Friday, June 23, 2017

The Sacred Heart - Source of Our Prayer

When we speak of Jesus’s prayer, it is legitimate to put “prayer” within quotation marks. (Benedict XVI did this in Volume I of his Jesus of Nazareth). It is done when we want to highlight the uniqueness of Jesus’ prayer. It was, after all, the human prayer of the Second Person of the Trinity. But even on the purely human level, the personal union of God and man in Christ allowed his prayer to be something impossible since humanity’s fall from grace – the loving conversation of a child with his Father, as opposed to simply a creature petitioning and offering homage to his or her Creator.

I think there is also a truth to be highlighted by coming at prayer from the opposite direction too – to say that Jesus prayed, and you and I “pray” to the degree that we unite ourselves to His prayer. It is in Jesus, after all, that every human action  –  prayer included – reaches perfection. Only He can show us what it means to be fully human, and only He can teach us what it really means to pray.  And because prayer is an activity of the heart (CCC 2562), meditation upon Jesus’ Sacred Heart will open our eyes to the startling reality of what it means to pray as a Christian.

From eternity, God the Father and God the Son have been communicating Themselves to Each Other in the Person of the Holy Spirit. In a never ending, perfect rush of Love, Father and Son pour Themselves out to One Another. When the Son became a human being he continued to pour himself out to the Father, but that gift began to be “channeled” through a human heart – Jesus’ Sacred Heart. God the Son expressed His love and dependence upon the Father in human thoughts, displays of emotion, words, and actions.

Jesus assured the apostles that, “no one comes to the Father but by me.” We do not have independent relationships with God the Father; we participate in Jesus’ relationship with the Father! We believe that Jesus wants to perfect our words and actions in this world by making them extensions of His own (we are saved by grace), and that extends to our prayer lives.

Jesus desires to raise our prayer up into His own, and He does this through the Holy Spirit. What I am talking about is a Mystery of the first order. Listen to St. Paul:
… the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27)
That’s right – the Divine communication that takes place in eternity, the Divine communication that was channeled through the human heart of God the Son, is now (because of our union with Christ) occurring inside of you and me! The YOUCAT says it about as clearly and as beautifully as possible:
Basically prayer means that from the depths of my heart, God speaks to God. The Holy Spirit helps our spirit to pray. Hence we should say again and again, “Come, Holy Spirit, come and help me to pray.” (YOUCAT 496)
Yes Holy Spirit, flow from the Sacred Heart of our Savior to ours (Jn. 7:38), and fill us with his prayer to the Father.  

If you wish to begin uttering Jesus’ prayer right now, then pray the Our Father, for “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal.4:6). As the Catechism teaches:
[This] prayer that comes to us from Jesus is truly unique... On the one hand, in the words of this prayer the only Son gives us the words the Father gave him [Jn.17:7]... On the other, as Word incarnate, he knows in his human heart the needs of his human brothers and sisters and reveals them to us: he is the model of our prayer (CCC 2765).
Jesus discloses and entrusts his Heart to us at Mass. He professes his love to us in the words of consecration and delivers himself – heart, soul, body, blood, soul, and divinity – into the arms of his beloved in Communion. The Mass makes present his sacrifice upon the Cross, “where prayer and the gift of self are but one” (CCC 2605), and it is our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that identifies us with his Heart – “This is my body…this is my blood…Do this” (CCC 1419).
If you'd like to read more along these lines, you might enjoy Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review: "Let There Be No Divisions Among You"

With the subtitle, Why All Christians Should be Catholic, this book is the quintessential unapologetic apologetic! Originally penned in 1887, Let There Be No Divisions Among You, is throwback to the days before political correctness, to a time when people could speak frankly of their differences without fear of ending friendships or being accused of bigotry . It was also a time when people could be troubled to listen to multi-faceted arguments rather soundbites. I loved it. The author, an Irish priest by the name of Fr. John MacLaughlin, appears to have anticipated every possible objection to his points and responds with penetrating logic and whit. Kudos to Sophia Institute for making this available to today's audience.

What can you expect to find between this book's covers? From the Introduction:
When a man has gone so far as to regard religion a a mere matter of opinion, and consequently a matter of choice, he is not likely to choose a difficult one when an easy one will suit his purpose quite as well. Naturally, men are averse to having their intellect bound to definite doctrines and to having their will burdened by difficult obligations....The theory that one religion is as good as another is next neighbor to the theory that there is not much good in any religion at all.
The past century demonstrated the accuracy of Fr. MacLaughlin's analysis. The first section of the book employs reason and Revelation to prove that the specifics of our faith are of great importance to God. Because God is Truth, He cannot be indifferent to whether His people believe one creed or profess its opposite. The God Who gave such minute directives  for the construction of the Ark and Tabernacle under the Old Covenant did not go lax when His Son took flesh to complete that revelation in the New.  Father MacLaughlin demonstrates this point with individual chapters devoted to the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20), the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48), and the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35).

The second half of the book is devoted to helping readers identify which, of all the Christian bodies populating the landscape, is the one Church historically founded by Christ. He does so by pointing to two necessary marks of the Church - unity and universality, with chapter-length discussions of each.

My copy of this book has its fair share of highlighting. I have no doubt that every reader will come away with new insights and the sense that he/she is better equipped to converse with and charitably challenge those who champion the "Jesus without religion" mentality. Let There Be No Divisions Among You  (Sophia Institute Press, 2017) is a treasure trove.