John 17, the Coin

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

John 17 has two names. 1. The Priestly Prayer of Jesus. 2. The Prayer of the Hour of Jesus.

Both names ultimately mean the same thing. In Christ’s “Hour,” Judas betrayed Him, like Adam and Eve and all us sinners betrayed Him. Jesus answered this betrayal with His sacrifice. He offered Himself with perfect justice and infinite love, for the salvation of His betrayers.

Christ’s prayer in John 17 reveals that His death involved not just an injustice, not just the wrongful execution of an innocent man. The Priestly Prayer reveals that Jesus’ death was no ‘tragedy.’ Christ took up the cross to make a thoroughly deliberate, wise, and all-knowing religious sacrifice. It was the sacrifice of His divine love: He offered Himself with perfect love to the Father, out of perfect love for us.

Christ’s prayer in John 17 reveals that the Crucified Lamb is the Creator and the Pantocrator, the ruler of everything. We can know Almighty God, and understand His many works, in only one way: By looking at a crucifix.

And this sacrifice, the true Passover sacrifice, is eternal. It happened at one point in time, to be sure, just as Jesus used a particular language and particular words to pray the prayer recorded in John 17. In that particular hour and using those particular words, however, the eternal, omnipotent Love–the unfathomable power that governs everything–revealed Himself.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurchJesus’ prayer to the Father, “Consecrate them in truth,” is not one human statement among many. It is not just one audio blip in the endless noise made by fallen man on this earth. It is not just a “tweet” by a Nazarene carpenter.

Consecrate them in truth is the eternal, unchanging divine will. It expresses the groaning of the eternal Spirit in the Heart of Christ, the inexpressible groaning that moved Christ to utter His every word and do His every deed.

The Catechism has six mind-blowingly profound paragraphs on John 17—article 3 of chapter 3 of Part IV. It all may seem way above our pay-grade—until we realize that John 17 and the Our Father are like two sides of the same coin.

The ‘heads’—John 17—belongs to Christ, the Head of the Body. The ‘tails’ is our dearest of all friends, the Our Father. Whenever we celebrate Holy Mass, we have the whole coin.

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More Hebrews 2 + Our-Father Question

He is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:18)

Every day we beg our heavenly Father, “lead us not into temptation.” Thoughtful Christians rightly wonder sometimes about this petition. Would our good God lead us toward evil? This prayer doesn’t really make sense!

dog-cuffsThe problem here comes from translating Greek into English. To us, “lead” sounds like what a dog-owner does when taking Fido out for a walk. Fido prays, “Don’t lead me down the street with the mean Doberman! Lead me to the fire hydrants instead.”

But the Greek doesn’t imply this. It implies that God possesses the power both to protect us from temptation and to help us resist it when it comes.  God Himself wills no evil and tempts no one. He has made nothing that is evil in itself. In fact, within ourselves, in the depths of our souls, He has endowed us with powers of goodness that we don’t even know about yet.

That’s why our pilgrim lives involve ‘tests.’ If instinct alone guided us, we wouldn’t confront any tests. We would just chase squirrels and never become any better or worse.

But we have more than instincts inside us to guide us. We have the power to discern. We can strive and struggle to overcome every destructive impulse, and thereby blossom as the good people God made us to be.

Temptations come because we are actually better than we think we are. With God’s help, we can resist, and that brings out the hidden good person within. Being tempted is not a sin; the sin is to give in.

So let’s fight. Let’s hold our tongues instead of carping and gossiping. Let’s try to see the good in others, instead of judging them harshly. Let’s possess ourselves in patience, instead of flying off the handle. Let’s exercise our bodies and minds in prayer and wholesome enterprises, instead of letting ourselves grow dim-witted and lazy.

Yes, our pilgrim lives involves tests. We must pray daily for the grace both to avoid them, if it’s best for us to avoid them, or endure them, if it’s best for us to fight and win.

With God’s help we can pass the tests we have to take. We can earn A’s. Because “He is able to help those who are being tested.”

The παρρησία of Abraham and Christ

Church of Pater Noster Our Father Jerusalem
The Church of the Pater Noster on the Mount of Olives

Abraham negotiated with the Judge of the world.  About the possible innocent souls in Sodom and Gomorrah.  In the course of these negotiations, when Abraham had worked the Lord’s cut-off number from fifty down to twenty, Abraham acknowledged, “I have dared speak to my Lord thus.” [Click para leer en español.]

He dared.

Some people grow up scared of their fathers, afraid to ask anything, for fear of bad repercussions.  And some people grow up counting on both parents for understanding and compassion in every possible circumstance.  Abraham had begun to learn that pure prayer to God Almighty involves more childlike confidence than fear.

Ready for some Greek?  I wouldn’t put you through this, but Pope Francis throws this particular Greek word around fairly often.  It appears in the New Testament 41 times.  And it’s in the Catechism.  So we need to know it.

Parrhesia.  Childlike openness, frankness, confidence and boldness.  Speaking with the knowledge that the listener will understand and indulge you.  That the listener loves you.

When you pray, say “Father.”  Father.  In other words, speak with parrhesia.  The disciples had asked the Lord Jesus, “How do we pray?”  When you pray, children, say ‘Father.’  Dare to say, “Father.”

El Greco Christ in PrayerAfter all, Christ revealed in His own prayers and speech what parrhesia is:

“Father, I give You praise, because what You have hidden from the wise and the learned, You have revealed to the merest children.”

“Father, take this chalice from Me.  But not My will, but Yours, be done.”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”

“Father, I pray that they might be one, that I might live in them as You live in Me, and that their joy might be complete.”

“Father consecrate them in truth.”

The incarnate Son spoke to the heavenly Father with consummate parrhesia.  Christ always took for granted the great truth:  the Father knows all, understands all, guides all toward the true good.  “The birds of the air and the flowers of the field neither toil nor spin, yet your Father in heaven provides for them.”

St. Paul expresses what parrhesia means like this:  “Christ pours His Spirit into our hearts, and we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’”

The Roman Catechism of Pope St. Pius V explains:  We call God Father, with the bold confidence of beloved children, because:

  1. He made us out of nothing in His own image and likeness.
  2. He unfailingly provides for our needs by exercising His tender providence.
  3. He redeemed us from the condemnation we deserved through His Son’s perfect sacrifice, and He pours out heavenly grace through the ministry of the Church.

In other words, Almighty God has shown Himself to be the very compassionate, gentle, understanding, and indulgent Father that Abraham boldly talked down from wrath to mercy.  He has shown Himself to be the Father Who patiently waits for our repentance, longs for our reconciliation, forgets our iniquities, forgives the injuries we have done Him, and grants us an altogether fresh start in Christ.

All this makes parrhesia part of our lives in another way, also.  In prayer we speak to the Father with the boldness of beloved children. We also speak with the parrhesia of beloved children before the world, when we speak about the Father.  We exercise parrhesia in prayer and in evangelization.

Not two parrhesias, but one.  Because we know how generous and trustworthy God is, we have nothing to fear from this world.  No matter what we might see on CNN.  No matter what fears our beloved politicians try to stir up in us.  Through it all, we stride forward in confidence to fulfill our mission to make the Good News of the good heavenly Father known.

mac and cheeseChildren don’t imagine that they have to know how a car works.  They just say, “Daddy, can you drive me to the park?”  They don’t imagine that they must understand the chemistry of cooking.  They just say, “Mommy, can you make me some macaroni and cheese?”

Our heavenly Father does not require us to strategize extensively about how to gain souls for His kingdom through artful persuasion and clever tactics.  He can devise tactics a million times more cleverly than we can.  Our role is:  to bear witness.  To offer confident, childlike testimony, wherever and whenever we can.

Testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  That God is the loving and kind Father of the whole human race.  That He rules His kingdom of justice and peace with an open Heart.  That the Holy Mass contains all the riches and wisdom of God.  That the Church is a real family, to which everyone can belong.

Heavenly Father, we boldly ask You lovingly to give us boldness.  We securely petition You for confidence and serenity in prayer, and in all our interactions in this world.  We know that You know what we need before we ask You, and that You grant liberally all that we ask in the name of Your Son.  So we trustingly ask You in the name of Jesus to give us the grace of His unfailing, rock-solid trust in You.

Deliverance from the Test

Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.
(Luke 11:2-4)

The Lord gave us our main prayer. The prayer that expresses our faith perfectly, expresses our religion perfectly, and which asks for precisely what we need—everything that we truly do need, and nothing that we don’t.

We need daily bread, we need forgiveness for our offenses, and we need deliverance.

Now, the Lord rarely allows demons to possess people, so it’s not that kind of deliverance necessarily. The way St. Luke put down the prayer helps us to understand the final petition, I think. Let’s look at it like this:

What lies before us is a way, a path. We cannot stand still, here in the middle of the forest, and we cannot go back the way we came. Life is a path which winds through the marvelous realm of God, the domain He has established with His infinite creativity. The pathway of humble, dutiful love leads to peace and happiness.

Saint LukeGod made free creatures who make our way through the realm by exercising our capacity to choose good and avoid evil. Some free creatures have not chosen the right path, including purely spiritual creatures much more powerful than ourselves. So there is an awful lot of evil in the forest. And the evil, though it can appear to us haphazard and chaotic, actually operates under the tutelage of an ingenious captain.

Our First Parents faced a test of choosing humble, dutiful love over shiny, appetizing pleasure. The Devil made evil look very, very good to them. They did not persevere, our original parents; they did not endure; they did not hold fast to the invisible Creator. Rather, they took; they grabbed; they consumed: They consumed a poison that looked like utter, complete, and total deliciousness.

We pray, then, that God will spare us such a difficult test. We do not want to face Satan alone. We pray that the Lord will keep us close to the bosom of His Church—so that our friends, though they may not be exactly perfect, will not be great tempters or temptresses. We pray that the Lord will fill our lives with simple and wholesome pleasures—pleasures which we will be able to renounce if and when we ever have to, because of our duties.

In other words, we pray like schoolchildren that the teacher will give us tests that are not too hard. That way, we will succeed, in spite of our highly limited competence in fighting off the devil.

Onomatopœia: Battalogein

In praying, do not babble like the pagans. (Matthew 6:7)

Do not prattle. Do not prate. Do not babble. Do not vainly repeat. The heavenly Father has infinite patience. But don’t press your luck.

Rosary PrayersThe Greek word in the gospel here—which, apparently, arose from a Hebrew word for vanity—sounds just like what it means. When you pray, do not battalogesete. Logos, of course, means…word. Do not batta the Lord with words. “Babble” seems like the perfect English equivalent, since it has the same onomatopoeia to it.

Do not battalogesete the Lord. Because He knows what we need before we ask Him. He knows what we need much better than we do.

So: Before I ask Him to conform His will to mine, let me pray for the grace humbly to conform my will to His. Before I tell Him what I imagine the earth ought to be like, let me pray that it be more like His unimaginably wonderful heaven.

Before I tell Him what’s supposed to happen tomorrow, let me beg Him for what I need today. Before I tell Him how to change somebody else, let me pray for the grace to change myself for the better.

Now, people accuse us of violating the divine precept against battalogesete-ing the Lord by reciting the Holy Rosary. I, for one, can hardly imagine a more baseless, even ironic, charge.

Our Fathers, punctuated by begging our Lady ten times to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deaths. Does not sound vain to me. Sounds pretty close to exactly what we should say.

So let’s let the experts and geniuses try to come up with some better way to pray. In the meantime, let’s keep praying daily for our bread and begging for mercy and Our Lady’s help as many times a day as we can manage.

Our Father Faith and Morals

The Lord Jesus teaches and guides our prayer. Who would ever want to pray in any other way than in the way of Christ?

Having Jesus Christ for a spiritual father, in fact, actually guides us in every aspect of faith and morals.

Let’s start here: I want to pray as this man taught, saying the prayer He taught His followers to say.

El Greco Christ blessing croppedTherefore, I must believe everything that a person needs to believe in order to say the Our Father sincerely.

Namely: That God loves the whole human race with a Father’s love. That He wills a heavenly kingdom. That He provides in every way. That He forgives, and shows me how to forgive and start fresh. That He has the power to free me from everything evil.

I want to pray the prayer taught by Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, I must live as someone who cay say this prayer sincerely.

Namely: That I want, above all, to do God’s will. I want to obey Him. I want to bless and glorify His holiness and beauty forever. I want to receive His gifts with love. I acknowledge that I am not sinless, that He alone is good. I have no hope but His loving mercy. I deserve death, but He lovingly gives me life everlasting instead. Because I am a sinner who relies totally on God’s forgiveness, I quickly forget about it when other people wrong me. All I want is that we all be together in heaven when everything is said and done. And we will get there together by co-operating with the great plan of the Father.

This is how you are to pray…

Thank you, Lord. The one thing I want in life is to pray as you teach. If anyone ever knew what they were talking about, it is You. I may be a miserable fool, but I know this much: one thing worth doing is to say the Our Father sincerely.

By teaching us this prayer, Lord, and by guiding us every time we say it, You have given us everything.

Eggs, Scorpions, Stones

When Queen Esther prayed, she addressed the God of…

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Somebody very special taught us to call this same God, “Our Father.”

My dad liked eggs. On weekends, he liked to cook breakfast.

“Dad, scramble me a coupla eggs, please.”

“Sure, son.”

Then he hands me a plate with a live Palestine yellow scorpion on it, which proceeds to sting me and put me into a coma.

No. Not likely.

Maybe sometimes we pray and beg and plead, and, instead of the nice loaf of bread for which we hoped, the next day brings something that looks like an un-chewable stone.

“Lord, I asked for the promotion, and prayed to my heavenly Father. Then the boss walked in and gave me more work, no raise, and a lot of grief. How am I supposed to chew this particular piece of bread, O Provident One?”

The Son of God says:

Trusting means chewing what’s on the plate. It may look like a serpent; it may look like a stone; it may look like a disgusting plate full of brussels sprouts or boiled okra. In fact, it is nutritious and even delicious. Once we chew and digest what the heavenly Father serves up, we grow stronger and healthier.

Lord, send us Your Spirit. And then we will be able to handle whatever comes.

…PS. Speaking of fathers, don’t forget that March belongs to St. Joseph!

Small Jonah, Big God

Today at Mass we read the conclusion of the prophet Jonah’s adventure. The Lord had ordered him to go to Nineveh, to call the huge city to repentance.

But like his Hebrew brethren, Jonah hated the Ninevites, because they were godless pagans. So Jonah did not go east as commanded, but booked passage on a boat heading in the opposite direction.

God, however, holds the cards. A storm arose. The other men on the boat feared for their lives. They discovered that Jonah was to blame. Begging the Lord’s mercy, the sailors cast Jonah overboard in order to save the ship. A whale swallowed him, and then spat him back up on dry land.

Jonah begrudgingly went to Nineveh and preached repentance. The prophet had been angry about the whole business from the beginning, but what happened next made him even angrier than he was before: The people of Nineveh promptly repented and begged God for mercy. Even the cows were dressed in sackcloth to show the Lord that the whole city, from the king on down—everyone was sorry for their sins.

So God spared the Ninevites, and did not carry out his wrathful punishment.

This really burned Jonah to the quick.

So: Jonah, even though he was a consecrated prophet of God, carried on like an unreasonable, petulant, demanding child from beginning to end. Somehow the Lord managed to turn his mission into an enormous success anyway.

Often, when the disciples would ask the Lord Jesus a question, He would not give an immediate, straightforward answer. This was because many of the disciples’ questions proceeded from their obtuse incomprehension of basic facts.

But when they said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus was pleased. They were acknowledging that they did not know about the most important thing. What could be more important than prayer? And yet, left to our own devices, we will make a mess of it.

Lord, teach us to pray. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Forgive us our petulant, unreasonable, self-indulgent sins. Spare us from the really difficult trials, because we are too weak to handle them. We can barely handle easy trials.

We trust that you know how to make the big things work out. Please just keep us fed, and we will do our best with the little things.