Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Jesus was praying": Together with the Lord in the communion of the Father's Love

"Jesus was praying". The Lord went to synagogue, or the church of his day. It was a "guy" thing.

Today we have to ask sometimes, "Are fathers disappearing?" Are they in some respects an endangered species? In more and more facets of social life, "a good man is hard to find". Men seem to be fading away from aspects of family life such as attendance at church and participation in Sunday Mass. For some this is not considered a "guy" thing.

Some social change agents are boasting that children are better off without a father and even propose to replace fathers by suggesting that children should have two mothers instead.

Even some colleges now are wary that dropping numbers of males on campus will have an overall negative effect on enrollment. It turns out that, when guys aren't interested in an event or activity, girls aren't either. Gee, I wonder why.

Also in the Church, because Mass is a "guy" thing, because the offering on the altar is Jesus the God-MAN, we need men to step up, or "man up" as some would say, and offer their lives in a beautiful and courageous self-offering in imitation of the Lord Jesus through ordination into the ministerial priesthood as did eight men today in a wonderful celebration at the National Shrine.

The fathers are out there. I went to a baseball game with our servers on Friday and met some fathers I don't believe I've ever seen before after spending a year getting to know the parish and our families. Many of our fathers, however. are very dedicated and do attend Mass whenever possible with their wives and children.

Fathers are not optional. Even God liked fathers so much he had two: His heavenly Father and Joseph His foster father. Every child needs a father just like our Lord Jesus needed one. But our fathers need to be affirmed and appreciated. They need to know that they are doing a good job, they need to be thanked. And our fathers need to see signs of our love for them.

How did Jesus show His love and thanks to His Father? He prayed; just as we see Him doing in today's Gospel. He went apart from everyone and everything else in His life sometimes, into "solitude", in order to spend time enjoying the communion of love that the Father always offered to Him at every moment of His life on earth.

All of us, too, are called into that same communion of love with the heavenly Father. And Jesus is the only One who makes that possible for us. How? In the holy Mass we gain access to the communion of love with the Father because "we are all children" of God in Christ Jesus. God is truly our Father through the new life of baptism we have all received in the Lord through the Church. And the Mass is the perfect gift of the Son.

We "mourn an only Son" here at Mass. The reason why we have the crucifix before us here in our church is so that we might "look on him whom they have thrust through". Why? Jesus' self-offering of His life on the Cross is the moment of His supreme union of love with the Father. "Raised up" on the Cross he draws all men to Himself. The Mass is the means by which He offers this same communion or union of love with the Father so that we might share in the gift.

How do we grow more fully in the union of love, the communion with the Father, promised us here and now because of Jesus who prays with us in the holy Mass? It is simple: by doing what the Church does, by praying as the Church prays, we infallibly and confidently expect to receive and enjoy the same gift as the Son receives, "acknowledging God as our Father" in the midst of the Church.

Jesus prayed in solitude but this does not mean he was "alone". He prayed in the embrace of His Father and invites us to "follow" Him in doing so. In the Mass he generously opens up this "solitude" so as to invite us to enter into His perfect relationship with the Father through the gift of the Spirit.

But, if we stay away, if we remain aloof as many do today by refusing to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, we remain in a sterile and dissatisfying type of "solitude" that cuts us off from the Father and from the love of others. So many do this today and it is a terrible mistake and a self-fulfilling prophecy: "I feel badly; I feel like I don't love God or believe in Him, so I am not going to Mass" some say. We cut ourselves off in this way from the very One who only has the power to restore us to ourselves, to lift us out of the poverty of loneliness: the One who is greater than all others, the One whom Jesus reveals as both His father and our father, His God and our God.

But if we approach the Father here he brings us back from lack of hope, from lack of faith, from lack of love, back to fulfillment because of Christ who is offered here and Who offers Himself. But we should hold nothing back in order to fully offer ourselves and thus reap the full benefit of God's love. If we would "take up the Cross of Jesus" if we would but "follow Him" as he approaches the Father, then we must use all of our gifts, all that we have are are: body, mind soul and spirit.

Our Psalm is both a liturgical song, one that is sung by the people of God as part of their act of worship, and a description of the actions, attitudes and gestures of those who do the worshiping. Listen again:

O God, you are my God whom I seek
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.

Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.

Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.

You are my help and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy
My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.

So, our voice must be raised in the prayers and songs, our bodies find expression in the communion and other processions, by kneeling or standing, bowing or by striking the breast. The active gift of our minds grasp and meditate upon the Word of God which enters through our ears. We grow in the habit of of rejecting distractions so as to hand over our attention more generously to the sights and sounds of the Mass. Our hearts, too, grow in the nature of a gift offered through authentic love with the help of all these other means of self expression. And the result? He is our help and we shout for joy! Our souls cling fast to the Lord! His right hand upholds each one of us!

Praying to the Father, whether by lifting up our hands, by praying with our voices, by shouting, as you often hear me doing when I sing, whether in solitude or above all in the liturgy of holy Mass, this the perfect prayer of the "only Son" "whom they have thrust through". It is also now our perfect prayer, for we are "all children of God in Christ Jesus" who does all things well.

Just as Fathers find joy and deeper fulfillment in a more generous expression of total sharing in the lives of their families, particularly in the supreme moment of family life each week at Sunday Mass, so we will find joy and satisfaction by sharing more deeply in the relationship our Lord enjoys with the heavenly Father and into which he invites us in this and every holy Mass.

"You are all children" of God in Christ Jesus: in Him God is "Our Father". We enjoy the Fatherhood of God who tends us and feeds us, comforts us and strengthens us in this banquet which He spreads before us in the Son and through the Holy Spirit of love.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Photo source: The New Liturgical Movement.

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