Friday, July 23, 2010

17th Sunday of the Year. "Our Father": Prayer opens the vast realm of the journey from here to the hereafter

A navigator is a great little gadget. We all want to go places, but we do not always know how to get there. With the help of the global positioning system, you can get started on your journey without even knowing your own location. From the sky, the satellite finds you and then proceeds step by step, turn by turn, to instruct you about how to get from A to B. With the help of this handy little device you can calmly and confidently move ahead and make progress on the journey before you.

We are all on a journey and all experience the need for some knowledge of our destination. Some have a very firm sense of their place in life. Others feel themselves lost and do not know where they are on the journey because the road ahead is murky or shrouded in doubt. These persons experience an inertia that blocks them from making the first step that commences movement from the present to the future and a sense of sadness and even depression can set in. In the case of the spiritual life, the stakes are highest. From our very short existence here on earth we must make a journey in faith to the hereafter. But a sense of being lost, disconnected, sinful or unworthy of God or goodness can jeopardize and arrest our state of development in the life of faith.

God has a GPS: Jesus Christ. Because of His incarnation, His Passion on the cross, His death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ is the gift of grace that the Father makes available to us wherever we are so that we can go from lost to found, from confusion to clarity, and from inertia to calm and confident action as we make our first tentative steps on the path to eternity.

The interior life is the place where Jesus Christ helps us to first become "found". In the grace of faith we can learn that whatever it is that we are suffering, whether the effects of mortal sin, a dry and prayer-less spirit, anger or depression, because of Christ nothing on the earth, above the earth or below the earth can prevent God from affirming our goodness and worth, from convicting us that everything we are and experience can be used by God to find us, affirm us and get us back on the road to heaven.

But God will not do this task without us. And that is where prayer comes in. In the gospel we hear again about the lesson in prayer which Christ teaches to his closest co-workers in the Father's mission. The "Our Father" remains for us the blueprint or model not only for our prayers and our life of prayer, but also a road map for the interior life. Just as a navigator with the help of the GPS can help us escape from disorientation in our physical life, so prayer in Christ does the same for the life of the spirit.

The Catechism teaches us:

"When we pray to the Father, we are in communion with him and with his Son, Jesus Christ. Then we know and recognize him with an ever new sense of wonder. The first phrase of the Our Father is a blessing of adoration before it is a supplication. For it is the glory of God that we should recognize him as "Father," the true God. We give him thanks for having revealed his name to us, for the gift of believing in it, and for the indwelling of his Presence in us." (CCC 2781)

We are invited follow the instructions of God's "GPS" and to pray as Christ did, as he instructs us to do. Christ opens for us the limitless field of our journey in grace to the Father through the Spirit, but we must respond with our freedom and cooperate with Him. We do this through prayer. But our prayer must be in love and thus a gift of the whole person. How do we make our prayer a gift of love? Through various methods of prayer we grow in the ability to more and more give ourselves as a gift to the Father, through the Spirit, in Christ.

With the use of our voices in vocal prayer or song, with our bodies kneeling or standing, with attentive hearts and minds we can learn the joy of a more intense prayer and move forward in freedom on the path of salvation and eternal life. Reading Scripture with the practice of lectio divina, praying the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary, slowing down to meditate in silence or speak to the Father with the text of the prayer Christ gave us or choosing our own words, all of these express our love and desire for the Father and give expression to our journey and the knowledge of our goal of "life on high" with Christ Jesus.

Recognizing God as our Father in worship reaffirms our unbreakable bond with the One who is both ever with us but also ever before us as the heavenly and eternal goal of the whole of our lives. How does God accompany us? In Christ, who shares everything with us but sin, through the Spirit who teaches us to pray in love of the Father. Christ is the geographical positioning system that leads us from sin to mercy, from lost to found, from confusion to clarity. He does this now, clothed in flesh, seated at the right hand of the Father. He shares our weakness as one with us but we share in His grace that saves and leads us from here to the hereafter.

Our prayer also takes expression in our communal life as the Body of Christ in the celebration of the sacraments. These also are tangible signposts along our journey to the Father. God points our feet in the right direction for the first time through Baptism in Christ, sending the Church and our parents to support our first steps in the ways of faith. If we are lost in mortal sin, we can locate ourselves once again in Christ through sacramental confession. If we are confused because of pain or loss, He unites Himself to us through His Cross and death, giving meaning and purpose to what we are tempted to reject as senseless and wasteful. If we feel sometimes as though we are traveling alone on the journey of faith, He reminds us, "I am with you always, even until the end of the world".

Throughout our lives, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass, the Lord reaches out to remind us of our beginning in Baptism and the gift of the Spirit of Love, His presence in Mercy and the goal on high with the Father opened for us by the perfect prayer of His Passion, Death and Resurrection. He does this not so much by saying something but rather by doing something. He keeps His promise to "be with us" as Risen God, victorious already over every power or force that threatens us to impede or to block our way forward. Our vade mecum, He goes with and in us to "Our Father" and, truly present Body, Blood Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament, walks with us every step of the way.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

-- ((((..))))

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