January 31, 2015

The Lord's Prayer and a New Solidarity for Humanity

Although rancor, contention and strife threaten our communities and households, it is not delusional to believe that enmity, alienation and futility are not the last words concerning all that is good, noble and true about humanity. This is as true for our cultures and societies as it is for each one of us individually.  Indeed, in the face of our broken sinful habits, the quiet murmuring of the Lord's prayer in the most forgotten alley in even the most heartless metropolis is a sign, like a flickering votive candle in a sanctuary, that misery is not limitless. Those words, "Our Father," even when they rattle out from trembling lips at life's final moment, declare an unvanquished hope that God Himself entrusted to the world.

The Lord's prayer is not a prayer we ever master by our own industry and cleverness. It is a gift from heaven we humbly learn from someone who has gone before us in the faith.  Just as the Father relies on Him for everything, the Word of the Father chose to rely on those who believed him to teach those who would come after them how to pray. He did this when He entrusted the first disciples with these holy words.  When he ascended into heaven, this prayer was part of the Good News He commanded them to go out and preach to the whole world.

In point of fact, what is taught in this prayer (our solidarity with the Father) and how it is taught (through solidarity with one another) safeguards the new solidarity Christ offers humanity through faith in Him. The Lord's prayer is passed on to each of us in the Church as a prayer uttered with Christ, in Christ and through Him. It is a prayer that the Risen Lord offers before the throne of the Father in the sanctuary of heaven itself and that animates His work in the world that continues even now.  It is the prayer that resounds from the very heart to the most extreme periphery of the Lord's Mystical Body, in the silence of the most secluded hermitage or forgotten hospice to the piercing cries of those tortured and publicly humiliated for His sake.

No one who utters this prayer with faith ever prays alone.  Whenever a Christian joins himself to Christ by faith and dares to utter these holy words, the Risen Lord animates this prayer with a love that is stronger than death. This love no power on the earth, or under it, can quench. It is a love that does not come from this world, but from the Father who is in heaven.  The divine love born on the words of this humble prayer binds the believer with every other believer, overcoming every form of alienation and enmity, establishing communion, giving birth to mission.

January 11, 2015

The Mystery of Christ's Baptism

To celebrate the Baptism of Christ is to participate in a salvific theophany. It is a surprising manifestation of hidden power.  The heavens are torn in a display of divine gentleness and piety. The Word that creates and sustains creation, enters into baptism to save. The mystery that brought forth the world is revealed as the mystery that the baptized existence of faith leads. Christ's baptism is the archetype of all Christian baptism, a saving mystery in which the mystery of Christian life is revealed.

The Eternal Word who transcends all time and space, and who as Alpha and Omega constantly fills every height and depth with eternal meaning, humbly embraces the limitations of our flesh in time and space, and desires to be plunged into the ambiguities of our existence.  He has entered into a world of relationships that He does not surmount but makes perfect by accepting and submitting Himself, leaving space for imperfect recognition and misunderstanding, but only to protect human dignity and freedom.  Into these earthly waters He obediently descends through the ministry of a reluctant prophet, not to be changed by them, but to purify and order them to heavenly things.

When He raises up from those waters that He sanctified, the Spirit of heaven descends, not in a display of overwhelming and sensational power, but with the surprising gentleness of a dove. The Love of Heaven is descending on earth through every baptism ever after, not only onto the fortunate soul that has said yes to this unfathomable grace, but through that soul onto the whole world.  All the such a soul needs to do for this to happen is to follow in the obedient footsteps of his crucified Master.  Every baptism is this beginning of creation, the birth of a new heaven and new earth in which the dignity and freedom of human existence is re-established in the God who is Love.

The voice of the Almighty echoes over this magnificence with exquisite tenderness. Not the voice of an angry deity impatient with a fallen world and not threatening to violently crush treacherous mankind in a display of hostility. It is not a voice of overbearing cultural and political power that is eager to put humanity under foot.  Instead, in a moment that is pregnant with hushed adoration, the Father voice rejoices in this revelation of His Son: the Word who sews obedience into the difficult uncertainties of life to make them holy, the only Begotten into whose eternal sonship we are plunged when we enter these same waters with faith, the promised One whose appearance surpasses the hopes and dreams of every prophet who has ever dared foretell and prepare for His coming. Up from these waters into which Divinity plunges itself, Humanity is implicated in the joy of the Father.