I write this article on September 7, 2013, the day when the world is invited to the urgent task of praying for peace, in Syria, the extended Middle East, and around the world. An historic day, when the Holy Father Francis is personally leading a global day of prayer and fasting - and unleashing the most powerful weapon we have against the growing scourge of violence - the Love of God. This is the only source and means to authentic peace, as individuals, as a Church, as Nation-states and as a global community. In a world which is spiraling out of control, we who bear the name Christian are called to live in this true peace, in order to bring others to the One who its Source, Jesus Christ.
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - I recently had the privilege of once again visiting the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado. I had not visited Denver since Archbishop Chaput was reassigned to Philadelphia. So, I had never personally met the Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila. He was installed as the Archbishop of Denver last year. My time with the Archbishop was the highlight of my trip to that Archdiocese which, as I have written, is a sure and hopeful sign of the fruits of the New Evangelization.
What impressed me the most about this dear man of God was his humility. What also became so very clear in my time there was its source, not some-thing but Some-one. Archbishop Aquila has an intimate personal communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, the kind which is only sustained through a life of real prayer. That is why, when I came upon his short teaching on prayer at the web site of the Conference of catholic Bishops, I wanted to present it to our readers.
I write this article on September 7, 2013, the day when the world is invited to the urgent task of praying for peace, in Syria, the extended Middle East, and around the world. An historic day, when the Holy Father Francis is personally leading a global day of prayer and fasting - and unleashing the most powerful weapon we have against the growing scourge of violence - the Love of God. This is the only source and means to authentic peace, as individuals, as a Church, as Nation-states and as a global community.
In a world which is spiraling out of control, we who bear the name Christian are called to live in this true peace. We are also called to bring others to the One who its Source, Jesus Christ. At the Last Supper, right before he walked the Way of the Cross for each one of us, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid". (John 14:27) We need to hear these words today, deep inside. In that place the Scripture refers to as the heart. The path to true peace passes through prayer.
Jesus sets forth the relational framework for a life of prayer in the prayer we have come to know as the Our Father. In the Gospel of St. Luke, after teaching them to pray, he tells the disciples a parable concerning one type of prayer, persevering prayer for needs. (Luke 11:1-13) However, His entire time with the disciples is an instruction in Prayer. He shows them the pattern of living in a continual communion with the Father. He invites them - and he invites us - into the communion of love which He has with the Father, in the Spirit. This is not an unatainable aspiration! It is an invitation into t new way of living, a life of communion with God.
Through His saving Incarnation, His Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus removes the impediment to all of us our entering into this true peace and communion. He also capacitates us to begin living in that communion in the here and now, by cultivating lives of true prayer. Through prayer he shows us the path to the peace we long for and makes it possible, beginning right now. Not only that, but he enlists us in bringing the world to this true peace.
After the Resurrection, the Apostle Paul, who had not walked with the Lord during His earthly ministry, but became a witness to the Resurrection, wrotes these compelling words: "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit." (1 Thess. 5:16-19) St. Paul wrote those words to the early Christians in Greece. They did not live lives of ease, in any sense of the word. They had families, occupations, and struggles, beyond what many of us could imagine. They also suffered greatly for their faith.
He instructed them to Pray without ceasing. Did he really mean it? I believe that he did. The older I get, the simpler life gets. That does not mean it is "easy". I speak of spiritual simplicity, the kind of attitude which gets right to the root of what really matters. I believe that Paul meant what he said to the Christians at Thessalonica and that his words are important to those who bear the name Christian today.
Prayer is an ongoing dialogue of intimate communion with God. God fashioned men and women as the crown of His creation, creating us in His Image, for this loving, relational conversation of life with Him. At the heart of understanding what it means to be created in His Image is to understand the immense gift of human freedom and what has happened to our capacity to choose. Love is never coerced, it is freely given and received.
Our relationship with God was broken, separated and wounded through the first sin, what is called in theological terms, original sin. That sin, like all sin since, is, at root, a misuse of human freedom infected by pride and self sufficiency. Our ability to exercise our freedom rightly, to live in His Image by directing our capacity for free choice always toward the good, was impeded through the resulting fall. Freedom itself was fractured. It must be healed, repaired, restored, and recreated - and that only occurs through the splint of the Cross of Jesus Christ and His Resurrection from the dead.
The Good News is that through Jesus Christ, the way of freedom is open, it is a way for an even fuller communion with God. Through His Incarnation - His Saving life, Death and Resurrection - it all begins again. In Jesus Christ we are being re-created, re-fashioned and redeemed, right now, as we cooperate with grace. He comes to live in all who choose freely to make a place for Him within the center of their lives. This making a place is the essence of Christian prayer. Prayer is not about doing, but about being, in a relationship of love, a communion, with the Trinity. That is available to everyone of us, in and through Jesus Christ.
The Lord wants us to freely choose to respond to His continual invitations to love. We will only find our fulfillment as human persons by entering into that kind of relationship. This is the meaning and purpose of life itself. As we grow in faith through our participation in the life of grace, lived out in the Church, fed on the Sacraments, nourished by the Word and apostolic instruction, our capacity to respond to His loving invitation grows as well, through true prayer. Prayer is also the pathway to that peace which the world cannot give - and the world cannot take away.
Prayer is about falling in love with God. Isaac of Ninevah was an early eighth century monk, Bishop and theologian. For centuries he was mostly revered in the Eastern Christian Church for his writings on prayer. In the last century the beauty of his insights on prayer are being embraced once again by both lungs, East and West, of the Church. He wrote these words in one of his many treatises on Prayer:
"When the Spirit dwells in a person, from the moment in which that person has become prayer, he never leaves him. For the Spirit himself never ceases to pray in him. Whether the person is asleep or awake, prayer never from then on departs from his soul. Whether he is eating or drinking or sleeping or whatever else he is doing, even in deepest sleep, the fragrance of prayer rises without effort in hid heart. Prayer never again deserts him."
"At every moment of his life, even when it appears to stop, it is secretly at work in him continuously, one of the Fathers, the bearers of Christ, says that prayer is the silence of the pure. For their thoughts are divine motions. The movements of the heart and the intellect that have been purified are the voices full of sweetness with which such people never cease to sing in secret to the hidden God."
The Christian faith answers the existential questions that plague every human heart and trouble every generation. Through His Incarnation, Saving Life, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus opens full communion with God for all men and women. He leads us out of the emptiness and despair that is the rotted fruit of narcissism, nihilism and materialism. When we enter into the dialogue of prayer, we can actually experience a progressive, dynamic and intimate relationship with God and He transforms us from within, restoring His Image and moving us toward his Likeness, as fully revealed in Jesus Christ.
We, as Isaac said, can "become prayer" as we empty ourselves in order to be filled with Him.
Through prayer, daily life takes on new meaning. It becomes a classroom of communion. In that classroom we learn the truth about who we are - and who we are becoming - in Jesus. Through prayer we receive new glasses through which we see the true landscape of life. Through prayer darkness is dispelled and the path of progress is illuminated.
Through prayer we begin to understand why this communion seems so elusive at times; as we struggle with our own disordered appetites, and live in a manner at odds with the beauty and order of the creation within which we dwell only to find a new beginning whenever we confess our sin and return to our first love. Prayer opens us up to Revelation, expands our capacity to comprehend truth and equips us to change.
Through prayer we are drawn by Love into a deepening relationship with Jesus whose loving embrace on the hill of Golgotha bridged heaven with earth; His relationship with His Father is opened now to us; the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead begins to give us new life as we are converted, transfigured and made new.
Through prayer, heavenly wisdom is planted in the field of our hearts and we experience a deepening communion with the Trinitarian God. We become, in the words of the Apostle Peter "partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4) That participation will only be fully complete when we are with Him in the fullness of His embrace, in Resurrected Bodies in a New Heaven and a New earth, but it begins now, in the grace of this present moment.
The beloved disciple John became prayer. He writes in the letter he penned in his later years: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness" 1John 3:1-4
As we become prayer our daily life becomes the field of choice and we are capacitated to choose the "more excellent way" of love of which the great Apostle paul wrote. (1 Cor. 13) Pondering the implications of the exercise of our human freedom becomes a regular part of our life, as we learn to "examine our conscience", repent of our sin and become joyful penitents. Prayer provides the environment for such recollection as it exposes the darkness and helps us surrender it to the light of Love, the Living God dwelling within us.
Becoming prayer is possible for all Christians, no matter their state in life or vocation, because God holds nothing back from those whom He loves. This relationship of communion is initiated by Him. Our part is to respond. That response should flow from a heart that beats in surrendered love, in the process of being freed from the entanglements that weigh us down.
The God who is Love hungers for the communion of sons and daughters - and we hunger for communion with Him - because He made us this way. Nothing else will satisfy. The early Church Father Origen once wrote: "Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God."
We were made in the image of God and are now being recreated into His likeness in Jesus Christ. As we "become prayer', that likeness begins to emerge. We give ourselves fully to the One who gave Himself to us and cry out with Jesus Christ "Abba Father." No longer alienated, we participate in the inner life of God who now dwells within us. We also dwell in Him through His Spirit. This dwelling is prayer. It is not about doing or getting but about being, becoming, receiving, giving, and loving. We will live the way we love and we will love the way we pray.
A wonderful spiritual writer of our own time, Fr. Henri Nouwen, understood the intimacy of prayer and the call to live in God. He wrote these words in his work entitled Lifesigns: "Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells, has become our home by making his home in us he allows us to make our home in him. By entering into the intimacy of our innermost self he offers us the opportunity to enter into his own intimacy with God."
"By choosing us as his preferred dwelling place, he invites us to choose him as our preferred dwelling place. This is the mystery of the incarnation. Here we come to see what discipline in the spiritual life means. It means a gradual process of coming home to where we belong and listening there to the voice which desires our attention. Home is the place where that first love dwells and speaks gently to us. Prayer is the most concrete way to make our home in God."
We are His contemporary disciples. We need to ask Jesus the same question, Lord, Teach us to Pray. Then, filled with His Divine Life within us, we learn to become prayer by learning to "make our home in God". The path to true peace passes through prayer.Let us walk in that way together and bring a war weary world with us.
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