O God, be merciful to me a sinner - Lk 18:13
Today’s Gospel gives us part of the beautiful ‘Jesus Prayer’. The Jesus Prayer is said typically like this, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is the most common prayer amongst Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics. The best book to learn about this prayer is the “Way of A Pilgrim” by an anonymous Russian author. This is on my list of top ten books. I always enjoy another tour through one man’s journey to find the answer to the command to ‘pray always’.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” St. Paul, teach us how to pray! How we need these words. So often we get caught in a whirlwind of problems and seek solutions without beseeching God for answers. Then when we suffer trials we interpret them as a curse, even from God. But Paul knows that God has authority over every detail of our lives, even the evil that may occur, not because He positively wills it, but by allowance - He foresees a greater good that will come of it.
Our Catholic Catechism reminds us of this truth in Article 412:
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "There is nothing to prevent human nature's being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. Thus St. Paul says, 'Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more'; and the Exultet sings, 'O happy fault, . . . which gained for us so great a Redeemer!'"
As far as injustice goes, the greatest injustice to occur in human history was that the Son of God should be condemned and put to a cruel death. And yet we say that is the greatest thing that ever happened to humanity. We call the day ‘Good Friday’ for that reason.
As our Gospel last week emphasized, let us not give up on prayer, especially when times are difficult. The Jesus Prayer is a perfect one for every occasion. St. Symeon the New Theologian, a Byzantine monk (circa 1000AD), advises us to visualize our heart as we pray - to realize Jesus’ Divine Presence there. Then we add the advice of St. Gregory of Sinai, that the Pilgrim writes about, “…while looking into the heart and inhaling I said, ‘Lord Jesus Christ,’ and while exhaling, ‘have mercy on me.’ ” The Pilgrim begins with reciting the prayer for an hour or two, but then expands the recitation throughout the day. We who are busy have to start small. Can you begin with 10 Jesus Prayers? Or one minute? Or five minutes? I preached on this once and a friend came up to me after the homily and said the Jesus Prayer gave him great peace during my homily! Jesus spoke to him better than I could. Try the Jesus Prayer, you won’t be disappointed.
Our venture into Gallup’s Strengths Finder and Engaged Church has led us to the question, “What is expected of me as a parishioner at St. Stephen the Martyr?” I thought of the Catholic Precepts, the minimal things that are expected of us as Catholics as a model to begin with. You may have learned these years ago, but we haven’t heard them mentioned so often. They remain obligations for us, so they are worth repeating and plumbing the depth of each one. Briefly, I will name the first, and start a series that will develop what it means to be a parishioner at St. Stephens, along with our goal to be an ‘Engaged Church’. Our recent Gallup survey found that we were 26% engaged, which is better than the national average (18%), but not yet at the threshold where engagement becomes the cultural determinant (37%). Hopefully we can continue to grow more involved, participating in the very life of the Trinity through the parish.
First Precept of the Church: To attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, and to rest from servile works.
Mass is at the heart of Christian life. The Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium said that, “…the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” The summit is the pinnacle that we strive for, which for Christians is a life that lasts forever in communion with Christ. Jesus said in John 6:54 that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Notice he says ‘has’, not ‘will have’, but ‘has’, already now when we receive the loving host on our tongue.
Daria Spezzano gave a beautiful retreat for our liturgical ministers last week and quoted St. John Chrysostom as saying, “For as when gold is being molten if one should (were it possible) dip in it his hand or his tongue, he would immediately render them golden; thus, but in much greater degree, does what here is set forth work upon the soul.” Eternal life is imparted through Holy Communion to the soul, transforming it into a union with the Divine Presence. How can we forsake this gift on Sunday, and for what? A football game? A picnic? To wash my car? Sad. This is known to be the primary way Catholics fall away from the faith. It begins with one Sunday missed. Let us make Sunday the summit of our week; God has.
(St. John Chrysostom: Homily 46 on the Gospel of John http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/240146.htm #4)
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