The παρρησία of the Apostles and Us

El Greco Pentecost

Parrhesia. Childlike boldness in praying to our heavenly Father. And fearless boldness in bearing witness to Christ before men.

Christian boldness springs from our conviction that God has spoken His Word of love in Christ. And we—obtuse and klutzy as we are—serve that Almighty Word.

Gamaliel the Wise counseled the Sanhedrin during the first Easter season: Leave these ‘apostles’ alone. If they act out of real obedience to God, then nothing will stop them anyway. If not, then their misplaced fervor will die out on its own.

So the Sanhedrin had the Apostles flogged and released, instead of jailing them pending execution. And St. Peter and Co. rejoiced—for having the opportunity to share in the sufferings of the crucified Word of God.

This parrhesia—our bold conviction that the Gospel of Christ is altogether true; that the man who fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish is the Anointed One—this “parrhesia” is one of our Holy Father Pope Francis’ favorite things.

Pope has used the word parrhesia over and over again in his teachings. And he has dedicated an entire section to the word parrhesia in his new exhortation to holiness. Let me quote the Holy Father:

Holiness is also parrhesía: it is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. To allow us to do this, Jesus himself comes and tells us once more, serenely yet firmly: “Do not be afraid.” …Parrhesía describes the freedom of a life open to God and to others…

Look at Jesus. His deep compassion reached out to others. It did not make him hesitant, timid or self-conscious, as often happens with us. Quite the opposite…

Parrhesía is a seal of the Spirit; it testifies to the authenticity of our preaching. It is a joyful assurance that leads us to glory in the Gospel we proclaim. It is an unshakeable trust in the faithful Witness who gives us the certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar… He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where men and women, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek an answer to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! He is fearless! (Gaudete et Exsultate 129-135)

Then the pope quotes himself, from the speech he gave as a Cardinal, right before the conclave elected him pope.

We know that Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts. We read that in Scripture. But maybe He wants to go out “to escape from our stale self-centeredness.”

Some people find the pope controversial. A lot of people don’t. Regardless of whether we find him controversial or not, we have to hear what he is saying here. We have to let the Vicar of Christ remind us about this fundamental aspect of Christianity: Every human being searches for the meaning of life. And we cannot live in the truth ourselves if we do not take the risks necessary to form relationships with other human beings searching for the meaning of life like we are.

Especially the ones we do not want to form relationships with, because they do not presume the same things that we do. Relating to them is hard. It requires the very hard work of sincere communication. Which we can’t do without working hard at understanding ourselves. Which will ultimately lead us to the point where we have to acknowledge: we are fundamentally just as weak and clueless as any confused child.

But God loves us anyway. That is the Gospel!

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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.

Parrhesia, Part Two

The Lord Jesus’ discourse about the apocalypse ends with this consoling sentence: “When the signs begin to happen—” that is: tumult, terror, people dying of fright—when this happens, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”

No panicking. No violence. God is greater. Christ has conquered; what is there to fear?

thanksgiving-BeverlyHillbilliesThe promises of Christ can offer us the serenity required to give faithful testimony. “I myself will give you wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

Not sure if he means conversational adversaries across a Thanksgiving-dinner table. But He might mean that.

Our Holy Father put it to us like this, one of the times when he used the word parrhesia—plain-spoken boldness:

The richer the heritage which you are called to share with parrhesia, the more eloquent should be the humility with which you offer it.

The witness to Christ possesses the richest heritage of all, the heritage of God’s Incarnation. This produces a serenity which is more truly militant than any kind of aggression. Humility conquers. Humility means: I stand on a truth that even World War III could not disturb: Christ.

Luke 21: Crises are for Parrhesia

Holy Father at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, Sept. 23
Holy Father at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, Sept. 23

Christ has given us more spiritual benefits than we can reckon. One of them, certainly, is: That He has spoken calmly and reasonably with us about the end of our lives and the end of the world.

He foresaw that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed, and it was. He foresaw that there will be wars and insurrections, nation against nation—there have been, and there continue to be. He foresaw that there will be earthquakes, famines, plagues, frightening portents in the sky—there have been, and there will continue to be.

But He insists: Remain calm through all of this. None of these events will prove ultimately decisive for you. “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” Crises will arrive, but they come for a reason. So that you may testify.

When Pope Francis came to visit us here in the US, he used a Greek word: parrhesia. He had used it before, and he will likely use it again. The word appears in the New Testament quite a few times (41 times, if you include verbs and adverbial phrases).

Parrhesia means bold speech declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostles faced crises, wars, persecutions, certain death. They gave their testimony: God is greater. Jesus Christ has conquered.

More on this tomorrow.