Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lord, Teach us to Pray (Part I)

The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you. (John 14:26)

The Catechism opens up the Scriptures to us. Read Scripture and the Catechism together daily!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Prayer in the Christian Life

What is Prayer?

2558 "Great is the mystery of the faith!" The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles' Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.

"For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy" (St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Manuscrits autobiographiques, C 25r).

Prayer as God's gift

 2559 "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God" (St. John Damascene, De fide orth. 3,24:PG 94,1089C). But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or "out of the depths" of a humble and contrite heart? (Ps 130:1) He who humbles himself will be exalted (Cf. Lk 18:9-14); humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that "we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26), are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. "Man is a beggar before God" (St. Augustine, Sermo 56,6,9:PL 38,381).

"The Woman at the Well"
2560 "If you knew the gift of God!" (Jn 4:10) The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God's desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him (Cf. St. Augustine, De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus 64,4:PL 40,56).

2561 "You would have asked him, and he would have given you living water" (Jn 4:10). Paradoxically our prayer of petition is a response to the plea of the living God: "They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water!" (Jer 2:13) Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God (Cf. Jn 7:37-39; 19:28; Isa 12:3; 51:1; Zech 12:10; 13:1).

Prayer as covenant

2562 Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.

2563 The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant. 

Jean-Francois Millet "The Angelus" 1857-59
2564 Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man. 

Prayer as communion

2565 In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is "the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity . . . with the whole human spirit" (St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio, 16,9:PG 35,945). Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ (Cf. Rom 6:5). Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ's love (Cf. Eph 3:18-21).

A Prayer for the New Evangelization

Lord Jesus Christ,
You have given your Church
the mission to proclaim the Gospel 
to all the nations.

May our efforts to fulfill this mission be guided by the Holy Spirit, so that we might be a leaven of new life, salt of the earth and a light of the world, worthy missionaries and faithful to You.

Make us valiant witnesses to the Faith of the Church, and inspire us to speak the truth with love. Help us to communicate to others 
the joy that we have received.

Permit us to be united, but not closed.
humble, but not fearful
simple, but not naïve
thoughtful, but not overbearing
contemporary, but not superficial
respectful of others, but boldly Your disciples.

May we bear into the world the hope of God, which is Christ the Lord,
who rose from the dead and lives and reigns with Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. ­Amen.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us!
St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, Pray for us!
St. Peter and St. Paul, Pray for us!
St. Thérèse, Patroness of Missionaries, Pray for us!

St Thomas Aquinas, Pray for us!

Friday, January 7, 2011

"The Great Commission" and the New Evangelization

"It is the duty of the Church to proclaim always and everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ." 
--Pope Benedict VXI, "Ubicumque et Semper"
"Christ's Appearance on the Mountain in Galilee"                    
Duccio di Buoningsegna 1308-11
On September 21, 2010, the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, Pope Benedict XVI issued motu proprio the document "Ubicumque et Semper"  ("Everywhere and Always"), formally decreeing the creation of a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, while also setting forth the Church's need for such a new council, and outlining its critical mission and tasks. 

As a careful and prayerful reading shows, this decree is not something akin to a presidential executive order, but rather represents the culmination and realization of what the professor and theologian Joseph Ratzinger has been teaching us for years on the nature and purpose of a new evangelization, both as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1981-2005) and, since April 24, 2005, as Pope Benedict XVI.
The document has as its foundation and center Christ's "Great Commission," given to the Apostles on the day of His Ascension to the Father, when He commanded them to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The Holy Father makes it clear that the "New Evangelization" is not in any way a new mission for the Church, but is in fact a call, a reminder from the Holy Spirit in our time, of the primary mission and purpose for which the Church was first founded by Christ, "the first and supreme evangelizer."  As the Pope explains, the mission of evangelization is clearly "a continuation of the work desired by the Lord Jesus," and is therefore "necessary for the Church: it cannot be overlooked; it is an expression of her very nature.”

When we study the text of the "Great Commission," as recorded in Matthew's Gospel account, what we see there is a carefully-constructed multi-part directive.  Perhaps not coincidentally, as the life of the Church is Trinitarian, the "Great Commission" itself may be distilled into three distinct but wholly-interdependent exhortations:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...
Convert all hearts to Christ. 

...baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...
 Gather the converted into Communion. (Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1271.)

...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Ensure Catechesis.  

In then placing the three exhortations side-by-side with Benedict's teachings on the new evangelization, both in previous writings and in the recent decree, we cannot help but see that Christ's commands are truly the heart and foundation of the Pope's teachings. 

On Conversion:
As the Pope explains in "Ubicumque et Semper," “As I stated in my first encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est': "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (No. 1). In a similar way, at the root of all evangelization there is not a human plan of expansion, but the desire to share the inestimable gift that God has willed to give us, making us sharers in his own life.” 

On Communion:
As Cardinal in 2000 ("Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers"), he offered that, “In proclaiming conversion we must also offer a community of life, a common space for the new style of life. We cannot evangelize with words alone; the Gospel creates life, creates communities of progress."   In "Ubicumque et Semper," Benedict XVI emphasizes the absolute necessity of re-establishing community in communion before we can begin to realize a New Evangelization: “Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed in all parts of the world. But for this to come about what is needed is to first remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself present in these countries and nations.”

On Catechesis:
Among the five specific tasks of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization as decreed by the Pope is “to promote the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as an essential and complete formulation of the content of the faith for the men of our time.”

As the Holy Father teaches us, the "Great Commission" of Christ to His Church stands as the foundation and model of everything the New Evangelization ought to and needs to be-- everywhere and always.