Today, I did my weekly preaching in the parish and preached on the Gospel (for those concerned about liturgy, fear not! I do it before the sign of the Cross, thus outside the bounds of the liturgy, a place and time anyone can say anything 🙂 ).
I decided, first, to approach it differently. Instead of focusing on the whole text, I focused on a little. Instead of writing it out, I sat with the text a lot, I wrote down a couple points I may wish to say, and attempted to preach from the heart. All in all, I will say, it was a successful strategy.
It began with the statement that “as the hour approached for Him to pass from this world to the Father.” This “Hour” is the time of His atonement, it is the fulfilling of the will of His Father. He fulfills this will by passing from the world to the Father. The way by which He passes is the Cross.
We too can enter into Christ’s hour. If the hour is to fulfill the will of the Father, then it is our duty to seek out His will and participate in Christ’s hour. We do so by seeking out the Cross in our lives, for it is the Cross that is a gift to us and aids us in being saved and bringing salvation to others. Jesus says in Luke 9:23 “Unless you take up your Cross daily and deny yourself, you cannot be my disciple.” But what is the Cross we are called to carry, how do we seek it out?
The next part of the opening verse gives us a hint: “Jesus looked up to heaven and said.” Does it mean that Jesus looked up with His head? No. It is something deeper than that. He resides in the heart of the Father, and the Father resides in the heart of Jesus. The heart is where they give themselves to each other in an intimate dialogue of love. So, Jesus looked into His heart. It is the “Room” He speaks about where we are to go to speak to our Father in secret. Yes, we can go to places which are private, but the most private, intimate room we have is our heart, where we can speak to the Father in the intimacy that only He can know.
Now, how do we pray? If we pray in our hearts, if it is the place of communion between us and the Father, what do we do next? The rest of today’s Gospel gives us a hint. Jesus uses words in the imperative: Make them, sanctify them. He is asking, but it is an asking that tells: Do this. Do we do this in prayer? Do we involve our will in prayer, or do we simply rattle off the words necessary? When you start paying attention to prayer, you start noticing that, in fact, prayer expresses itself in demands. St Paul says in one of his letters that God is always faithful, even if we are unfaithful, for He cannot deny Himself. God gives us Himself in a covenant and to refuse the “terms” of the covenant is to refuse Himself. God will not do that. He has made a promise, He will keep it.
If you begin listening to prayers of the Mass: the Collects, the Our Father, the Confiteor, the Eucharistic Prayers, etc., you will notice that there is a demanding tone to the prayers. Father, send forth your Spirit, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil. Just as a child has a boldness in demanding what it needs, so are we to be bold when approaching our Father in Heaven as His children. And we must remember: this is how Jesus prayed. In fact, this is how all of Scripture prays!
This means, ultimately, using our will in our prayers. The will is the place where the act of faith happens. We cannot say “I believe” unless we involve the “I”. Sure, we can say the words, but they are not coming from the will, from our hearts, and thus have no effect in our lives. Plus, in this case, prayer becomes dry, boring, and burdensome, whether spontaneous or formal. We must involve our heart in prayer. When we do, it becomes effective in our lives because we are using the will that God has graced with His redemptive love. Our will has been sanctified, but for too many of us, we let it sit there, motionless, uninvolved. When we begin to use the will, things change. I recall one priest saying that in prayer we do not say “God, look how big my sins are” but rather “sins, look how big my God is!” Do we believe? If we do, God will work in our lives. This is not pelagianism, because it is not our work: God’s grace is always primary. But we must cooperate with it, we must answer the call of grace in our lives. To do so means to involve our I, to wake it from it’s sleep, and to bring it into the “I” of Christ.
So, let’s start to use our will in prayer. It is only this way that we can give ourselves to God, when we actually involve our whole self, and that includes the will. This makes prayer come alive because we are finally starting the life God wishes us to live, we are finally answering to His call, we are finally living in the life of grace.