“Lord, teach us to pray…”
Such a simple request, would that it was so easy to learn. Not that it is hard for the Lord to teach. For some reason it can be hard for us to learn how to truly pray. Maybe it is too simple. The simplicity of this request from the disciples is true prayer. To be honest with the Lord is true prayer. Honesty is also open to an answer. If I am honest I will realize my deeper desire to be in communion with God. As Augustine said, “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and my heart is restless until it rests in Thee.” Our hearts long to rest in the love of Our Lord. They find this through sincere prayer.
St. Teresa of Avila, a true master of prayer, wrote this in regards to praying the “Our Father”:
And it is good for us to consider that he taught this prayer to each of us and that he is showing it to us; the teacher is never so far from his pupil that he has to shout, but he is very close. I want you to understand that it is good for you, if you are to recite the Our Father well, to remain at the side of the Master who taught this prayer to you. (Way of Perfection, 24:5)
She encourages her sisters, and us as well, to imagine that the Lord Jesus is next to you when you pray. She says that:
If you grow accustomed to having him present at your side, and he sees that you do so with love and that you go about striving to please him, you will not able --- as they say --- to get away from him; he will never fail you; he will help you in all your trials; you will find him everywhere. Do you think it’s some small matter to have a friend like this at your side? (26:1)
Here, the essence of prayer, communication with God, takes place. This is not just a trading of words, but also a union of the soul with God’s Spirit. God’s desire is not just to have a friendly conversation and exchange information. No, His greatest desire is the eternal union of each of our souls with His Divine Presence in a spiritual marriage. It is available to all through this prayer.
Nuptial Meaning of the Body
God’s desire for spiritual marriage is reflected analogously in our sexuality. We long as humans for a union of love. That is in fact who God is, a Trinitarian communion of persons who we call Love. Who God is, is expressed in how He made us in His image (Imago Dei). The Book of Genesis, reveals this to us from the very beginning, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”(Gen 1:27) Christopher West, in his classic text “Good News about Sex & Marriage”, notes that the Bible begins and ends with marriage. The book of Revelation climaxes with the Bridegroom Christ coming to unite Himself with His Bride, the Church. “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev 21:2)
Thus God has made our sexuality an expression of His own holiness. This is why the Church may seem preoccupied with sex. It is trying to protect the dignity of sex. One comparison that I make is the care that my chalice deserves. It has a sacred purpose during the Mass. It can only be used in that context and with all the reverence that a sacred vessel deserves. I’m trained in how to use it properly and not just externally. I need the interior intentions that make my ministry during the Mass effective.
Unfortunately the Church has come across at times in an oppressive or repressive way. The teaching of the Church on sex is meant to capture the sacred value of how we relate with others through our gendered persons. The beauty and goodness of men and women includes in an intimate way their gendered-ness and the complimentary nature of their sexuality. Our gendered body is oriented towards a fruitful, free, full and faithful union with another. John Paul II calls this the ‘nuptial meaning of the body’. He would say that this “spousal love … [is] the fundamental component of human existence in the world.”
As you can imagine, I am just scratching the surface here of a profound teaching. Over two thirds of the Church’s writings on sexuality come from John Paul II. It is a revolution in human relations begun. For a good basic interpretation of this teaching I recommend “Good News about Sex & Marriage” by Christopher West.
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