prayers are long… do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6.7-8). He emphasises the importance of having faith in our prayers, and he says, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will fine and knock and the door will be opened to you…” (Lk 11.9ff).

 

He Prayed Regularly

He prayed in the evening after the multiplication of bread (Mk 14.23). He prayed in the morning at a lonely place (Mt. 1:35). He prayed at night before choosing the disciples (Lk 6.12). He prayed in lonely places without ceasing (Lk 5.16).

 

He Prayed to the Father

When the disciples asked Jesus “Lord teach us to pray”, he was at prayer (Lk 11.1). He prayed at his baptism (Lk 3.21); he prayed before his transfiguration (Lk 9.28). He prayed for Peter’s faith (Lk 22.31-32); He prayed for the Holy Spirit (Jn 14.15-17); He prayed before raising Lazarus (Jn 11.41); He prayed at the triumphant entry to Jerusalem (Jn 12.27); He prayed at the last supper (Jn 17.1-7); He prayed for his disciples (Jn 17.6-19); He prayed for all believers (Jn 17.20-21); He prayed before his passion (Lk 22.39); He prayed for his executioners (Lk 23.34); He prayed when he died on the cross (Lk 23.46). In all these circumstances Jesus was in constant contact with the Father. The fullest and most important characteristic of the prayer of Jesus is contained in Mt 6.5-16: “When you pray” says Jesus “do not be like hypocrites”; “do not use a lot of meaningless words”…“go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen, because your Father already knows what you need”.

 

He Prayed with People

The life of Jesus was for others. He lived and moved with people. Perhaps, but for prayer Jesus could not think of a life without people. His contact with children, disciples, women, poor, lame, blind, deaf, lepers, Samaritans, Jews, scribes, Pharisees, young, old, Centurion, tax collectors, sick, Greeks, tradesmen made his prayer more efficacious and effective. Jesus wanted to establish a kingdom of universal brotherhood. In view of this, he ignored all restrictions. He went to meet sinners and downtrodden; he looked for the very least and the abandoned; he let himself be monopolized by the sick and by the afflicted; he accepted pagans in his company. Acceptance, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness were habitual attitudes of Jesus toward that throng of needy people who approached him every day: publicans, sinners, prostitutes, criminals, foreigners, lepers, widows, children, the sick, the suffering, the possessed, renegades, enemies, the poor, and even those who crucified him later. Jesus had a particular regard for the poor and the despised (Mt 5.3). Even in relation to the rich, Jesus adopts an understanding attitude (cf. Mt 10.21). He puts forward poverty of spirit as the ideal of the true Christian: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me” (Mt 19.21).

 

He walked among the outcasts and marginalized people and accepted doubtful characters in his company. He stated that the last will be first, the humble shall be masters (cf. Mk 10.31; Mt 5.5) and the tax collectors and prostitutes will find it easier to enter the kingdom of God than the Pharisees (cf. Mt 21.23). He did not discriminate against anyone: he went to everyone, rich and poor, Jew and Samaritan, pious and sinner, etc. He is the master and teacher who knows how to act and in what circumstances to act. All of this was stemming out from his contact with the Father through his daily prayer.

 

He Prayed With Nature

Jesus always with drew to deserted places to pray (Lk 5.16); “rising very early before dawn, left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mk 1.35). Jesus was in constant contact with nature. The richness of all his parables show that he knew the secrets of nature through his own personal contact. He freely used the objects in nature and taught his disciples with vivid comparisons. That is why his teaching was effective and impressive. In his simple and down-to-earth teaching we find the use of salt and light (Mt 5.13-16); wild flowers (Mt 6.28); wild grass (Mt 6.30); door (Mt 7.7); grapes and briars (Mt 7.16); coat and cloth (Mt 9.16); sand (Mt 7.26); moth and rust (Mt 6.19); fish and snake (Mt 7.10); dove and snake (Mt 10.16); swine (Lk 15.16); wine and wineskins (Mt 9.17); tree and fruits (Mt 12.33); sowing, field, seed, birds, rocky ground, soil, thorn bushes (Mt 13.1-7); mustard seed (Mt 13.31); yeast (Mt 13.33); pearl (Mt 13.45); wind, rock, rain, river, flood (Mt 7.25); foxes and nest (Mt 8.20); drink of cold water (Mt 10.42); fire (Mt 7.19); house building (Mt 7.24); road (Mt 7.13); eyes and lamp (Mt 6.22); robbers (Mt 6.20); heaven, God’s throne, earth (Mt 5.33ff);  boats and sea storm (Mt 8.23-24); sons, daughters, mother-in-law, son-in-law (Mt 10.34-35); fishermen, net, fish (Mt 13.47); weeds (Mt 13.36); dogs (Mt 15.26); mountain (Mt 17.1); millstone (Mt 18.6); sheep (Mt 18.12); vineyard (Mt 20.1-7); coin, salary, fig tree (Mt 21.19); wedding (Mt 22.1ff); egg and scorpion (Lk 11.12); yeast (Lk 13.21); king, war (Lk 14.31-32); ring (Lk 15.22) white washed tombs, bones, decaying corpses (Mt 23.27ff);  tides on the sea, earth quakes, strange objects from the sky, sun, moon, stars. (Luke 21.7-38). Jesus’ prayer was a constant contact with nature as the O.T people prayed, “all you works of the Lord, bless the Lord; sun and moon, stars of heaven bless the Lord” (Dn 3.57-88). Contact with nature helped him to come in contact with reality and find therein traces of the glory of God.

 

Ecclesial Dimension

The Trinitarian dimension of God boldly supports the communitarian nature of our life. God is not alone; rather, he is a community of three persons. The Ecclesial dimension springs from the Trinitarian Dimension because of its communitarian spirit and communion among the three persons of the Trinity. This dimension underlines the importance of our prayer in the Church, for the Church and through the Church. It was at prayer in the upper room that the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles (Acts 2.1-4). These disciples then went far and wide to proclaim God’s kingdom. Christian prayer cannot be individualistic, it should be ecclesial and communitarian; even though we pray individually, it is always in the Church, through the church and for the Church, the body of Christ. Jesus established the Church and we are all members. St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians summarises the ecclesial spirit as follows: “Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. In the same way, all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, have been baptized into the one body by the same Spirit, and we have all been given the one Spirit to drink” (I Cor 12.12-13). He further urges Ephesians “Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people” (Eph 6.18). The ecclesial spirit of prayer is also strongly present in one of the texts of St. Paul to Colossians “Teach and instruct each other with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your heart. Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father” (Col 3.16-17).

 

Hence, the prayer life of the Church should be Trinitarian and Ecclesial in nature. The Ecclesial dimension of prayer must exist in each parish community and spread its fragrance everywhere in the society. At the end of the day all the members must feel united in the bond of the Trinity. Whenever we begin a day with “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” there is a desire or there should be a desire to begin the day with the spirit of unity and end the day with the same prayer, means that we let ourselves enter into the unity of the Trinity so that our life is always united with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

Soteriological Dimension

The prayer, which originates in the mystery of the redemptive incarnation, is the prayer of sharing in God's very life. St. Paul speaks of this in the passage: "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!"' (Gal 4:6). Man cries out like Christ himself, who turned to God "with loud cries and tears" (Heb. 5:7), especially in Gethsemane and on the cross: Man cries out to God just as Christ cried out to him, and thus he bears witness that he shares in Christ's Sonship through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent in the name of the Son, enables man to share in the inmost life of God. He also enables man to be a son, in the likeness of Christ, and an heir of all that belongs to the Son (cf. Gal. 4:7). In this consists the prayer of "dwelling in the inmost life of God," which begins with the incarnation of the Son of God. The Holy Spirit, who searches the depths of God (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10), leads us, all mankind, into these depths by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. The soteriological dimension of prayer consists in making the redemptive fruits of Christ available to others with our union with Christ. As Christ shared his life with the Father and with people around him, so a Christian is called to live in union with the Father and Christ in prayer; and through the Spirit share that life with others who are ignorant of Christ’s redemptive mission. It can be done only through communion with God in the Church, through the Church and for the Church.

 

When we speak of prayer in other religions, we need to take whatever is helpful, without diluting the uniqueness of Christian prayer, which is very specifically clear in the above dimensions. Methods are good, but they are not foolproof. They help us relax, regain health, peace, but if they do not contribute to these four dimensions, they cannot be called Christian. We need to by all means incorporate in our attempts at contemplation these Christian dimensions to make prayer complete in the Christian sense. Otherwise it will be syncretism in our approach to prayer.

Hence, in conclusion we can boldly say that Christian Prayer is and should be Trinitarian, Christological, Ecclesial and Soteriological in nature.

(To be continued…)

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

www.LivingFlame.ca

Vancouver - Canada

ARTICLE: Body and Blood of Christ Year. A

Body and Blood of Christ

Year. A

Deut 8.2-3, 14-16; 1 Cor 10.16-17; Jn 6.51-52
 

First Reading...
"Moses spoke to the people. 'Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.'" (Deut. 8.2-3, 14-16) 

Second Reading...
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?

Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Cor. 10.16-7) 

Gospel Reading...
"Jesus said to the crowds, 'I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.'

The people then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'

So Jesus said to them, 'Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Just as the living Father has sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.'

Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum." (Jn. 6.51-9)

In the year 1263 a priest from Prague was on route to Rome making a pilgrimage asking God for help to strengthen his faith since he was having doubts about his vocation. Along the way he stopped in Bolsena 70 miles north of Rome. While celebrating Mass there, as he raised the host during the consecration, the bread turned into flesh and began to bleed. The drops of blood fell onto the small white cloth on the altar, called the corporal. The following year, 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s feast Corpus Christi. The Pope asked St Thomas Aquinas, living at that time, to write hymns for the feast and he wrote two, better known to the older members of our congregation, the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris. That blood-stained corporal may still be seen in the Basilica of Orvieto north of Rome, and I had the privilege of seeing it during the time I lived in Italy. 

Jesus offers his own body and blood for our nourishment. No human person could tell what Jesus told his disciples. For an ordinary person who is not enlightened by faith, this sounds unusual and practically abnormal. How can a person give his flesh to eat and his blood to drink?

During the Easter season, we have probably heard or said these words attributed to St. Augustine. "We are an Easter people…." As we gather on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, often called Corpus Christi, could we not, should we not, also proclaim. "We are a Eucharistic people!" As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us. "The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely, Christ himself, our Pasch’ (no. 1324). In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our Faith. ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking’" (no. 1327).

Do we really understand how central to our lives as Catholics is this core reality of our Christian Faith. the Eucharist, both sacrifice and sacrament? As we gather on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, let us ask ourselves some basic questions, the answers to which can serve as a barometer of our true understanding of the Eucharist.

How we prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist reveals what we understand about this central mystery of our Faith. So, how do we prepare? Are we aware that we will be reliving in this sacred ritual the Dying and Rising of Jesus? Are we eager to receive the spiritual food which will nourish us at the two-fold table of the Lord. His Living Word in the Liturgy of the Word and His very own Body and Blood in the Liturgy of the Eucharist? Admittedly, there are situations that ruin even our best plans, but do we try to arrive on time or, even better, try to arrive early in order to quiet our minds and hearts as we prepare to hear God’s Word and to receive Jesus in Communion? In our prayer during the week, do we reflect on the Scripture readings for the next Sunday, so as to allow the Holy Spirit to make us more receptive to its proclamation in the liturgy and to the lessons which God wishes to teach us? Yes, how we prepare reveals what we truly understand.

How we dress for Mass also reveals what we truly understand. Let me be as clear as I can. I am not referring to clothing that is fancy or expensive, but rather, I am stating that what we wear should be neat and clean and reflect our understanding that we are taking part in a sacred religious action. Therefore, our clothing should be appropriate to the celebration of the Eucharist as both sacrifice and sacrament. A note of caution was written by Cardinal Ivan Dias for all the parishioners about the dress code for the Holy Eucharist in the Archdiocese. What we might appropriately wear at the beach or at a picnic, for example, is not the appropriate style of dress in church. Let me repeat, our clothing need not be expensive or fancy, but it should reflect what we are doing in this sacred place as we celebrate the Eucharist.

How we participate likewise reveals what we understand about the Eucharist. Are we spiritually ready to receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion? Jesus Christ is "truly, really and substantially" (Council of Trent) present in the Eucharist. This is why St. Paul writes in our second reading to the people in Corinth. "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" And, later on in that same letter he reminds the people. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (I Cor. 11.26-27).

We must constantly ask if we ourselves are guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord when we come to receive Communion at Mass. What are some practical ways by which we can ensure we are receiving the Lord in a worthy manner? We must examine our conscience and determine if we are in mortal sin. Have we sinned gravely against God in some area of our lives? If so, we must first be reconciled with God and the Church through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. By virtue of His divinity, He knows all things. By virtue of His humanity and His earthly life, He can relate to our human experiences. Jesus knows that we are not perfect. He knows that we were born with a fallen human nature, and that we struggle against that nature everyday. He simply asks that we confess our sins when we fall so that He can forgive us, heal us with His grace and, thereby, begin to transform us into His image and likeness. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives, and Jesus asks us to recognize that and begin to live it.

Do we participate fully, consciously and actively in the celebration of the Eucharist, observing the gestures given to us by the Church for this reverent yet active participation, at times responding in spoken word or in song, at other times silently praying in union with the priest? Do we approach Holy Communion without fear, but with reverence? If we choose to receive Jesus on the tongue, do we do so reverently? If we choose to receive Jesus in the hand, do we make a throne of our hands and thereby receive Him reverently? Remember, the priest is to place the sacred host into your hands; the communicant is not to reach out for the host. Yes, how we participate reveals what we truly understand.

Finally, how we live reveals what we truly understand about this core reality of our faith. What we celebrate in sacred ritual here, we must live out in daily life out there. Here we are transformed by the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist to become the Body of Christ alive in the world, witnessing to His Gospel of life, of love, of forgiveness, of truth and of unity.

Yes, today we celebrate the source and summit of our Faith, Jesus Christ, truly, really and substantially present in what looks like a wafer of bread and ordinary wine. Jesus is absolutely clear in His statement. "My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. … Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

May the same love which poured itself out from His Sacred Heart, pour itself into our hearts so that we may be fervent apostles of the Eucharist and, in turn, set the world ablaze with the love of Christ. Yes, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. We are a Eucharistic people.

When we take Jesus in our hands to eat the Bread of Life, we become one with our Creator. It is a tremendous abuse of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to attempt to receive Jesus in communion while our souls are covered with sin. This is like crucifying Jesus again. If our souls are in a state of sin, the intended union between Jesus and us will not happen. This is why many of the saints went to Confession on a weekly basis and even daily to ensure that they were in the purest state possible before receiving Jesus in their hearts.

 

 

ARTICLE: Trinity Sunday YEAR A

Trinity Sunday


Year. A
Ex 34.4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13.11-13; Jn 3.16-18

A NEW WORLD

Imagine a world where all your best friends live in the same neighborhood, where everything they ever wanted to do or be is right there, waiting for them. You could all stay in the same location.

You could all travel together, to places you'd all enjoy. You might split off for a while here or there, but you'd always come back to each other. If you wanted to visit each other, imagine there being special meeting places for each of you, all in your neighborhood, and no more than a mile or so away. Not 5000 miles.

Imagine no wars. Imagine peace. No electronics. Always acoustic guitars, always singing, always gathering together each day.

Imagine everyone learning from everyone, teaching. Good things, always good things. Imagine if kindness, love, caring, honesty, gentleness, laughter, hugging, smiling, friendship, were the only things all people ever knew.

Teamwork. No government. When making a decision, people thrived on the virtue of fairness, and everyone, of one accord, chose what was really best for all.

Imagine immortality. No pain, grief, or suffering.

Imagine no racism, hate or greed.

Imagine saying, "What a wonderful world!" and truly meaning it.
Remember the warmest hug you've ever gotten, and you will have love.
The most genuine good thing someone has ever said to you, and you will have kindness.

Imagine sharing the spotlight with your friends, being in it together, and you will have fairness.

Remember that we are all human, and you will have equality.
Sing together, you'll have unity.

Keep doing good little things for someone, and you'll build trust.

"The secret to a genuinely peaceful world is within us.

We can make it so, if we all start now.
Right now, pledge to do acts of kindness each and every day
Be gentle, kind, caring, and loving
Always smile. Laugh!
Learn. Teach. Above all, be patient.
Share, be part of a team, and be fair.
Listen. Sing. Play. Be the music.
Hug someone.
Remember the ultimate goal of true unity...
And the world will live as one."

Trinity signifies unity in eternity. This is what we all long. But our life, that is practical life does not seem to help this unity. The root of the word "Trinity" originates from the Latin word "trini" which means "three each," or "threefold." "The term has been used as early as the days of Tertullian (200 A.D.) to denote the central doctrine of the Christian religion. God, who is one and unique in His infinite substance or nature, or Godhead, is three really distinct Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Each of these Persons is truly the same God, and has all His infinite perfections, yet He is really distinct from each of the other Persons. The one and only God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; yet God the Father is not God the Son, but begets the Son eternally, as the Son is eternally begotten. The Holy Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son, but a distinct Person having His Divine nature from the Father and the Son by eternal procession."

In other words, in Jesus dwells the Father and the Holy Spirit. And the same can be said about the Father and the Holy Spirit. In each one dwells the other two Persons of God. This truth is supported by a verse in The Letter of Paul to the Colossians. "In Him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily." (Col. 1.19; 2.9) "All the fullness of God means the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Biblical Proof

The next question that some may ask is, "Are there any biblical passages to support that in the fullness of God, there are Three distinct Persons?" The answer to this is "Yes!" We can quote the closing of the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus told His disciples, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Mt. 28.18) And we can quote the closing words of St. Paul in the Second Letter to the Corinthians where He states, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you." (2 Cor. 13.13) These biblical passages affirm that while there is One God, there are Three distinct Persons in the Godhead.

God’s Love

God created us and loved us enough to give himself to us.  He rejoices in seeing the world filled with his love working through us. The Father is the Creator.  The Gift of Himself is the Son.  The love that fills the world is the Spirit.

The theologian who best presented God as love was St. Augustine.  St. Augustine put it this way.  the Father is the One who Loves.  The Son is the One who is Loved.  The Spirit is the very act of Loving. The Fr. Joe simplification of this for the young people and for himself is that God is love in every possible use of the word.  He is the Subject Love, he is the Object love, and he is the verb Love.

Let me read for you the most beautiful passages from St. Augustine's Confessions. 

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new. late have I loved you.  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my un-loveliness (I guess he means selfishness), I plunged into the things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.  You called.  you shouted.  You broke my deafness.  You flashed. You shone. You dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me and I burned for your peace.”

And the most famous passage from St. Augustine.

It is you who move us to delight in your praise.  For you have made us for yourself. and our heart is restless until it rest in you.

The essence of God is Love.  And we human beings are made in his image.  We are integral, whole, when we give ourselves over to God's love.  We reflect our very nature and are at peace with the world when we take a step away from our own selfish drives and trust ourselves into the hands of sacrificial love.

Can we describe God?  Down through the ages preachers have asked this question; and never more than on this Trinity Sunday, when we preachers have the task of explaining what it means to say that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A story beloved of preachers tells of how the great fifth-century North African bishop St. Augustine strolled along the shore of the Mediterranean wondering how to explain the Trinity.  As he did so, he saw a little girl going back and forth into the sea, filling a small bucket with water which she poured into a hole she had dug in the sand.  “What are you doing, dear?” St. Augustine asked.  “I’m trying to empty the sea into this hole,” the child replied.  “How do you think that with your little bucket you can possibly empty this immense ocean into this tiny hole?” Augustine countered.  To which the girl replied. “And how do you, with your small head, think you can comprehend the immensity of God?”  No sooner had the girl spoken these words than she disappeared. 

The story contains an important truth.  God is a mystery. not in the sense that we can understand nothing about God; but that what we can understand is always less than what we cannot.   Pope Benedict, who has a special love for St. Augustine, has put the little girl’s shell into his coat of arms as a reminder that God is always shrouded in mystery.  One thing we can understand is how people have experienced God.

Our first reading shows us Moses experiencing God in a cloud — a symbol of mystery, for in a cloud we cannot see clearly.  The same divine cloud appears at Jesus’ Transfiguration, when his clothes and face shone with heavenly light.  A cloud enveloped Jesus at his Ascension.  At the Transfiguration Peter, James, and John experienced fear, and bowed down in worship.  Moses does the same in our first reading.  The witnesses to Jesus’ Ascension also bowed down in worship.  This is the first way people experience God in the Bible. as the utterly Other, whose presence inspires awe and worship.

At the very moment, however, in which Moses was worshiping the true God atop Mount Sinai, his people below were bowing down in worship to a golden calf. a deity of their own devising, who made no demands upon them; who symbolized a superhuman virility and power which, the people vainly imagined, they could harness to their own ends.  This is idolatry — for the Bible one of the worst sins there is.  We become guilty of idolatry whenever we suppose that prayer and other religious practices give us access to some supernatural power which we can turn on or off like the light switch; which we can use to get whatever we want.  God always hears and answers prayer.  But he does so in sovereign freedom. not at the time, or in the way that we want — or think we can dictate.  God is never at our disposal. We are at his disposal.

God’s appearance to Moses at the very moment when Moses’ people were committing the ultimate sin of idolatry shows that God is not only mysterious and fearful.  He is also tender and compassionate.  He is a God of love.  This is how Jesus experienced God.  Our gospel reading reflects this experience. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

Jesus devoted the whole of his early life to helping people experience God’s love.  He demonstrated this love through deeds of compassion.  He illustrated God’s love through stories still told and pondered twenty centuries later.  And on Calvary he gave us the supreme example of love.

Following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his friends came to realize that he had not left them.  He was still with them, though the manner of his presence was different.  They recalled that Jesus had foretold this.

 “I will not leave you orphans. I will come back to you” (Jn. 14.18).

 “I will ask the Father and he will give you another to be your Advocate, who will be with you forever — the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14.15).

“I shall see you again; then your hearts will rejoice with a joy no one can take from you” (Jn. 16.22).  This joy at Jesus’ continuing presence is the third way people experience God.

          Pondering these three ways in which people experienced God, the Church developed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  The God who is one is also three. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is the description, in formal religious language, of how we experience God.   He is the utterly Other, who inspires awe and worship. But he is also a God of love, a love so amazing, so divine, so undeserved by sinners like ourselves that he kindles within us an answering love. love for God, love for our fellow humans.  And whenever we experience God in either of these ways — as the almighty creator and Father of the universe whose presence inspires awe, or in his Son Jesus in whom we see unconditional love in human form — we are experiencing God in and through the power of his Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is God at work in our world, and in our hearts and minds, here and now.  The Spirit is God’s love. the love exchanged between Father and Son, the love poured into our hearts — not just to give us a warm feeling inside, but to share with others. 

 Our second reading, finally, speaks about this sharing. “Encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

The little girl’s words to St. Augustine are true.  God is too immense to get into our small heads.  But the threefold experience of God is within the reach of all, even of children.  God discloses himself to us in these three ways to lift our eyes from earth to heaven; to make us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what Jesus was and is. channels and instruments through whom heaven comes down to earth.

The Trinity Sunday must evoke in us the sense of unity in our families and institutions. If there is no unity all that happens in and around us will not have any meaning for us. Hence, we must try our best to dialogue, set goals to promote love peace and joy and harmony.

 

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

www.LivingFlame.ca

Vancouver - Canada

ARTICLE: WHAT IS PRAYER? (continued)

iv WHAT IS PRAYER?

(Continued…CLICK HERE TO GO TO BEGINNING OF ARTICLE)

I always cherish speaking to people. Well, it’s a fact that there are a few people friendlier than others. The intensity of talking to such people is quite different from other larger folk. With some people I feel comfortable to joke, speak and be at ease. This cannot happen with all kinds of people. The more intense is my love better is my relationship. Another fact that I noted is, when there is genuine love, I simply like to listen to them, rather speaking to them. This experience could be applied to experience of prayer too.

 

Prayer is Dialogue

Prayer is a spiritual activity intensely involving both God and human person in an intimate dialogue. To speak about prayer is to become aware of God to the fullest extent in a dialogue with Him. He is present perennially in our life. We can know nothing about Him except that He is kind enough to reveal Himself to us in various ways and in tiny little things in life. “These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God” (I Cor 2:10). This Spirit responds to us in and through prayer. The Vatican II affirms, “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being”[1]. We can commune with God in prayer. We call prayer, that speech to God, which in spite of all else ultimately asks for the manifestation of the divine presence, for this presence becoming dialogically perceivable.

Prayer is a process by which we come to know God and ourselves through a personal relationship established through dialogue. Without God-knowledge and self-knowledge we cannot pray in an effective manner. Moreover, there is a definite correlation between knowing God and knowing ourselves. God cannot be known unless we know ourselves as we really are. The less we know ourselves the weaker will be our relationship with God. The less we think of ourselves the greater will be our trust in Him. When we make ourselves ‘gods’ we perceive God less and less. This is precisely what we call ‘journey to God’, a journey that leads us to become smaller and God to become ‘bigger’ in us. The friendly dialogue in prayer bridges gaps between God and us.

Prayer and Progress

Prayer is an inward journey. A journey from exterior to interior, from body to spirit, from vice to virtue, from world to God. It is not a journey that takes place in space and time but it is an inward journey that leads us to the centre of our being which is beyond space and time. If accepted through faith, that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, we have no other way than to journey in faith to the depth of our being in order to encounter our God who is secretly dwelling there. Dag Hammarskjold (the late secretary to the U.N.O.) says, “the longest journey is journey inwards” and a religious leader David O. McKay says “The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul”. That is why Jesus told his disciples “when you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who sees you in secret” (Mt 6.6). Progress in prayer cannot be measured through the hours, days, months and years we have spent praying. It depends on how far we have been able to penetrate our spirit to discover God’s dwelling within us and to cope up with our daily battles.

 

Prayer is Communication

It would be fair to say that prayer concerns communication with God, and this should be the starting point for any teaching about prayer. In speaking of human communication, some skills can be taught but essentially the experience is far larger than the skills learnt and used. Should communication with God be any different? Just as it would be wrong to say that nothing about prayer could be taught, so it would be equally wrong to say that everything about prayer can be taught. Those who want to learn to pray, in fact desire to know about the ways to communicate with the Divine.

When we speak of communication, it concerns first of all with ourselves. We speak about ourselves and about our ideas. This is done through words, actions, thoughts, and subconscious activity such as dreams. All of these are various aspects of ourselves. When we speak we focus our attention on ourselves. Hence to pray is to focus our attention on God because these voices make us listen to God. There are many models for explaining communication. In choosing one that expresses the kind of communication that goes on in prayer, it is important to remember that the concerns about prayer are expressed in experiential rather than academic terms and therefore the basic model should reflect a common human experience. The ‘experience of friendship’ and the ‘communication dynamic’ involved in it seem to offer a lot for understanding prayer.

 

Prayer is Friendship

Speaking of friendship there is a basic principle that holds good for a lasting relationship. This requirement is ‘presence’ which is more important than watching, talking and listening. It is a need that strengthens friendship. If we were to single out the most intimate and touching part of a relationship, it would be the precious moments of passive silence that really matter. When the friendship is shallow in the midst of a conversation, silent moments could be really uncomfortable and degenerating. For intimate friends the moments of passive silence are the most precious ones because it is through these moments of silence that a deeper relationship takes place without any words and gestures. In the midst of talking, listening and spending time together each person tends to become more authentically in touch with what they really are in those precious moments. In the process of communicating with each other, there results a communication with oneself. The same is true of prayer. Understood in this manner, prayer is both interpersonal and intra-personal; the praying and the individuating process are concurrent realities. People have many conscious reasons for praying but if praying is to be understood as concurrent with the individuating process, then it would have to be said that the motive for praying is more than the conscious reason; it is rooted in the unconscious. From the point of depth psychology we know that this attempt to communicate and become authentically oneself is a gradual process of moving beyond conscious limits and becoming more and more vulnerable. Ultimately, then, to pray is to acknowledge limits and though this acknowledgement is at first implicit, it eventually becomes explicit through moments of deep silence. To teach a person to pray is to facilitate a person’s desire to become conscious of limits and comfortable with vulnerability. Whatever the method chosen, it must respond to this desire in order to be effective. Growth in friendship is growth in knowledge and acceptance of our own limitations.

 

Prayer, a Habitual Attitude

All prayer is inspired in the depth of our own nothingness. It is the movement of trust, of gratitude, of adoration, or of sorrow that places us before God, seeing both Him and ourselves in the light of His infinite truth, and moves us to ask Him for the mercy, the spiritual strength, the material help that we all need. All true prayer somehow confesses our absolute dependence on God.

Here are a series of expressions by known theologians regarding prayer. They cannot be considered definitions because a true and exhaustive definition of prayer cannot be given. These expressions will help us clarify many wrong notions of prayer. Prayer is “an existence which is directed towards God, it is the contemplative approach, a general attitude of reverence which permeates the day’s activity” (Guardini, pp. 123-124). “Prayer is simply an inward grace of knowledge and love turned towards God… It is possible to remain in this attitude of loving attention to God even in the midst of the most absorbing occupations… Application to the task is perfectly compatible with a permanent inward attitude of love for the beloved” (Dujat pp.116-117). “Times of prayer set up a frame of mind which remains through all our activities, so that, all our work and play is coloured by a prayer-like attitude” (Macquarrie, p. 38). “The presence of God simply describes the principle of the praying attitude, the inner attitude of the praying person” (Bernard C.A., p. 362). “Underlying each diverse manifestation of prayer is a radical attitude” (Hassel, p. 1). “Prayer without ceasing, as a continuous state of soul, is primarily an attitude of the heart and will… Love without ceasing is not a series of acts, but a continuous attitude and state… Prayer without ceasing is first of all an attitude of the will” (Wright, pp. 167).

Prayer therefore is an inward, inner, general, essential, radical, permanent, constant, continuous, habitual and prolonged attitude. Thus, prayer eventually becomes identical with the essential attitude of our being in front of God and neighbour, a habitual attitude of reverent worship of the divine truth, a continuous state of being, a constant attitude by which we walk with God and live in Him and with others.

Very often in prayer we are distracted by our practical difficulties, such as the problems of our state of life, the duties we have to face etc. It is not possible to avoid such distractions all the time, but if we know what prayer means, and know Who God is, we will be able to turn these very thoughts into motives for prayer. It is good to turn distractions into material for petition, but it is better not to be distracted, or at least not to be drawn away from God by our distractions.

 

Summing up all that we have said above about prayer, we must admit that we cannot offer an exhaustive definition to prayer. Each one of us has a personalized definition of ones own prayer through our intimate contact with the Lord. Giving a definition in academic terms is not our concern here. When prayer becomes life and the life we live expresses our prayer, we can hope to say that we are ‘praying’. That in fact is prayer.

(to be continued…)

 

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

www.LivingFlame.ca

Vancouer - Canada

 

[1]  Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 119.

ARTICLE: Pentecost Year. A

Pentecost Year. A

Acts 21-11; 1 Cor 12.3b-7, 12-13, Jn 20.19-23

Generous Father

I observed the father of a lad giving him a Dollar just before entering the Church. I asked him why he gave money to the lad before entering the Church? He told me that the child is trained to be generous towards God and people. I was impressed and was really appreciative of the attitude of the father.

Anecdote

There is a story of identical twins. One was a hope-filled optimist. "Everything is coming up roses!" he would say. The other twin was a sad and hopeless pessimist. He thought that Murphy, as in Murphy's Law, was an optimist. The worried parents of the boys brought them to the local psychologist.

He suggested to the parents a plan to balance the twins' personalities. "On their next birthday, put them in separate rooms to open their gifts. Give the pessimist the best toys you can afford and give the optimist a box of manure."

The parents followed these instructions and carefully observed the results. When they peeked in on the pessimist, they heard him audibly complaining, "I don't like the color of this computer... I'll bet this calculator will break... I don't like the game... I know someone who's got a bigger toy car than this..."

Tiptoeing across the corridor, the parents peeked in and saw their little optimist gleefully throwing the manure up in the garden. He was giggling. "You can't fool me! Where there's this much manure, there's got to be a Rose!"

The event of Pentecost was to fill the pessimist disciples with the Spirit of courage and joy. In our life there are so many things that happen. We tend to take them simply without analyzing their importance to us. At times we are so accustomed that we do not even think that they are from God. Are we filled with the hope of the Resurrected Lord? Or do we worry about things that matter only concerning our material life? Are joyful? Or do we make things sadder as we pass through them?

There are events so wonderful, and so full of mystery, that ordinary language cannot describe them.  Such was the Pentecost event which we celebrate today.  In our first reading Luke, the writer, uses symbols to describe something beyond the power of words to portray.   The coming of God’s Spirit, he writes, was “like a strong driving wind.”  “Tongues as of fire” rested on these first Christians, who suddenly received power “to speak in different tongues.”  These three symbols – wind, fire, tongues – are not arbitrary.  Each tells us something about God and his mysterious work in the world.

  1. Wind.The word used by Luke is used elsewhere in Scripture to designate a person’s “breath” or “spirit.”  (Cf. Gen 2.7; Acts 17.25)  At birth breathing begins.  At death it ceases.  The coming of God’s Spirit is said to have been “like wind” because the Spirit is the Church’s breath.  Before the coming of this Spirit-breath, the Church’s life was something like that of an unborn child in the womb. Only with the coming of this “strong driving wind” did the Church receive the fullness of divine life.

This divine breath gives the Church an astonishing power of self-renewal.  Again and again in history the Church has become so corrupt through the sins of its members that people have predicted its imminent demise.  Yet time and again the Church has risen, through the power of this divine Spirit-breath, renewed and purified.  For this recurring phenomenon there is but one possible explanation the fact that the Church lives not from its own strength, and certainly not from the strength of its members, but from the continual in-breathing of God’s Spirit, who is the Church’s life-breath.

  1. Fire warms.When breathing stops, so does body heat.  Deep within the collective soul of this great family of God which we call the Catholic Church is the fire of the world’s greatest love. the unbounded love of God for all he has made.  That is the secret of the Church’s magnetism. People in the Church who are cold, hard-hearted, always ready to criticize, to complain, to complain, block the warmth of that love. They act not as heat conveyers, but as heat shields.  Which are you with regard to the Spirit’s fire?  Are you a heat conveyer, or a heat shield?

Fire warms because it burns.  If combustible material is nearby, fire spreads rapidly.  Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught.  It must be caught.  Are you burning with that fire?  Are you handing it on to others?

Fire also gives light.  God sent his Son into a dark world to be the world’s light.  This light shines today through God’s continual gift of his Spirit to his Church and to each of its members. He wants us to serve as lenses or prisms of that light.  “Your light must shine before others,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5.16).  And in John’s gospel Jesus warns. “Bad people all hate the light and avoid it, for fear that their practices should be shown up.  The honest person comes to the light, so that it may be clearly see that God is in all he does” (John 3.20f).

When we fear God’s light, we need to ask God burn away whatever causes us to shun the light, whatever stands in the way of our spreading the light, fire, and warmth of his Holy Spirit.

  1. The Foreign Tongues. in which these first Christians spoke symbolize the Church’s work through history. proclaiming to all peoples, in all languages, the wonderful truth of God.
  • That God is, that he is real;
  • That he is a God of love, who looks for a response of love – for himself, and for our sisters and brothers;
  • That God has made us for himself. to serve, love, and praise him here on earth, to be happy with him forever in heaven;
  • That he is the God of the impossible, who can do for us what we can never do for ourselves. fit us for life with him, here and in eternity.

That is the message which we have to proclaim.  Does any of that message come through in your life?  If you were arrested tonight for being a Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  And if mere presence at Sunday Mass were not enough for conviction, would there be enough evidence then?

That we are Christians in a land undreamed of by anyone on that first day of Pentecost is proof that the Spirit’s “strong driving wind” did not blow in vain.  Those first touched by that wind were blown into places, and situations, they never dreamed of.  Even those who never left Jerusalem found their lives utterly changed.

This same wind of the Spirit is blowing in the Church today.  Is it blowing in your life?  Or are you afraid of that wind – of what it might do to you, and where it might blow you?  Cast aside fear.  The wind of God’s Spirit, like the winds of the sky, blows from different directions.  But in the end this wind blows all who are driven by it to the same place.  The wind of God Spirit blows us home – home to God.

The Spirit of the Lord has given us the spirit of love, truth, joy, peace, patience, generosity, kindness, goodness, self control and humility. We need to bear witness to them. Then perhaps we could say boldly that we are the children of God and children of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

“(The laity) work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven … (making) Christ known to others especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity. (Lumen gentium, 31)

“The laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth.”

There are people here who are doing those things every day. Are you? One day the Lord will examine us about how we have responded to the call to be his messengers to others. Here, ahead of time, are some of the questions in that examination.

God won’t ask what kind of car you drove; he’ll ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation.

God won’t ask the area and beauty of your house; he’ll ask how many people you welcomed into your home.

God won’t ask about the clothes you had in your cupboard; he’ll ask how many you helped to clothe.

God won’t ask what your highest salary was; he’ll ask if you cut corners to obtain it.

God won’t ask what your job title was; he’ll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.

God won’t ask how many friends you had; he’ll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.

God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived; he’ll ask how you treated your neighbors.

God won’t ask about the color of your skin; he’ll ask about the content of your character.

The testimony of deeds before words is powerful. You probably know the saying. “What you are speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say.” Words are cheap and our world is inundated by words. People today are more impressed by deeds than by words.

Bearing witness to Jesus Christ in daily life is difficult. If you doubt that, it probably means that you have never seriously tried it for any extended period of time. With our own resources alone, the task is impossible. But we are not alone. We have an unseen companion in the missionary task. the same divine master and Lord who is saying to us right now, as he said to that little band of weak sinners and doubters on a Galilean hilltop two thousand years ago. “Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCG

www.LivingFlame.ca

Vancouver - Canada

ARTICLE: Ascension of the Lord: Year A

 

Ascension of the Lord

Year. A:  Acts 1.1-11; Eph. 1.17-23; Mt 28.16-20

The Sea and the Desert    

"The sea was much better," the traveler complained. "Whenever I got tired it at least had its currents to push me forward on my journey but you," he looked at the vast desert surrounding him, "you are of no help."

He went down on his knees, dead tired. When his breaths restored back to normalcy, a while later, he heard the desert's voice.

"I agree. I am of no help like the sea and thus I often depress people. But do you really think people will remember you for crossing the sea? Never! For the sea doesn't allow you to leave any mark. I, on the contrary, do. Thus, if you cross me, I swear, you will in turn immortalize yourself with the imprints you leave over me!"

The traveler got the essence and got up to walk on. "It's always about the imprints," his heart echoed.

"He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight." (Acts 1.9)

Jesus left lasting imprints on the lives of the Apostles. That is why they were all filled with enthusiasm for the message of Christ. He made an impression, not like other people, his impression made through his death and resurrection. His impression is a tough reality, but always helpful to all those who were with him and want to be with him.

We always find difficult to find God’s traces. The best way to describe His existence is to say that God was "present." This nature of God echoes the Words of Yahweh and Jesus who both claimed to be, "I am." (Ex. 3.14; Jn. 8.58, 18.5; Rev. 1.8, 22.13) "I am" means "I am present; I am here!" In the case of God the Father, it can also mean, "While you may not see Me, I am here. I am present."

Now a days it is so difficult to convince people of God’s presence, and it is so essential to their life yet the difficulty remains a stark reality.

A girl approached me and said, father, please pray that I may not lose my faith. I said, “Dear, just pray and you will not lose it”. She said to me, “father, I am in great trouble. My boy friend whom I loved has left me, and I feel it is not worth living in this world”. I told her that she might get a better boy. What else could I say? “Is it true father?” “Yes,” I said, “just pray and keep a watch and you will see God will help you.” It happened in a month. She was all happy, because she got another one, much better than the previous one.

Faith works, but it makes us wait and always takes us through a tough path.

The Gospel of John tells us, "As the Father has life in Himself, He has granted the Son (the Word) to have life in Himself." (Jn. 5.26)

"In Jesus (Him) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily." (Col. 1.19,2.9) Jesus said, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his work. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me..." (Jn. 14.9- 11)

St. Paul affirmed our capability of knowing the nature of God when he stated, "Ever since the creation of the world His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made. So they are without excuse." (Rom. 1.20)

When we celebrate Ascension of our Blessed Lord into heaven, we need to look up, means we need to look for the things to come. This expectation should keep us always alive. Often in this modern world people always tend to look for the material things, that they need immediately. There is a strong tendency to get everything we need and we want them immediately. Not necessarily this should be our approach.

I was watching a programme on 27th April, conducted by Burkha Datt, in NDTV by name “affluence mania”. Leading industrialists and CEO’s had been participating in this programme. They were responding to questions put by the viewers, who were convinced that they need to enjoy life, without much reference to their parents and grand parents. They were of the opinion that life is short and good and we need to make best of it with regard to spending the money one has earned. Then, what about the moral values? Of course some of them insisted that they were at terrible at stake.

I am just reading today’s news paper (29/4/2004 – DNA) report of one Josef Fritzl, Austrian, 70 years old, who had 7 children from his own daughter Elizabeth. The neighbours of this man are hanging their heads in total shame. He had imprisoned his daughter in 1984, drugged her and kept her for almost 24 years in the basement of his home and molested her, abused her. What a shame and cruel reality of this modern world. She must have undergone the tortures of hell in the hands of her own father. This is what we say our morals are at stake when we do not see beyond the reality of the world.

Ascension is looking forward with hope of great joy. Let us celebrate it with due reverence to life, to the neighbour and to the world to come where we will have our rooms as he has gone before us to prepare one for us.

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

www.LivingFlame.ca

ARTICLE: WHAT IS PRAYER (con’t)

III. WHAT IS PRAYER?

 

(Continued.  Here is the beginnng of the article. Click here now)

‘During my prayer time, I read a lot, recite at least three Rosaries and then try to spend time uttering words of praise and thanksgiving’ says Sister Hilda from one of the convents around our parish at Mira Road (E). Nothing is wrong about it. We are all endowed with different type of capacity to spend time in prayer. But we also need to know what is true prayer.

 

Prayer is Awareness

 

Authentic prayer is basically a prolonged friendly awareness of the divine presence in the depths of our heart. This awareness is extended, enriched and strengthened each time we encounter God in prayer. God cannot be absolutely absent from our lives. Therefore we need to deepen the experience of God in our lives through awareness. God is creatively present in everyone at every moment whether we are aware of Him or not. But when we are in a state of silent gratefulness, we are aware of His presence either in a mysterious way or in a clear way through the grace provided. In this awareness of the divine we experience an elevation of life which we cannot attain by profuse words of thanks or praise; it can happen to us if we are gratefully open to it. In general, awareness in prayer is nothing but knowing, loving, and looking at God who loves us and ‘looks’ at us secretly in the depths of our heart (cf. Mt 6.6). The word ‘look’ should not be confused with the ordinary sense of the word, because God cannot be seen with the naked eyes; “no man can see Him and live” (Ex 33.18-23). For all those who ‘look’ with the eyes of faith, God is made visible in the very teaching and person of Jesus. “This is eternal life; to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent” [Jn 17.3].

 

Experiencing God through awareness is authentic prayer. All are called to this awareness. However, this awareness of God is not exhaustive and it cannot be. Such awareness requires purified mind and heart. For Teresa of Avila, prayer was living in eternity while living on earth. Therefore she advises her sisters: “I am not asking you now that you ‘think’ about him or that you draw out a lot of ‘concepts’ or make long and subtle ‘reflections’ with your intellect. I am not asking you to do anything more than look at Him. In the measure you desire Him, you will find Him” (Way of Perfection 26,iii). This signifies an added effort at awareness, tuning to the Divine when engaged in various activities in the material world. The author of the Acts writes “in him we have our being and live and move” [Acts 17.28]. We cannot become aware of God if we do not direct our actions and thoughts towards Him. Awareness of God becomes a reality when we begin to find God in all things of life with added interest in Him. Spiritual wakefulness demands only the habitual awareness of Him that surrounds all our actions in a spiritual atmosphere.

 

Awareness is becoming conscious of God in our daily life through the activity of our exterior and interior senses, as Jesus himself pointed out “So do not start worrying: Where will my food come from? Or my drink? Or my clothes? These are the things the pagans are always concerned about. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Mt. 6.31-33). Awareness is nothing else but allowing our consciousness to expand spiritually to the maximum level of its capacity in its efforts to find God’s Kingdom at every moment, in events and circumstances, even in our difficulties, sufferings, defeats and sickness. It is a search for God everywhere with the maximum consciousness with all its reasoning and reflection. This allows us to be also fare to all the spheres of life where we are destined to take decisions. Through this awareness, we will never drift away from God; rather we become his friends, like Patriarch Job in the Old Testament. Awareness allows us to decide as God Himself would decide in a particular given situation.

 

Prayer Dynamism

 

The first step in prayer is always taken through the use of words. When we speak of praying, we do not always speak of the same thing. Anything from requests made to God to messages received from God come under the topic ‘prayer’. In the Christian tradition words like prayer, meditation, contemplation and mysticism are sometimes used interchangeably and at other times they denote carefully nuanced distinctions. Prayers are said at times without even understanding the meaning of the words uttered. Then we switch on to pious images, gazing at them and even forming in our imagination the replica of that image. This has led many to understand prayer as nothing but trying to imagine the holy and pious images. In my conversation with many people, participating in retreats and seminars on prayer, I have discovered that prayer has been understood as imagining an episode from the Gospels. This has led many to come to a stagnant stage where they felt absolutely helpless in producing these pious images in their mind and consequently leading to a sad conclusion, as ‘not making progress in prayer’. Such people know fully that prayer is nothing but “friendly dialogue with God” but they continue to be static in their imagination instead of dialoguing in a friendly way. Imagining is a monologue and cannot be a dialogue. In addition to this, when the use of imagination is not possible we resort to making reflections and considerations during prayer, at times even straining and squeezing our brains out for more ideas. Such a prayer can be described as follows: If one hour is available for prayer, the first step towards recollection is made by reading a Gospel passage, then this act is followed by reflections if not imaginations and finally it is concluded with certain resolutions. This has been the practice of many people for long years. Consequently prayer largely has been understood as merely an intellectual exercise or an exercise of the imagination.

 

Prayer and Detachment

 

The usual problem we face in prayer is that we are not able to continue our prayer experience for a long period of time. This is because quite often we are much worried about what we must do in prayer and are not actually interested in what God does for us. This is an attachment to our own conclusions about prayer. This worry has led many to regard prayer as tedious job. Often we are ignorant of Divine pedagogy of prayer. We never think of allowing God to shape our being, rather we want to shape ourselves according to our understanding of prayer. It is very true that many people are gifted with wonderful capacity for prayer but this has not been discerned well, due to lack of well-trained spiritual directors or lack of interest shown in spiritual direction. People often consider praying means ‘feeling good’, ‘satisfied’, ‘having no distractions’, and ‘enjoying plenty of spiritual entertainment’,  ‘having good imaginations’, ‘fantasies on heaven, angels, saints’ etc. This is truly not prayer. This is what I call attachment and an attachment to experiences. Maybe these experiences can be regarded as just a preparation for prayer. In this connection St. John of the Cross warns such people saying: “They would be very foolish, who would think that God is failing them because of their lack of spiritual sweetness and delight, or would rejoice, thinking they possess God because of the presence of this sweetness. And they would be more foolish if they were to go in search of this sweetness in God and rejoice and be detained in it” (Letter of St. John of the Cross no. 13; Segovia April 14, 1589). Our prayer should be an experience of inner silence and solitude. It is being fully present to the Lord. God speaks to us in the night or in silence as he spoke to prophet Elijah on mount Horeb. Therefore, the education, control or training of senses and imagination/fantasy is an absolute need for ongoing genuine prayer. “Control” does not mean rejection, but becoming aware of them and educating them channelling their energy towards the Lord. To pray, we need the spirit of detachment.

 

Detachment is a big factor in prayer nurturing a sense of inner peace. Having things in life is wonderful, but depending on them is attachment. Having loving people in life is phenomenal, and it is important to value and celebrate them everyday, but owning or controlling them is attachment. If we are suffering in life it is certain that this suffering is tied up with some kind of attachment to how things should be going. An attachment is a state of clinging that comes from the false belief that something or someone is necessary for your happiness. Prayer requires stillness and this stillness can come when we are full. The ocean is always still with the exception of a small amount of surface vibration, because it is full. We can be continually open to new growth and remain still, unless we choose to be disturbed by all of the things that are perpetually entering our consciousness. The disturbances are caused by our attachment to an idea that somehow, things should be different than what they are. All human relationships and even God relationship can be happier from a position of detachment. We are when we attempt to determine for others what their spiritual choices should be, based on what we were taught to believe. We are attached when we determine for others what vocation they should choose, who their friends should be, how they should live, what they should wear, how they should speak, and even how the others should choose to think, are often determined by attachments to certain traditions we have nurtured. All these elements constantly disturb our prayer daily. Therefore, St. John of the Cross-says “a person attached to creatures/traditions is nothing in the sight of God, and even less than nothing, because love causes equality and likeness and even brings the lover lower than the object of his love. In no way then is such a person capable of union with the infinite being of God” (Ascent of Mount Carmel I,4,iv). Purity of heart is a condition for prayer; we cannot be intimate with God so long as we cling to unlawful attachments. The needed purity for prayer must be fourfold. First, purity of conscience so that we will never offend God; then purity of heart, so that we keep all our affections for God; then comes purity of mind so that we preserve a continual consciousness of God. Finally, the purity of action, that will lead to do the will of God always. There is a moment in every good prayer when God-life enters our life, and our life enters God-life in total purity.

 

Prayer, Place and Time

 

St. John of the Cross recommends that our prayer in no way should be restricted to one place or to certain time or to certain ceremonies; rather a regular practice of prayer is a ‘must’ to initiate us into authentic prayer life. But later this regular and external practice should not be taken as a guarantee for faithfulness in prayer. He writes: “our prayer should be made either in the concealment of our secret chamber (where without noise and without telling any one we can pray with a more perfect and pure heart), as Jesus said: ‘when you pray enter into your secret chamber, and having closed the door, pray’ [Mt. 6.6); or if not in one’s chamber, in the solitary wilderness, and at the best and most quiet time of night, as He did [Lk 6.12]. No reason exists, hence, for designating fixed times or set days or for choosing some days more than others for our devotions; neither is there reason for using other kinds of prayer, or phrases having a play on words, but only those prayers that the Church uses, and as she uses them, for all are reducible to the Pater Noster” (Ascent III,44,iv). The best and very effective method would be to resort to “praying everywhere” (Ascent III,41,i) without fixing any limits. This is what the modern spiritual theology recommends saying “finding God in everything or finding God in all things”. Thus we never lose sight of God who cannot be absent from our lives. The real problem with our prayer is that we are normally absent to God out side of formal prayer. Training ourselves to be always in the presence of God can lead us to quietude and the enjoyment of peace everyday and everywhere. It can take place in the garden, kitchen, in the classroom, office, bus stand, and railway station, anywhere and at any time.

 

Prayer is a Need

 

Prayer is not to be taken in the narrow restricted sense of formal prayer, but in the sense of intimacy and union with God through love that leads us to be His friends. When we do not have friends we feel the pinch of such an experience. God is always there and does not need any introduction. The moment we express our desire His presence is felt. He is the unfailing friend. We need friendship with God. In fact no need can be so acute as the need for God in our life.

Union with God, obviously, is not restricted to formal prayer; it can also exist in activity. Prayer is fixing our inward gaze on God who cares and loves us. In our relationship with God beyond all doing, talking and thinking, there need to be times when we are simply present to Him in the fullness of our being, experiencing the immediacy of his loving and life-giving presence to us. If the meaning of our life, of our whole existence, is to love and to develop a friendly relationship with God, then we need prayer more than we need food or sleep or anything else. It is essential if we are going to function in a reasonable way as humans in society. We need prayer in our daily life to improve the quality of our lives. It is a demand of our very nature, of our very being; it is something that has to be there. We can skip a meal more easily than we can skip prayer. If we are really in touch with ourselves, we will realise it is not only something we need - it is something we want. It fulfils our deepest longing and desire.

 

(to be continued…)

ARTICLE: 6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: YEAR A

 

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: YEAR A

John 14:15-21

The Commandment of Love

Todays Gospel is an invitation to love and attain perfection of love of God. In this brief but powerful passage, Jesus reiterates his favorite theme: love. He also promises the Holy Spirit. Finally, Jesus emphasizes the intimate unity of Jesus, God, the Spirit, and the believer.

This unity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit that overflows and penetrates the humanity is a wonderful power that helps us to achieve marvels in our lives. Let us use an imagery: If we were to take out a pen and begin writing, I could record anything I wanted to record. But if I removed my hand, the pen would simply fall on the paper and lie there. My pen has no life of its own. My pen contains all the raw materials I need to write with, but it has no writing ability on its own. In order for this pen to function, it must be joined to the life in my hand. When that happens, my pen can form letters it could never form by itself. I can compose clauses and phrases and put them together to make sentences because it is in my hand, and my hand is alive. When you connect your life to the life of the Holy Spirit, He can write things that you could never write on your own. He can achieve things you could never achieve on your own. When you connect your life to the life of the Holy Spirit, he can write things that you could never write on your own. But if you live in the flesh and rely upon your own power, you will drop like a discarded pen because there is no spiritual life in your flesh, your unredeemed humanity. God helps those who help themselves to Him. 

Love

Fifty-seven times Jesus uses love verbs (agapao, phileo). Add to that all of the occurrences of "friend" (which is the translation of philos) as well as the fact that the primary disciple in the Fourth Gospel is an unnamed character called "the beloved disciple," and we might accuse the author of touting a single issue. And why not, for is it not the case that "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life"? (John 3.16).

The passage begins and ends with love. In v. 15 Jesus declares that if his disciples love him, they will keep his commandments. The reader may ask, "What commandments?" Unlike, say, Matthew, nowhere in John does Jesus command us to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Famously, Jesus gives only a single commandment in John and it occurs in the chapter just before ours: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (13.34-35). He reiterates this in the chapter just after ours: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15.12-13). We see, then, the overwhelming, repetitive, circular emphasis on love. So, if the preacher is to preach this text, she will have to take up love. Perhaps John would have exulted to hear Bill Coffin's claim to his fellow Christians: "If we fail in love, we fail in all things else."

It's worth noting that love is tied to John's realized eschatology. Jesus gives one commandment: to love. Therefore, judgment and eternal life begin now. At the end of each day, and during each moment of each day, for John, there's only one question to ask yourself: "In what ways did I or did I not love today?" As you reflect upon that, judgment happens. Where you did not love, there lies judgment. But understand that for John judgment is merely diagnostic, not retributive. Jesus constantly asks the characters questions that help them understand their lives and motives more clearly. To the sick man in ch. 5:6: "Do you wish to be made well?"; to Martha in 11.26 "Do you believe this?". He asks questions not because he doesn't know the answers (since John 2.24-25 assures us that Jesus already knew everything); rather, he asks so that we might know, and therefore move forward with clear vision into the truth, light, glory, love, abundant for which God has created us. It's all of a piece.

The Holy Spirit

Admittedly, John's pneumatology is unusual compared to other NT texts. In contrast to Luke, who depicts the Holy Spirit as heavily active in the lives of characters from the beginning of his Gospel until the end of Acts, John insists that the Holy Spirit will come only after Jesus himself departs. Why is this? A clue lies in Jesus' referring to the Holy Spirit not as The Paraclete, but rather as Another Paraclete. Jesus was the first; for the Spirit to be active among them while Jesus was there would have been redundant since they each serve the same revelatory function. What appeared to be bad news to the disciples, namely Jesus' departure from them, turned out to be the best of news for both them and us. While Jesus walked the earth, his ministry was limited to one locale and one person, himself. Upon his departure, his disciples are given the Spirit and moved from apprentices to full, mature revealers of God's love. And this happens not just to the first disciples, but all those who would come later, those who never saw the historical Jesus. You see, the evangelist insists that present believers have no disadvantage in comparison to the first believers. Everything they were taught and they experienced is available to the same degree and with equally rich texture to us.

The word parakletos presents notorious translational difficulty because it has a range of meanings in the Greek, all of which are meant by the author. English translations variously translate it Comforter, Advocate, Counselor, and Helper; perhaps it would be best to keep it in its transliterated form, Paraclete, so as to catch the attention of the hearer with the strangeness; after all, it's strange among biblical authors, too. It appears only five times: four times in John 14-16 and once in 1 John 2:1. It's also best not to shut down possible meaning for the listener by narrowing the word to one meaning. The Holy Spirit is specifically said to do the following: teach, remind (14:26), abide (14:16), and testify about Jesus (15:26). Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit deals in truth.

The Quat-trinity

Christians are familiar with the Trinity, but perhaps the most stunning feature of the Fourth Gospel is what we can term the experiences as Quat-trinity. In John’s Gospel, Jesus insists that the intimate relationship that exists between him, God, and the Spirit also includes believers. The believer does not stand close by admiring the majesty of the Trinity; rather, he/she is an equal part of it. John tries to push at this by grabbing hold of a number of terms and repeating them: abide, love, the language of being "in" (14:17 and 20), and later in the Discourse, an emphasis on "one-ness" (cf. 17:21-23). Johannine believers don't "imitate" Jesus; they participate in him wholly. If the passage is read aloud and preached, the reading should go through v. 23, the pinnacle of the passage: "Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." If God and Christ have made their home with us (John 1.14), how can we imagine there to be any distance between us and God? This, in turn, affects our eschatology. Everything that matters, that is, ultimate intimacy with God and Christ, is available now. What might one hope for beyond that? God is not currently holding out on us in any way--life, abundant life, is available for living from this moment into eternity.

 

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza

www.LivingFlame.ca

WHAT IS PRAYER?

WHAT IS PRAYER?

Once Mrs. Agnes of our parish approached me and complained, ‘Father, I have been praying since 15 years. I am a bit disappointed because nothing is happening in my life’. I asked her, ‘what do you mean nothing is happening in your life’? ‘I mean, father, that I wanted to have a vibrant experience of God, but it is not happening’. That is the moment I thought, that there are a number of people in the Church today, praying and expecting something to happen to them. Can we say their approach to prayer is wrong? Or are they mistaken about their approach to God in prayer? What is prayer? How we ought to pray? What happens during and after prayer? Some of these questions will be answered in the following pages on prayer. The Archdiocese of Mumbai is gearing towards introducing people into Contemplative personal prayer. A team of specialized persons in this area of prayer and contemplation has been set up for the purpose and a lot of work has been done so far. Here, I would like to make a humble effort at clarifying certain notions of prayer through a few articles, and lead our people into understanding Christian prayer so that when we pray we know that we do not waste time.

 

What is the Goal of Prayer?

 

The goal of every prayer is union with God through love. We might ask, what is prayer and what is contemplation? Is it just being there hours together in the presence of God in a place of prayer? We know that every genuine prayer should lead us to contemplative experience of God. Do we perhaps at times have a wrong notion regarding prayer and contemplation? Mystics and Saints often define prayer as “dialogue with God”; “speaking to God”; “intimate relationship with God”; “friendship with God” etc. and contemplation as “just being there”, “gazing at God” or “being present to God”. Can this ‘dialogue with God’ or ‘just being present to God’ take place at any moment of our life or only at prayer?

 

In our catechism classes we have learnt that God is everywhere and he is present in every bit of creation, in every cell and atom. If that is the case are we present to Him who is always present everywhere and at every moment? In reality, rarely are we present to God in a concrete way because we are busy with our own daily affairs. We have an experience of this, that when we are busy with others we forget ourselves, and when we are busy with ourselves, we forget others. This is what happens in our search for God. Often when we approach God in prayer we search our own comfort and satisfaction even in our search for God. Genuine prayer in fact is, being fully involved with God always and everywhere who is always fully alive and active. This way of praying is nothing else than maximizing God’s presence in our day-to-day activity as much as possible. In prayer we try to magnify God to such an extent that we do not live; rather ‘God lives in us’. We let God live in us and He becomes the hub of our entire life. Thus, we never pray in vain but pray with God who is always within us.

 

Examine your Motives

 

At times, it is necessary to examine the motivations of our prayer to arrive at such an attitude. Genuine prayer always develops and matures our relationship with God and changes our attitude in life and never looks for personal enjoyment or satisfaction. Authentic prayer should be totally loving God and not trying to get something from God. If we truly seek genuine friendship with God we should never expects a thing from God, rather it should be our total self giving and surrender to the Other, because God knows already what we need (cf. Mt. 6.8).

 

Power of Prayer

 

Late Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic letter Fides et Ratio writes, “Driven by the desire to discover the ultimate truth of existence, human beings seek to acquire those universal elements of knowledge which enable them to understand themselves better and to advance in their own self-realization. These fundamental elements of knowledge spring from the wonder awakened in them by the contemplation of creation: human beings are astonished to discover themselves as part of the world, in a relationship with others like them, all sharing a common destiny. Here, begins then, the journey that will lead them to discover new frontiers of knowledge. Without wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of life which is genuinely personal” (Fides et Ratio). This attempt at knowledge by human beings is a desire to deepen the purpose of our existence through prayer and God experience. Therefore, prayer should not be just an isolated activity in our daily life but it ought to be integrative, continuous and contemplative. Prayer becomes integrative when the effects of prayer are lived. It becomes contemplative when it is unceasing. Prayer is unceasing when its influence permeates the whole of our life. The qualification “unceasing” directly refers to the continuity or permanence of prayer throughout the whole life. But such continuity cannot really occur unless prayer permeates the whole personality, reaching to the spiritual depths and remaining there as a permanent attitude of the Spirit. If we could spiritually go down into the depths of our own being or of any being such as, a grain of sand, a leaf, a flower, we would come upon the eternal mystery of God. Beyond the molecules and atoms, beyond the protons and electrons, beyond the living cells with their genes and chromosomes, there is a tremendous energy, a force of life. Through prayer we begin to discover the power of God in every bit of creation. This energy or force is continually welling up from the abyss of being in the Father, continually flowing back to its source in the bliss of love. If we could be free from personal desires in prayer, we would see the majesty of the Creator in us through His grace. This mystery in fact is hidden in the heart of every one of us, but we fail to see it: “the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17.21). But sadly we are often selfishly turned in on ourselves and consequently are not touched by the grace of the Creator. God experience is nothing but entering into this continuous flow of love in every bit of creation and within ourselves until we have a unifying experience of finding God everywhere. Such experience becomes more and more prominent at prayer. When outside of formal prayer (recitation of Rosary, Angelus, and other devotions prayers) we cherish this energizing experience and this leads us to discover the author of these manifestations, seen heard and sensed everywhere; and then we are ‘enlightened’ and therefore we remain attuned to the Divine source of energy that makes us instruments of God’s love on this earth.

 

II. WHAT IS PRAYER?

 

(Continued…)

Mr. Hilary told me once that he had been to Vipassana course at Nasik centre and he found that course very interesting and helpful. Moreover, he also told me that the practise of Vipassana has made him to pray better and lead a tension free life. I appreciated Mr. Hilary for making genuine efforts at learning to pray and to live a life of fewer tensions.

Many people today have a keen desire to learn how to experience deeper and authentic prayer despite various and considerable difficulties offered by the modern culture. There is a felt need for silence, recollection and meditation. A lot of people have come to understand the worth of prayer leading them to serenity, silence and tranquillity. Of course, these values can give us orientation and true security. Ultimately, in all these deeper aspirations what we basically crave for, is God-Experience. It is not so much the activity of prayer that attracts us, but God, who can be contacted in prayer and can certainly saturate the unnamed infinite thirst in us, as St. Augustine cried, “Our hearts are restless O, Lord, until they rest in Thee”. It is a known fact that nothing can quench our heart outside of God. To whatever we cling to, material or spiritual, it is ultimately an inclination and constant desire to cling to God. God alone can satisfy our heart. All other things and beings available for satisfaction, company and pleasure are merely crumbs that fall from the Divine.

 

Prayer and Methods

Methods and techniques contribute to any successful outcome. They are needed for growth, achievement, success etc. For higher efficiency and effectiveness we have methods for study, work, art etc. Then do we need methods also for prayer? Since prayer is a means of communication and communion with the Divine we certainly need methods. Without a method we do not even succeed in speaking properly to a person. In our daily life we have certain implicit traits and methods such as language, expressions, gestures, postures etc. In order to learn to commune with God we need methods or at least an understanding of Divine pedagogy.

Now, considering the use of methods in prayer, do we find some methods not really functioning? Is prayer not successful because of the wrong methods we use? Is there a way out of our vicious routine that does not lead us to any change or improvement in our life? How can we pray well, so that our life becomes really worth living? Do we need to go back and examine the way we have been praying in order that our prayer becomes more effective and our relationship with God a means of living out our problems, our joys and sorrows in a deeper way? We need to ponder on these queries seriously.

First of all methods for the sake of beginning prayer are necessary. Without basic methods we cannot think of praying. The traditional method of prayer has three parts/stages: preparation, recollection and meditation. Preparation consists of remote preparation like: practising the presence of God, nurturing Christian virtues throughout the day, trying to be serviceable and loving; and the immediate preparation consists of reading a Biblical text preparing our minds and hearts for prayer. The Recollection consists of recalling to our mind again during prayer what has been read and trying to find source of prayer in that text. Finally, Meditation consists in the very act of prayer, where we praise God, present our requests and, give thanks to Him. These are the integral parts of the traditional method of prayer. Then there could be many other methods like silencing the mind, using our imagination, visualizing a particular episode of the Gospels, becoming aware of our body, concentrating on a holy image etc.

 

Methods of prayer are also known as partly techniques of prayer. Technique is good but it is secondary. The essential is the source and one must first look for the source and then the technique can follow. Techniques are good as far as they can take us closer to the essential and the source - God. They are dangerous when over emphasised, because we may forget the source completely and we may become obsessed with techniques. Techniques are good if we remain conscious that they are not the ends but only the means to the end. Too great an obsession with them is very harmful, because we can forget the source completely in the process. In prayer we can make use of techniques and methods but we need to be alert as to when the technique should be dropped to allow the spirit to take its course.

Of course, our life of prayer in one way or the other was initiated with little techniques of memorising or vocalising. These techniques later developed into reciting prayers and eventually became rather a sophisticated technique to satisfy our psychological need for prayer. Through a method we are accustomed to recite the breviary slowly, pausing on each word or verse. Can we say that we really pray? In any case we need to remind ourselves that technique kills the spirit of prayer. For instance, we never use a technique or a method to speak to our parents or our loved ones. We learnt the art of speaking through our parents, but we never use their technique. We are unique and we use our own personalised method spontaneously. That is why when we speak we are free in our communication and relationship. Why then do we need techniques and methods to speak to God who knows us better than we know ourselves? What we basically need is to look for authenticity and not the multiplication of words and methods because God will not talk to us as our companions and friends do. He has quite a different method of communication. He speaks to us in silence without words and gestures. Moreover, God-Experience does not mean aiming at satisfaction or enjoyment of spiritual favours in prayer. It is a moment of God’s mysterious encounter that is understood in absolute faith and hope. It is an openness to accept whatever happens during prayer and a challenge to understand, which cannot be understood, and it is a journey in the direction we know not.

Therefore, we must not concern ourselves too much with methods, techniques and preoccupy ourselves with what we do or with what is happening during prayer. We must turn our attention simply on God Himself and each time we are drawn to anything else, we must return simply, gently, to the Lord. This is one of the points we would like to emphasize strongly in the succeeding pages. The fruits of prayer are to be perceived and experienced outside the time of prayer and are perhaps the surest signs of the presence and continuing work of the Spirit of God in our prayer. In real prayer we do not seek ourselves or seek anything for ourselves. We seek the living God. In experiencing Him we experience all things and will posses all things. Learning to pray is learning to live and move with God. In prayer we seek to enter into the “now”; we live as fully as possible with Him who says “I AM who I AM” and “I will be with you always”.

Is Prayer Attractive?

The interest which in recent years has been awakened in people and also among large number of Christians in various forms of meditation associated with some eastern religions and their particular methods of prayer, is a significant sign of this need for spiritual renewal, recollection and attraction to prayer. A deeper and authentic contact with the divine mystery is always sought through moments of prayer in solitude and interior silence. Since prayer alone can lead us to that ‘living water’, it is attractive. In recent years psychologists and doctors of medicine have found a tremendous power in prayer through which operations have been successful, sickness have been healed and people have begun responding positively in so-called hopeless cases of cancer and Aids. Hence, prayer as such has become an attractive subject of discussion and practice.

Prayer and Life

More often than not we divide our life into two watertight compartments: one inside the prayer hall where we pray and the other outside of it where we are involved in our daily activities. Thus, quite often our prayer life contradicts our active life. There is no satisfactory blend between prayer and action. This has come to be realised through the years where we have seen or experienced no relevance of our prayer to our everyday life. We were taught how to pray. We learned the traditional methods of reciting long vocal prayers. We were satisfied with such prayers and perhaps drew a sort of psychological satisfaction out of it. Can we call such an act, ‘prayer?’ We do not deny that vocal prayer recited with devotion is prayer. We need to ask ourselves what actual change has this prayer brought in our life? Even a simple recitation of prayer should bring in some change in our mind, in our thoughts and actions; if not, that prayer has been nothing but a repetition of certain formulae and cannot have any relevance to our life (cf. Mt 7.21). Our life and prayer should not become two distinct spheres having no concrete point of contact.

 

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5th Sunday of Easter Acts 6.1-7; 1Peter 2.4-9; Jn 14.1-12

5th Sunday of Easter

Acts 6.1-7; 1Peter 2.4-9; Jn 14.1-12

 

Today’s Gospel presents Jesus as the guide in life, as the ‘way, truth and life’. The Christian centre is the person of Christ. Our work for Jesus and our love for people, no matter what our calling in life, flow from this. Mother Teresa was once asked why she did what she did, and she simply said ‘for Jesus’. This centre always holds, it cannot be unhinged. It is a deeply personal relationship. we are led by Jesus ‘one by one’, known by name, not as just one of a group. We follow him as one we know, not a stranger. Studying his life and times, getting to know the places and events of his life, becoming familiar with the gospels and getting to know him in the heart in prayer is the way of keeping our centre of conviction and motivation strong. As this happens freedom grows and we begin to find him everywhere.

To the extent that the Acts of the Apostles relates an idealized memory of how the earliest Church was established and grew, it provides interesting milestones of ecclesiastical evolution. Only slightly less important to Church evolution than the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and disciples at Pentecost was the fairly quick evolution from a Jewish Church to a Gentile (i.e., Non-Jewish) Church over only a few decades. But the catalyst of that shift from Jewish to Gentile was the remarkable effectiveness with which the Gospel spread and the consequent Church membership increased. The small number of original disciples who knew Jesus well at his death, burial, and resurrection increased exponentially beginning with the Church’s public launch at Pentecost. In last Sunday’s text from Acts, the summary note was made that “about three thousand” were baptized on that Pentecost Day. Indeed, that number was merely an indicator of the Church’s growth rate not only then but consistently over the years, decades and centuries to come. Today’s text recalls the evolution of specialized ministries which the Gospel community found necessary because of great growth. The intimate fellowship which Jesus’ original disciples enjoyed would be challenged by sheer numbers. New needs arose in that expanding Church to what 20th Century Christians call “social ministries” which are indicated in Acts by the care for widows and “the daily distribution.” Remember that those most idealistic earliest Christians were said to have “held all property in common” (see Acts 2.44) in a very simple sort of communal socialism. Thus, each individual and household would have received daily rations of food and supplies. But, the primary task of the apostles since Pentecost had become the practical and urgent preaching of God’s Word. It fell to the Twelve to reorganize the community and to divide up ministries and tasks. The Church’s first major change was from being a very small community to becoming an ever-enlarging community, sort of like moving from a domestic family to a regional society. True then and true still today. “To live is to change; to live well is to change greatly!” (Attributed to John Henry Cardinal Newman, 19th Century British Churchman). The Church is at her wisest when she learns how to change graciously, compassionately and intelligently. Many who embrace their religious faith actually forget how to change, and demonstrate that forgetfulness when they resist any and all good and healthy – and necessary! – change. The institution of the ministry of deacons was an example of effective and reasonable change. Note, too, that the setting of this change was in the Jerusalem Church, and that “even a large group of priests” had come to be involved in the Gospel community. These “priests” would have been Temple priests in Jerusalem for the Christian “presbyterate” would not be so visible until the apostles likewise needed assistance in presiding over the liturgical assembly.

Our weekly lesson from 1st Peter is a section which precedes last week’s lesson. It harkens back to the Old Testament rationale by which God’s Chosen People, the Israelites recently freed from Egyptian slavery, were instructed by God to be holy just as God was holy. Hence, their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had become a very, very different relationship from what all other Old Testament era ethnic groups and religions typically had with their divinities. (Note. the Hebrew word kadosh translates as “holy” which literally means “different from.”) Peter reminded the Gentile Christians of Asia Minor that just as the ancient Israelites had been called to be holy, so too they as new Christians were likewise and just as much expected by God to live a vocation to holiness. Peter cited the text from Exodus 19.6 which was a practical, constitutional statement by God about God’s People. ‘You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own ...” These words are even used in the sacred eucharistic liturgy to remind our assembly in our own day of the dignity of the Christian Vocation. Thus, for the audience of 1st Peter, in an era when persecution was not unusual but was often dangerous, the Gospel community was a veritable home for the homeless, i.e., a safe community of Gospel fellowship in a society which was very often and very easily intimidated by and hostile to the Gospel’s genuine and profound goodness and love, justice and peace.

The Supper

The Gospel narrative today is again not a Resurrection appearance of Jesus, but rather part of John’s Gospel memory of the short hours just at the end of the Last Supper. John seems to presume that we know the supper details (bread, wine, blessing) and supplies to us instead a memory of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. After the example of foot-washing was explained as a metaphor for mutual service, he proceeded to teach and explain. These dozen verses show Jesus trying to encourage and support the Eleven and whoever is with them by first assuring them of “a place for you” in the kingdom. Thomas, famous a few days later for his skepticism about Jesus’ Resurrection, admited the fearful but private worry in each of them with “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Philip too was a disciple willing to risk embarrassment by suggesting that they have not really “seen” the Father but that they are willing to be shown. Jesus made significant use of metaphor as he provided them a glimpse of the profound mystery of the Divine Presence, of his Christological importance, and of the hope he had tried to instil in them. Jesus’ “I am the way, the truth, and the life...” was a huge summary of the reality of God’s Presence and of his essential oneness with God. “... no one comes to the Father except through me” seems addressed somewhat narrowly to those in the room with him. Thus, the “no one” becomes more strictly “on one among you” because they have already been given access to God, whether or not they appreciate it. Seemingly, Philip fails to the test of appreciation, at least that night. That line “no one comes to the Father except through me” has too often been used by literalist Christians to assert exclusion of non-Christians and even other Christians from eternal salvation. Jesus was more reasonably addressing only and principally that small group of the Eleven plus a small number more of disciples. He had no real reason to be talking explicitly to us today or against non-believers though history over the centuries. After all, he had just said that in his Father’s house there are many (!) dwelling places. Why would he assert the greatest hope only moments later to restrict that to the self-righteous? Logic should always paint Jesus as Savior in the business of successfully saving every one and excluding no one! Let God be the judge! Let us be the best examples possible of the community which has experienced and embraced God’s love! Let us imitate Jesus’ generosity and love of others just as we profess and hope for his generosity and love for ourselves!

Our gospel today (Jn 14.15-21) is very clear about “who” truly loves Jesus. Jesus himself says, “He who obeys the commandments he has from me is the man who loves me.” So a pro-abortion stance, in and of itself being directly in opposition to the Lord’s commandments, nullifies any claim of true love of Jesus.

Thou Shall not Kill

Long before the officially approved “canon” of scripture was established, it was the constant teaching of the Church that abortion was a horrible violation of, and sin against, the commandments of God. For example “The Didache” – aka “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” – was written in the first century (probably between 70-80 A.D.), and says the following, in part. “Thou shalt not kill … commit adultery … commit fornication … kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born…” Nevertheless, many pro-choice people claim a “right” to kill, abort, fornicate, adulterate, all actions which are in direct violation of both God’s commandments and the constant teaching of the Church Magisterium (i.e., the teaching office of the true successors to the apostles). People with a “pro-abortion” stance are clearly giving more credence to man-made laws than they do to God’s directives.

What is Freedom of Choice?

Many times pro-choice people (each with their own definition of what “pro-choice” means) confuse their “rights” with their free-will “choices.” The “pro-choice, anti-abortion” reader must understand that it is the very idea that when they say it is okay for “others” to make that decision, they are directly and indirectly endorsing the evil effect on the community, their youth, and their own eternal life. The “right” to directly take an innocent human life belongs only to God. However, one can indeed make a free-will “choice” that selects an evil action instead of a loving action. If that negative choice is made and/or defended, then that person by the definition of Jesus himself in today’s gospel is without love for being a willing participant in evil. Pro-abortion people claim to “see” the truth, but are “blind” like the Pharisees in John’s gospel scenes. Jesus told them that since they claim to “see,” that their guilt remains (Jn 9.41

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! People taking a pro-abortion stance are outside the communion of love and do not have the Spirit of Truth alive in their hearts (CCC#2615). Those claiming to love Jesus, but using abortion services, have replaced His Truth with their own ideals for their personal convenience. Even the simple bystanders, who have not properly informed their conscience, have replaced Truth with a gravely misguided altruism. Evil acts can be chosen deliberately, or by erroneous judgments and invincible ignorance (CCC#1790-93); nevertheless, true love proceeds from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith (CCC#1794). Do not forget to intercede for those whose judgements appear to be faulty and lacking in love; by interceding we take our lesson from Jesus (CCC #2634).

 

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD