Prayer as a weapon

This past spring an Italian documentarian visited a convent of cloistered Clarisse Nuns (known to us as Poor Clares) in Urbino Italy.  They agreed to making a documentary where the questions were unknown to them before being asked.  At one point the interviewer asked them: “(You tell me that…) prayer is your secret weapon, what kind of weapon is it?”  The immediate response was “It is a weak weapon, very fragile, but at the same time powerful, one in which we believe.

I was struck by the layers of this answer, at least how I view it.

First,
Prayer is a weak weapon in the eyes of those who don’t pray; a waste of valuable time. But when you consider that relationships grow best, indeed only grow, with communication – then prayer, our communication with our Father is a vital and powerful link in our continuing and growing relationship with our Creator.

Prayer to those who pray wrongly, can be a weak weapon because we don’t understand that God gives us what we need, not what we desire.  Jesus in today’s Gospel tells us as much: ‘You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.’’  The reason for our prayer is to grow into the fullness that God knows we should be; not how we see things.

Prayer, to those who pray correctly, is weak because it doesn’t affect change – it doesn’t dominate anything – it isn’t the tool for a problem.  And that is good, for we don’t know how to fix things, especially ourselves.  We need our Creator to participate in our lives, to take action within us because we are made in His image. We are both spiritual and creation; and only God, in the second person of the most Holy Trinity, understands what that really means.

Second,
Prayer is fragile; and I know each of us can attest to this.  How many times have we brushed prayer aside because we are too busy?  How many times have we come out of prayer with the knowledge that our hearts weren’t in it?  How many times have we tried to pray and just couldn’t get a foothold, so to speak; we couldn’t start because our minds and hearts where swirling among random and maybe even conflicting thoughts.  Prayer should be fragile; God doesn’t dominate – He isn’t a puppet master in control of puppets: “but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.” Elijah finds out in 1st Kings that God is never powerful and forceful in His relationship with us – He allows us to grow in our conversation with Him and part of that growth is discipline in our prayer life, growth in our ability to find our own mountain to go up and pray.

Prayer is fragile because relationships themselves are fragile.  We are not praying to an abstract idea, a cold and calculating dogma – we are praying to a person, we are growing in a relationship with someone just as alive as each of us.  We all know the fragility in relationships – each of us has felt it.  There is no reason that our relationship with God should be any different – and just like every relationship we grow from the knowledge of fragility – we come to understand the nuances and their effect on us.  We learn to love more.

Third,
Prayer is powerful, precisely because it is weak and fragile.  It shows us that alone we fall, alone we can’t find true happiness and peace, alone – we end up alone.  But with prayer we open ourselves to the creator and allow him to strengthen us, we build up a solid relationship with God because we allow ultimate trust into our hearts – we have a rock solid but vibrant foundation.  We find that mere words, that seemingly have no power are in fact powerful helps to our sin-weaken condition.  And maybe most important, we find that we are loved by someone more than we can love ourselves – loved by nurturing, caring God who believes in us; and that is something I can believe in.

 

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Great

During this part of the Liturgical year we are walking with Christ to Jerusalem. We are on his journey from the river to the cross; from His baptism in the Jordan to our rescue on a hill outside of Jerusalem.  As we walk with the disciples alongside Jesus we hear him teach them and us about His message, about His Father’s desire for us to be His adopted children – about His love for us.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks again of his impending passion; explaining to them what He must go through.  But the disciples are on a ‘different page’ – the gospel says: ‘they were afraid to question him’ and they were afraid for many reasons; but maybe one reason was paramount, they were afraid of the answer would get.  After all that time with Jesus they were starting to understand that His way and what they hoped for wasn’t the same.  It wasn’t in their realm of comprehension that the savior wouldn’t be one of wisdom and power as they understood those words.

We hear in this Gospel that Jesus questioned them about what they were talking about.  They were, of course, discussing who was the greatest among them.  Even though we don’t hear the discussion they were having, the fact that Jesus corrected them means the disciples didn’t understand what true greatness was.  They were doing what mankind has always done since the fall of Adam and Eve – they were looking at greatness as something that put them above others.  We are great when we are superior to those around us; when we are more prestigious in the eyes of society.

But in reading and hearing this gospel I am reminded of a story.

Two men and the little son of one of the men were standing in St. Peter’s square in the Vatican mesmerized by the great St. Peter’s Basilica.  After standing there for quite a while the one man looks to the father of the boy and in amazement says ‘what a beautiful dome, it shows the greatness of our Church better than anything’.  In reply the father of the boy says ‘it is a beautiful dome and it is very impressive, but it’s the towering columns inside and the artwork on them that speak of the greatness of our Church. Isn’t that right son?’  The boy looks at the two men and then at St Peter’s and then back at the two – and as he points to the base of the Church he says ‘but daddy the dome and the columns wouldn’t be so great if it wasn’t for these.

Jesus tells his disciples that their idea of greatness is a charade, it is an allusion. In our second reading St. James cuts to the core of the problem: ‘You covet but do not possess.’ he tells us.  The things that we seem to think make us wise and powerful are never ours, never at our control, rather they control us.  We think being prestigious is a sign of our wisdom and strength, and yet we have to constantly struggle to feel prestigious.  When we don’t feel we have the respect that we deserve we struggle to gain it back.  When we feel that we aren’t great and important, that we don’t have control over our situation, we struggle to win it back – and the word ‘win’, by society’s definition, means someone else loses. This is a mindset of conflict not of wisdom; a mindset of insecurity not of greatness.  With this mindset it is no wonder that people get frustrated when their prayers aren’t answered – again from our second reading.’ You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

The most important, the greatest, among us are the ones who put those around them first.  We are truly wise and great when we serve others.  We are powerful and God-like when we love totally those who can’t offer anything in return – who haven’t got anything to offer, at least the way our society sees it. When we follow God’s example then we are wise; then we are great.  God, who creates everything, comes and gives Himself as payment for our sins.  He serves those who have nothing to give him that He didn’t give them in the first place. He offers Himself totally in support of His flock; in support of you and me.

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s take society’s ideas of wisdom and greatness and throw it to the winds.  Cast off society’s false illusions that control us and let’s embrace our Lord’s understanding of these ideas.  When we do we can then embrace those around us as Christ does and find that our hearts will be at peace and know the joy of true love – all the while building, person by person, the glory of God’s Church.  That is what it means to be great and wise!

In

The idea in today’s Gospel about the disciples trying to learn Jesus’ message is a very important aspect of our faith.  We need to learn about those we love, and as we learn about them our desire should be to learn even more.  But the intellectual aspect of our faith is only that, an aspect – not the total. If that were the case we could make ourselves become Christian.  Though our constant decision to follow Christ is important (we can always decide to not follow Him) we don’t make ourselves Christian just as we don’t just learn about a faith and become faithful.  We are invited by God to become one with Him. We are encouraged by the action of the Holy Spirit to listen to our Creator who asks us to join Him, literally join in Him.

And though I have always realized this – this insight was brought home to me this morning as I was reading an extemporaneous reflection on Matthew 28:19, in regards to baptism, by our Holy Father given in Rome this summer.  In it he commented on, among many things, the word ‘in’ in the line “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.

He said: ‘The choice of the word “in the name of the Father…” in the original Greek text is very important: the Lord says “eis” and not “en”’. He goes on to say that “en” in Greek is equivalent to us saying I speak in the name of my boss; but the word used, “eis”, has the meaning of an immersion in the name of the Trinity, we are in God, as He is in us – we are one just as in marriage ‘when two people become one flesh, the become a new and unique reality with a new and unique name’ he finishes.

It struck me just how often I cross myself and never really reflect on what I am pronouncing; not only to those around me but, and most importantly, to myself.  I am in God. Through my baptism I am totally within the Triune God, I draw my strength from them, I draw my ability to Love from them, I draw my very existence from them. So, how can I not be conscious of this oneness at all times?

Our fallen human nature is the reason, and it is probably the main reason Holy Mother Church has perpetuated acts such as crossing ourselves.  But we run the risk of taken the meaning behind the actions for granted.  Praise be to God that we have the treasure of teachings and guidance from our Lord; in His words, the Magisterium and of course each of us to awaken our faith in all its richness.  Without this treasury we run the very great risk of being told by Christ “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

September’s Feast Days

Someone once asked in a church discussion, “Why did God create the Earth?”
I immediately answered, “Somewhere to put the cross!” Though said in both
earnest and humor, it is, in a very important sense, true.

September 14, we will celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It is the
celebration of the Cross which Christ was nailed to. Until Christ, this piece of wood
was a symbol of defeat, humiliation, and agonizing torture; an ultimate denial of the
dignity of a person. But with Christ, the Cross became the Tree of Life. It was the
instrument of our salvation; it was, and is, the throne of our King. It was and is the
symbol of ultimate love. It was and is the place of exaltation!

Below the Cross stood Mary, God’s mother – our mother. With the pain only a
mother knows, she watched the horrific symbol of torture transform into the symbol
of life. She quietly took it all in; and to the last, did as her son wished. “Woman,
behold your son,” Christ told Our Blessed Mother from the Cross. “Behold your
mother,” Christ told St. John – and us. So we do. We take our mother in; deep into
our hearts. We let her guide us and intercede for us; as only a mother can.
Christ needed His Cross. On September 14, let us all celebrate its triumph. Christ
needed His mother. Let us all celebrate her, especially on September 8, her
birthday.

AMEN!

In today’s Gospel, in response to the Pharisees question about why His disciples didn’t follow the ‘tradition of the elders’, we hear Jesus quote Isaiah: “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.” And then said:You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

For our understanding – in his rebuke of the Pharisees and their blind attachment to Judaic customs and regulations, Jesus didn’t condemn following these rules, practices, routines or traditions.

Christ is aware that ‘rules’ are needed.  We live in a world that challenges our faith; that tries to drive a wedge between us and God. Rituals, rules, practices or as called in the Gospel traditions (with a small t) help us, they keep us on the right path, train us for constant battle with Satan. They are part of a regimen that builds our discipline, fine tunes our spiritual body – strengthens our ability to live our faith.  God understands our need for these – indeed He Himself gives them to us.  The first reading relates a part of the story of receiving the Ten Commandments.  Now it is true that these Commandments are not traditions – they are God mandated and we hear Moses talking with His people about the importance of following them. And though we hear Moses tell them “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” We also hear him say “Observe them carefully,”; a statement which by its very nature requires the followers to organize their society, their way of life around these God-given commandments – meaning rules and practices.

Rituals, rules and practices allow mankind to share in a common ecclesial patrimony.  They give us a sense of continuity – an attachment to the past and a bridge to the future. We learn from our parents and elders all about our faith, we are instructed in the practices that our ancestors have found help in this process.  We come to understand our faith through these traditions and all the while feel a level of protection within them; and in turn, we do the same for those who come after us.  By following the dictates of the Church, by participating in these traditions during our life we are assured of a closer connection with the Mystical Body of Christ.

No – Jesus didn’t condemn ritual, practices, routines.

But He did condemn the mindset concerning these practices that didn’t open the participants to a better understanding of the Lord’s revelation of Himself and our response as His people.  He did speak against those whose whole faith life is centered on these traditions as the goal of their life.  These traditions are not what we are striving for, they are a means to the ultimate end – a life centered around and imbued with God.  They are helps not rewards.

The difference between poor and good use of these traditions is ‘understanding’.  If someone is shown these traditions and not taught the meaning for them – they end up like the Pharisees.  And of course that is more an indictment on the teacher than the student.

Yesterday at a communion service at Heritage Woods (Extended care apartment complex) I noticed that a few of the participants didn’t say “Amen” prior to receiving the Eucharist.  After the service I took some time and explained the why Holy Mother Church requires communicants to respond with “Amen” before receiving.  It isn’t a regulation for the sake of a regulation – it is a normal response to the declaration just made to them “The Body of Christ” (and ‘the Blood of Blood of Christ’).  Among other reasons for this tradition I took them through the Mass (where this bread had become Christ)  – walked them through bringing their daily lives into the Mass, offering up their failures, their successes, their pain and their joys of the week along with Christ’s offering to our Father, then witnessing the amazing gift of love, the ultimate sacrifice for us, as unworthy as we are, and then having Christ handed to us in His ultimate gift – how could we do otherwise than, in amazement and joy, say AMEN!  After the service a man said to me that what he viewed as a petty rule was now a beautiful reality.

This is what Christ wants from our traditions – to become deeper in our knowledge, understanding about His triune self; to go into a tradition (so to speak) and come out its other side with a stronger love for Him and for each of us.  Anything short of this brings us down to level of those Pharisees who lived for the traditions, not living by them – for God.