Thursday, February 27, 2014

Everyday Prayers – The Our Father – Part 1

The Our Father is one of the central prayers of our faith. Jesus Himself gave it to us as the ideal prayer, one which we can and must pray word for word and one upon which we should model all of our other prayers. Over the next few posts in this series, we will take a close look at the Our Father, piece by piece and word by word, so that we can grasp at least some of its rich meaning.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen. 

1. Our Father – What a blessing these two little words are! Thanks to Jesus, we can call God our Father. Jesus Himself called God “Abba,” which in Aramaic is something like “Dad” or even “Daddy.” It is an expression of intimacy and trust, and it recognizes the covenant, the family bond, that God has established between Himself and His people.

2. Notice, too, that we say “our” rather than “my.” All Christians who pray this prayer are members of the same family. We have all entered into a covenant with God through our baptism, and that makes us brothers and sisters. The prayer invites us to join together with our siblings in Christ as we address God our Father. We are not isolated or insulated. Our prayer affects and includes the whole family.

3. Who art in Heaven – When we think of Heaven, we often think of somewhere far away, distant from us, reserved for God and the angels and the saints. Heaven, however, is closer than we think. Where God is, there is Heaven. Heaven is being in God's presence. Heaven is having God dwelling in our souls as He does when we are in a state of grace. This does not mean, of course, that we experience the beatific vision here on earth. We do not see God face to face as the saints do, but we do live in His presence right now. He does live in our souls. This is a little taste of Heaven on earth.

4. This phrase also reminds us that God is transcendent as well as imminent. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves, yet He is so far above us, so far beyond us that our human minds can never grasp His true nature. We can only stand in wonder and awe.

5. Hallowed be Thy name – First off, “hallowed” here is the imperative passive form of the Greek verb ἁγιάζω, or hāgiazō. It means to make holy, sanctify, treat as holy, consecrate, separate, and acknowledge as venerable. God's name obviously doesn't have to become holy. God is all-holy and so is His name. His name does, however, need to be treated as holy. It must be set apart and consecrated in our world, acknowledged as holy and venerable. God's name must never be taken in vain or used as a curse. It must be treated with the greatest respect.

6. In the Bible, a name is not merely a word designating a person. A name embraces a person's whole character. A name gets to the very heart of a person's being, who he or she is on the inside. The same is true for the name of God. God's name encompasses His character, His glory, His honor, Who He is on the inside, in His deepest nature, beyond what humans can ever know. So when we request that God's name be hallowed, we request that God Himself may be hallowed, so that we may always treat Him with the utmost respect, reverence, and love.

We'll continue our examination of the Our Father in another post, but for now, let's pray it again, slowly and devoutly.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Temples of God

Do you know that when you are in a state of grace, you are a temple of God? Think about that for moment. When you were baptized, God came to dwell in you soul. Unless, God forbid, you have expelled His presence by mortal sin, God is in you. Right now. Wherever you are. At every moment. Isn't that amazing? 

St. Paul reminds us of this wonderful truth in today's Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 3:16-23. He also gives us a rather stern warning to remind us of our obligations as temples of God: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person...” 

Most people probably see this statement as a caution against suicide, the literal destruction of the body. It is true that suicide is objectively a grave sin. (Please note: We cannot judge the culpability of those who commit suicide, for mitigating factors are almost always involved. Only God can judge people's hearts.)

There are other ways, however, in which we can destroy God's temple. Sin, for instance, does a good job. Mortal sin, as we have already said, expels God's presence of a person's soul. This grave sin, committed with full knowledge of its gravity and full, free consent despite that knowledge, makes the temple of the soul empty. An empty temple is really no temple at all. 

Even less serious, or venial, sins can chip away at our temples, staining our souls; weakening our faith and resolve to live as our indwelling God wills; and perhaps even paving the way to more serious sin.

Let's talk about the second half of the warning: “...God will destroy that person...” That sounds a little scary actually. We might envision lightning bolts cast down from Heaven at us. This isn't what Paul means, however. Actually, the person who destroys God's temple doesn't really need any help from God in destroying himself or herself. That person is well on the way to self-destruction. Chasing God out of one's life can, without repentance, lead to ultimate destruction, an eternity in hell. 

Now, God does not send anyone to hell. He simply recognizes a person's free choice. If a person freely chooses to expel God from his or her soul, God will not force His way back in. He will politely wait until He is invited through repentance and confession. If the person never invites Him, then he or she will be separated from God for all eternity. That absence of God...that is the true nature of hell...that is true destruction. 

All this being said, we would do well this week to spend some time meditating on Paul's reminder that we are temples of God and his warning that we must be careful and committed to never destroying those temples.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Wonders of the Law

Our Responsorial Psalm today comes from Psalm 119, which is the longest of the psalms, with a whopping 176 verses. The psalm proclaims the glory and wonders of God's law, and the psalmist begs God to teach him the law and help him observe it faithfully, fully, and lovingly. The psalmist recognizes that the law is a great gift from God, something that is to be treasured and revered, something that can bring great happiness.

We don't normally think of law as having these characteristics. For most Americans, law is often an annoyance or a necessary evil, something that keeps order but is usually undesirable and in the way. Even the moral law, which we know to be good and true and beautiful, can seem like a checklist of does and don'ts that we have to follow...or else. 

This psalm invites us to reexamine our ideas about law. The psalmist is speaking about the law of the Old Testament, which Jesus fulfilled and brought to a higher level (see today's Gospel, Matthew 5:17-37). Today, God gives Christians His law of love, and He expects us to keep it. Rather than being a burden, this law is a wonderful gift.

Let's take a look at what today's psalm has to say.

Blessed are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who observe His decrees,
who seek Him with all their heart. 

The law of the Lord is a sure path. Those who walk on that path are blessed and happy. Those who keep God's decrees and seek Him with their whole heart are also blessed and happy. So the law brings happiness because it puts people in a right relationship with God. It draws them closer to Him. It places them on the path that He has set for them. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He surely knows what is best for us, and He has expressed it in His law, His moral code. Our job is to follow that law and grasp the happiness God offers.

You have commanded that Your precepts
be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
of keeping Your statutes! 

The psalmist now addresses God directly. He remembers that God has commanded His people to diligently keep the law, but he seems to realize that he cannot do this without God's help. He pleads, therefore, that he might be firm in his commitment. We, too, must ask God for the grace we need to follow the law, to make good moral choices, and to act in the way God wants us to act. He is more than ready to give us all the help we need.

Be good to Your servant, that I may live
and keep Your words.
Open my eyes, that I may consider
the wonders of Your law. 

The psalmist continues by begging again for God's grace. He asks God to be good to him. The Hebrew word here is actually quite a bit stronger, something like “deal bountifully with.” The psalmist wants God to shower him with goodness. Why? So that he may live and keep God's words or law. Notice how life and law are connected here. For the psalmist, real living seems to mean keeping the law. He also begs God to open his eyes so that he can see the wonders of the law. Sometimes this is difficult, especially when our human nature rebels and we start to think that the law is rather a pain because it doesn't let us do what we want. The psalmist asks God for the proper perspective so that he can recognize the law as the amazing gift that it really is.

Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of Your statutes,
that I may exactly observe them.
Give me discernment, that I may observe Your law
and keep it with all my heart.

The psalmist realizes that he needs God to teach him the way of the law. Only then will he be able to exactly observe God's statutes. Pay special attention to the word “exactly.” The psalmist doesn't want to fudge his way through life, obeying only the parts of God's law that he likes or that fit into his lifestyle. He wants to keep the law exactly, in all its parts, as it is according to God's will. The psalmist further asks for discernment. He wants to see all the way to the depths of the law. He wants to consider its intricacy and beauty. Notice, too, that the psalmist makes a distinction between observing the law and keeping it with his whole heart. He does not want his obedience to be merely an external checklist of things he must do or must not do. For him, the law is something that reaches into his deepest being, to his very center. His obedience must come from his heart, touched by God's love and opening out to embrace God's law. 

Take a few moments today to reflect on your attitude toward God's law, and pray this psalm throughout the week that you might better appreciate this great gift that God lavishes on His people

Friday, February 14, 2014

Everyday Prayers - The Glory Be

The Glory Be is another short prayer that can fly right by before we even realize we're saying it. It is, however, a deep prayer that gets right to the heart of the Christian mystery and our response to it. Let's take a closer look at this familiar prayer.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

1. The real name for the Glory Be is the Doxology. It comes from the Greek word δόξα, which means glory, splendor, honor, renown, majesty, magnificence, excellence, and dignity. It refers to something that has intrinsic worth, something that is valuable in itself. Who could be more worthy of those descriptions than God Himself? 

2. What does it mean to give God glory? That's what we're really doing in this prayer, giving glory to God. Giving God glory essentially means recognizing and praising Him for Who He is. We know that God is all-powerful, all-present, all-good, all-knowing, all-wise, all-just, all-perfect, all-loving. He is the best of the best, the highest of the highest, the most awesome Being ever. He is amazing beyond words just for Who He is, and when we say the Glory Be, we are acknowledging all of that. 

3. When we pray the Glory Be, we proclaim the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. God is one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is a communion of love that has existed from all eternity and will exist for all eternity. The Trinity is a mystery beyond the human mind, but we believe it because God has revealed it to us. 

4. In the Trinity, the Father begets His only-begotten Son for all eternity. The Son is begotten by the Father for all eternity. The self-giving love that passes between the Father and the Son is so strong and so powerful that it is in itself another Person, the Holy Spirit. 

5. The prayer reminds us that God has no beginning and will have no end. He is like a circle, eternal, with no starting point and no final point. Again, this concept is beyond the grasp of our human minds, but we believe it because God has revealed it to be true. 

6. The prayer reminds us that God does not change. Unlike fickle humans, He stays exactly the same for all eternity, the same God with the same characteristics and the same love in the beginning, now, and forever. 

7. The prayer adds, "world without end." The world mentioned here is not this passing earthly world but the eternal world that is to come, the new heaven and the new earth that will never pass away, the world in which we will stand before God face to face. That world will never end. 

Let's pray together, then, devoutly and attentively.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Salt and Light: A Meditation

Jesus tells us in today's Gospel that we must be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Pause for a few minutes today to reflect on these two images, using the following points and questions to guide your meditation if you so choose.

1. Salt was extremely important in the ancient world. It was used to preserve foods that would otherwise have spoiled without refrigeration. Christians, too, must serve as a preservative in the world to keep it from spoiling through moral corruption. Ponder your moral choices. How are you acting as salt to preserve the world?

2. Salt not only preserved food; in some cases, it was so valuable that it was used as wages for soldiers. Christians, too, should seek to show their value to the world through their love. How do you love others?

3. Salt was also a sign employed to seal important agreements. Those making contracts would eat salt together to show their commitment to their deal. Christians are living signs of the agreement God has made with the world, the New Covenant brought by Jesus. How are you a messenger of the bond of self-giving love between God and His family?

4. Jesus says that if salt loses its flavor, it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. In ancient times, salt contained many impurities, and if those impurities became dominant, salt could lose it flavor. People would then throw it on walkways for better traction. Christians have to watch out so their impurities don't overcome them. Are your impurities making you flavorless and preventing you from being salt for the world?

5. Light in the darkness required work in ancient days. No one could simply flip a switch and illuminate a room or a whole house. If a Christian wants to be a light for the world, then, it will take some effort. It will involve action, work, exertion, and perhaps even exhaustion. How are you being a light to the world through your actions?

6. Light is not the same thing as the instrument that channels the light. A lamp, for instance, is something different than the light it throws off. Christians are to be lights to the world, but does the light they give off really come from them? Or it is, perhaps, God's light shining through them, using them as instruments to stream His brightness to the world?

7. A city on a hill is visible to all who look in its direction. It cannot be hidden. Is your Christianity visible?

8. No one puts a lamp under a bed or a basket. That would be a waste of light. Do you ever waste your energy in pursuits that are sinful or useless?

9. Jesus says that we must make our lights visible so that people may see the good works that we do and give glory to God. Christians must examine their motivations. Are you doing good works so that others may focus on you, or are you making sure that God gets the glory?

10. Make a list of several ways in which you can follow Jesus' command and become the salt of the earth and a light for the world.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

God Comes to His Temple

An interesting theme flows through today's readings, a theme that is highly appropriate to this feast day: God comes to His temple. 

The First Reading sets the stage. Through the prophet Malachi, God says: 

Lo, I am sending My messenger
to prepare the way before Me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. 

The Lord will come to His temple suddenly after a messenger has prepared the way for His arrival. The people have been waiting for the Lord, seeking Him, desiring Him, and He will bring them a new covenant. 

The reading also tells us that when God comes to His temple, He will purify His people, refining them like fire purifies silver and lye purifies wool. Because of this purification, the people will be able to offer a sacrifice that is acceptable to God. 

We know how this prophecy plays out. We know that John the Baptist came as a messenger before Jesus, Who did suddenly appear in His temple, although not in a way anyone expected. We know that Jesus does purify His people through His life, death, and resurrection, through Baptism and the other sacraments, and through their sufferings, which they join to His cross. We know that now we do offer a sacrifice that is acceptable to God, for we offer Him the Eucharist, which is His own Son, Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

The Psalm helps us respond to the prophecy in the First Reading. We call on the gates to lift up and allow the King of glory to enter, and we praise this King, Who is so strong and mighty. This psalm can work on several levels. It could portray the people of Jerusalem calling on the temple gates to raise up to admit the Lord. It could refer to the words of the angels as they call to the gates of Heaven to admit their Lord when He ascends. It could also be an invitation to us to open the gates of our hearts to let our Lord come in and change us from the inside out.

In the Second Reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus became like us in everything except sin so that He could be our “merciful and faithful high priest before God” and “expiate the sins of the people.” The original Jewish audience would have understood the reference very well. Every year on the feast of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, the Jewish high priest entered the Holy of Holies, that innermost sanctuary of the temple, and offered sacrifice to expiate the people's sins. Jesus is the new high priest, but He has entered the temple of Heaven, rather than an earthly Holy of Holies, to atone for all of us and to bring us into a right relationship with God. 

Finally, in the Gospel, we hear about the first time Jesus entered the Jerusalem temple during His life on earth. No one would ever have expected Him to come in the way He did, for He was only a little baby, just a few weeks old and carried in the arms of His mother. Recognized only by Simeon and Anna, Jesus did nothing impressive during His first visit. Instead, His parents offered the sacrifices of redemption and purification prescribed by the Law. Simeon spoke his Spirit-filled words of prophecy about Who Jesus was and what He would one day do. Anna told anyone who would listen about this Child. Jesus Himself probably fell asleep somewhere in the midst of it all. 

Through His prophets and inspired men, God had long predicted that He would one day come to His temple. He certainly did, but as always, He was doing something new, something unpredictable, something utterly amazing.