Friday, January 13, 2012

Becoming part of the prayer of Jesus

My last post, two days ago, began with these words of Mother Mary Clare SLG: “To stand before the living God, what an adventure; to stand face to face before the living God not in a vague way in a place we call heaven, but in the here and now of our moment to moment living, by, with and in Christ, as we are made part of his prayer and his offering through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In order to grasp this truth and deepen our understanding of prayer, we must ponder the “tri-unity” that is the inner life of God, a communion of three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bound together in infinite, self-giving love. “The Trinity is the revelation that God is Love . . . We can only ‘have’ love by loving, by participating in a relationship of love. So, the Trinity is Love Loving – dynamic, unfathomable, inexhaustible, eternally complete and creative.” (Rev. Dr. James Hanvey SJ HERE).

St Gregory Nazianzen and St John of Damascus use the word perichoresis, “going around” or “enveloping” to express this loving union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “The metaphor suggests moving around, making room, relating to one another without losing identity” (Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love, A theology of the Holy Spirit). So, we may think of the Trinity as “creative choreography,” a “dance of reciprocal love.” Pinnock says that “as a circle of loving relationships, God is dynamically alive . . . caught up in an eternal dance of reciprocity . . . The persons of the Trinity move with choreographed harmony. The love emanating from within cannot help but create, for it is the nature of love not to harbour and to hoard but to expand and to create . . .”

An important aspect of this relationship is the perfect love, prayer and praise the Son offers to the Father, and which the Gospels show us being played out in time and space. (Actually, the name “Father” was used of God in a metaphorical sense only 15 times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, however, it is used 245 times. Even that should tell us something important!) A theme running through the Gospels is the intimacy of the relationship of Jesus and the Father. The Gospels make it clear there is a special sence in which God is “my Father” to Jesus. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

Yet St Paul says in Romans 8:15: “. . . you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’”

And in Galatians 4:6: “The proof that you are sons (of God) is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’.”

This cry, “Abba, Father,” uttered continually by the Spirit in the hearts of those gathered at the altar, is basic to the Christian understanding of prayer. It is connected to the reality spoken of in the Anglican-Roman Catholic Agreed Statement on the Eucharist, that at the altar we “enter into the movement of Christ's self-offering.”

In other words, it is in the Eucharist that the Holy Spirit intensely renews and deepens our being part of the prayer of Jesus, and we are swept into the eternal movement of love and self-giving between him and the Father. Thus worship, to quote Fr Hanvey again, becomes for us “‘a great cry of wonder’, a “learning to love by participating in Love. Literally, by ‘being-in-Love’.”

“The Eucharist is not simply a matter of our standing outside of Jesus and watching him offer perfect praise of the Father on our behalf. It is a matter of our entering into the perfect praise of Jesus, becoming one with it, making it our own through our identity with Jesus and with his dispositions in offering himself.” (In Fr. Paul Hinnebusch OP in Praise – A Way of Life.)

A powerful testimony to this is in the Letter to the Hebrews, where words from Psalm 22 are placed on the lips of Jesus the High Priest who gathers his people into a great liturgical assembly:

“He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee.’” (Hebrews 2:11-12) The amazing thought here is that Jesus comes to church with us, and he offers praise to the Father from “the midst of the congregation.”

So, “Christian prayer” is NOT primarily the prayer of Christians! “Christian prayer” is the prayer of Jesus. It is the movement of love between him and the Father, to which we are joined by the Holy Spirit. We become part of the prayer of Jesus. ALL our individual prayers are little streams entering this great river of love and praise flowing and swirling between Jesus, the Church and the Father. This is what St Jude means when he says that we should be always “praying in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20). It is also why the Eucharistic Prayer – the great prayer of thanksgiving, consecration and offering – always concludes with these or similar words:

‘Through him,
with him,
in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all Glory and honour is yours
Almighty Father,
for ever and ever. Amen.”


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