Beautiful Teaching From B16’s Wednesday Catechesis on Prayer & St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

Dear brothers and sisters,

Our prayer is made up, as we have seen over the past Wednesdays, of silences and words, of song and gesture involving the whole person: from the mouth to the mind, from the heart to the whole body. It is a characteristic we find in Jewish prayer, especially in the Psalms. Today I would like to speak about one of the Christian tradition’s most ancient songs and hymns, which St. Paul puts before us in what, in a certain sense, is his spiritual testament: The Letter to the Philippians. It is, in fact, a letter that the Apostle dictated while in prison, perhaps in Rome. He feels death approaching, for he states that his life will be offered as a libation (cf. Philippians2:17).

Despite this situation of grave danger to his physical safety, throughout the entire text St. Paul expresses joy in being a disciple of Christ, in being able to go to meet Him, so much so that he sees death not as loss but as gain. In the Letter’s final chapter, there is a forceful invitation to joy, a fundamental characteristic of being Christian and of our prayer. St. Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). But how can one rejoice in the face of an already imminent death sentence? Whence, or better, from whom does St. Paul draw the serenity, the strength and the courage to meet martyrdom and the shedding of his blood?

We find the answer at the heart of the Letter to the Philippians, in what the Christian tradition calls carmen Christo, the hymn for Christ, or more commonly, the “Christological hymn”; a hymn in which all attention is centered upon the “sentiments” of Christ; that is, on his way of thinking and on his concrete and lived attitude. This prayer begins with an exhortation: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). These sentiments are presented in the verses that follow: love, generosity, humility, obedience to God, the gift of self.  It is not only and not simply a matter of following Jesus’ example, as something moral, but of involving the whole of one’s existence in his way of thinking and acting. Prayer must lead to an ever more profound knowledge and loving union with the Lord, in order to think, to act and to love like Him, in Him and for Him. To practice this, to learn the mind of Christ, is the way of Christian life.

Now I would like to consider briefly some of the elements of this dense hymn, which summarizes the entire divine and human itinerary of the Son of God and encompasses the whole of human history: from being in the condition of God, to the Incarnation, to death on the cross and to exaltation in the glory of the Father, the conduct of Adam and of man from the beginning is also implied. This hymn to Christ commences with his being “en morphe tou Theou”, the Greek text says; that is, from being “in the form of God” or better still, in the condition of God. Jesus, true God and true man, does not live out his “being like God” in order to prevail and to impose his supremacy; he does not look upon it as a possession, a privilege, or a treasure to be jealously guarded. Indeed, “he strips himself”, he empties himself — assuming, the Greek text reads, “morphe doulos”, the “form of a slave”, the human reality marked by suffering, poverty and death; he likened himself fully to men, except in sin, so as to act as a servant dedicated to the service of others. In his regard, the 4th century Eusebius of Cesarea states: “He took upon himself the hardships of the members who suffer. He made our humble maladies his own. He suffered and toiled for our sake: this, in conformity with his great love for humanity” (The Evangelical Demonstration, 10,1,22).

St. Paul continues on by outlining the “historical” framework wherein Jesus’ self-abasement was realized: “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8). The Son of God truly became man and walked a path of complete obedience and fidelity to the Father’s will, even to the supreme sacrifice of his life. Still more, as the Apostle specifies, “unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). On the cross, Jesus Christ reached the greatest level of humiliation, since crucifixion was the punishment reserved for slaves and not for those who were free: “mors turpissima crucis” — [most shameful death of the cross], writes Cicero (cf. In Verrem, V, 64, 165).

In the Cross of Christ, man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is reversed: Adam, created in the image and likeness of God, sought to be like God by his own strength, to put himself in God’s place, and thus did he lose the original dignity given him. Jesus, instead, was “in the condition of God”, but he humbled himself, he immersed himself in the human condition in total fidelity to the Father, in order to redeem the Adam within us and to restore to man the dignity he had lost. The Fathers emphasize that He became obedient, thus restoring to human nature, through his humanity and obedience, what had been lost through Adam’s disobedience.

In prayer, in our relationship with God, we open our minds, hearts and wills to the action of the Holy Spirit in order to enter into this same dynamic of life. As St. Cyril of Alexandria affirms, whose feast we celebrate today: “The work of the Spirit seeks to transform us by means of grace into the perfect copy of his humiliation” (Festal Letter 10, 4). Human logic, instead, often looks for self-realization through power, domination, and powerful means. Man continues to want to construct the tower of Babel by his own power, in order to reach the heights of God unaided, to be like God. The Incarnation and the Cross remind us that full realization resides in conforming one’s human will to the Father’s, in being emptied of egoism in order to be filled with love, with the charity of God, and thus to become truly capable of loving others. Man does not find himself by remaining closed in within himself, by affirming himself. Man finds himself only by going out of himself; we only find ourselves if we go out of ourselves. And if Adam wanted to imitate God, this in itself was not bad, but he erred in his idea about God. God is not one who wills only greatness. God is love, who gives himself first in the Trinity, and then in creation. And to imitate God means going out of oneself; it means giving oneself in love.

In the second part of this “Christological hymn” contained in the Letter to the Philippians, the subject changes; no longer is it Christ, but rather God the Father. St. Paul emphasizes that it is precisely on account of his obedience to the will of the Father that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). He who humbled himself profoundly by taking on the condition of a slave is highly exalted; he is raised above all things by the Father, who bestows on him the name “Kyrios”, “Lord”, i.e. supreme dignity and lordship. Before this new name, in fact, which is the very name of God in the Old Testament, “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’, to the glory of God the Father” (Verses 10-11).

The Jesus who is exalted is he who was present at the Last Supper, who lays aside his garments, girds himself with a towel, bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and asks them: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:12-14). This is always important to remember in our prayer and in our lives: “The ascent to God occurs precisely in the descent of humble service, in the descent of love, for love is God’s essence, and is thus the power that truly purifies man and enables him to perceive God and to see him” (Jesus of Nazareth, New York 2007, p.95).

The hymn from the Letter to the Philippians here offers us two important lessons for our prayer. The first is in the invocation “Lord” addressed to Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father: He is the only Lord of our lives, amid the many “rulers” who want to direct and guide them. For this reason, it is necessary to have a scale of values in which primacy is given to God, so that with St. Paul we affirm: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Encountering the Risen One made him understand that He is the only treasure for which it is worth spending one’s entire life.

The second lesson is the prostration, the “bending of every knee” in heaven and on earth that recalls an expression of the Prophet Isaiah, where he points to the adoration that every creature owes to God (cf. 45:23). Genuflection before the Most Blessed Sacrament or falling to ones knees in prayer expresses precisely this attitude of adoration before God, also with the body. Hence the importance of making this gesture not through force of habit or hastily, but with deep awareness. When we kneel before the Lord we confess our faith in Him, we acknowledge that He is the only Lord of our lives.

Dear brothers and sisters, in our prayer let us fix our gaze on the Crucified; let us remain in adoration more often before the Eucharist so as to allow our lives to enter into the love of God, who humbly condescended in order to raise us to himself. At the beginning of this catechesis, we asked ourselves how St. Paul could rejoice in the face of his imminent martyrdom and the shedding of his blood. This was possible only because the Apostle never removed his gaze from Christ, to the point of being conformed to him even in death, “in the hope of attaining the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:11). Like St. Francis before the Crucifix, let us also say: “Oh most High and glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart. Give me a right faith, certain hope and perfect charity, judgment and knowledge that I may carry out your true and holy will. Amen. (cf. Prayer before the Crucifix: FF [276]).

How The Kingdom Of God Works

This is how the Kingdom of God is: a reality that is small on a human scale, made up of those who are poor in their hearts, those who do not rely on their own strength, but that of the love of God; it is made up of those who are not important in the world’s eyes. But it is precisely through such as these that Christ’s power shows forth and transforms what is apparently insignificant. Pope Benedict XVI

I Said A Prayer For You Today

Today while tidying up my office I stumbled across this prayer card which had the prayer below. I hope it can give some weary soul a bit of encouragement.

I said a prayer for you today
And know God must have heard.
I felt the answer in my heart
Although He spoke no word!

I didn’t ask for wealth or fame
(I knew you wouldn’t mind).
I asked him to send treasures
Of a far more lasting kind!

I asked that He be near you
At the start of each new day;
To grant you health and blessings
And friends to share your way!

I asked for happiness for you
In all things great and small.
But it was for His loving care
I prayed the most of all!

The Pope Encourages Earthquake Victims and Stands On The Word of God

I just read the Pope’s address to the victims of the earthquakes earlier in Northern Italy.

He draws specifically upon a Psalm which reflect our need to trust in God’s faithfulness, especially in the midst of tragedy. I can totally relate to how a Psalm you grow familiar with takes on a whole new meaning and how you can never be a “Scriptural-Know-It-All” precisely because God’s Word is alive and active. When the Inspired Word of God is read by an “inspired” reader great strength and encouragement shines forth in the most difficult challenges of life. This is precisely the reason the Holy Father has asked Catholics to set aside time daily for Scriptural reading. We have so many fears, concerns, and challenges to face each day.

Let’s get into the Word of God and allow it to transform our lives. You won’t ever be disappointed if you pray for an understanding heart and approach God’s Word with an expectant faith.

Below is the address of his encouraging speech. We pray for all victims of earthquakes and natural disasters especially for those in Colorado with the terrible wildfires and those in Florida trying to survive the tropical depression, Debby.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Thank you for your welcome!

From the first days of the earthquake that struck you, I have always been close to you with my prayer and concern. However, when I saw that the tests became even harder, I felt ever more intensely the need to come in person among you. And I thank the Lord who has granted this to me!

With great affection I am now with you, gathered here, and I embrace with my mind and heart all the regions, all the peoples who have suffered damages from the quake, especially the families and communities that mourn the deceased: may the Lord receive them in his peace. I would have liked to visit all the communities, to make myself present in a personal and concrete way, but you know well how difficult it would have been. At this moment, however, I would like everyone, in every region, to feel how the Pope’s heart is close to your heart to console you, but above all to encourage and support you. I greet the Lord Minister Representative of the Government, the Head of the Department of Civil Protection, and the Honorable Vasco Errani, President of the Emilia-Romagna Region, to whom I give my heartfelt thanks for the words he addressed to me in the name of the institutions and of the civil community. I wish to thank, then, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, for the affectionate expressions he addressed to me, and from which emerges the strength of your hearts, which did not break, but are profoundly united in faith and in hope. I greet and thank brother bishops and priests, the representatives of the different religious and social realities, the Forces of Order, the volunteers: it is important to offer a concrete testimony of solidarity and unity. I am grateful for this great testimony, above all of the volunteers!

As I was saying to you, I felt the need to come among you, even if for a brief moment. Also when I was in Milan, at the beginning of this month for the World Meeting of Families, I would have liked to come to visit you, and my thought often went to you. I knew in fact that, in addition to suffering the material consequences, you were tested in spirit, by the protraction of the shocks, also strong, as well as by the loss of some symbolical buildings of your regions, and among these, particularly, so many churches. Here at Rovereto di Novi, in the collapse of the church, which I have just seen, Father Ivan Martini lost his life. Rendering homage to his memory, I address a particular greeting to you, dear priests, and to all brothers, who are demonstrating, as has already happened in other difficult hours of the history of these lands, your generous love for the people of God.

As you know, we priests – but also the Religious and not a few laymen – pray every day with the so-called “Breviary” which contains the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church which spans the day. We pray with the Psalms, according to an order which is the same for the whole Catholic Church, throughout the world. Why do I say this to you? Because in these days, while praying Psalm 46, I found this expression which touched me: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2-3).

How many times have I read these words? Innumerable times! I have been a priest for 61 years! And yet at certain moments, such as this one, they strike me intensely, because they touch on life, they give voice to an experience that you are now living, and that all those who pray share. But – look – these words of the Psalm not only strike me because they use the image of the earthquake, but above all because of what they affirm regarding our interior attitude in face of the ravages of nature: an attitude of great security, based on the stable, immovable rock that God is. We “will not fear though the earth should change” – says the Psalmist – because “God is our refuge and strength,” He is “a very present help in trouble.”

Dear brothers and sisters, these words seem to contrast with the fear  that is inevitably felt after an experience as that which you went through. An immediate reaction, which can be imprinted more profoundly, if the phenomenon is prolonged. But, in reality, the Psalm does not refer to this type of fear, which is natural, and the security it affirms is not that of supermen who are not touched by normal feelings. The security of which it speaks is that of faith, by which, yes, there can be fear, anguish – Jesus also felt these, as we know – but, in all the fear and anguish, there is above all the certainty that God is with us; as the child who knows that he can always count on his mother and father, because he feels loved, wanted, no matter what happens. This is how we are in respect to God: small, fragile, but safe in his hands, that is, entrusted to his Love which is solid as a rock. This Love we see in Christ crucified, is at the same time is the sign of pain, of suffering, of love. It is the revelation of God-Love, in solidarity with us to extreme humiliation.

On this rock, with this firm hope, one can construct, one can reconstruct. On the ruins of the post-War – not only material – Italy was certainly reconstructed thanks also to the help received, but above all thanks to the faith of so many people animated by the spirit of true solidarity, of the will to give a future to families, a future of liberty and peace. You are people whom all Italians esteem for your humanity and sociability, for your laboriousness united to jovialness. All this has now been put to a hard test by this situation, but it must not and cannot affect what you are as a people, your history and your culture. Remain faithful to your vocation of fraternal and solidaristic people, and face everything with patience and determination, rejecting the temptations that unfortunately are connected to these moments of weakness and need.

The situation you are living has brought to light an aspect that I would like you to have very present in your heart: you are not and will not be alone! In these days, amid so much destruction and so much grief, you saw and felt how many people were moved to express their closeness, solidarity, affection; and this through so many concrete signs and aid. My presence in your midst is one of these signs of love and hope. Looking at your lands I have been profoundly moved in face of so many wounds, but I have also seen so many hands that want to care for you; I have seen that life begins again, that it wishes to begin again with strength and courage, and this is the most beautiful and luminous sign.

From this place I would like to make a strong appeal to institutions, to every citizen to be, also in the difficulties of the moment, as the Good Samaritan of the Gospel who does not pass by indifferently before one who is in need but, with love, bends down, helps him, stays with him, taking charge to the end of the needs of the other (cf. Luke 10:29-37). The Church is close to you and will be close to you with her prayer and with the concrete aid of her organizations, in particular Caritas, which will be committed also in the reconstruction of the community fabric of the parishes.

Dear friends, I bless you one and all, and bear you with great affection in my heart.

Blog Fixes and Updated Featured Song

I have fixed the pictures which were not properly loading for many people in the blog section of the Ireland Pilgrimage. The files were way to big for most browsers to handle so for many people they didn’t show up properly.

I have also updated the Featured Song with The Philippians Canticle from John Michael Talbot. You can listen to it by clicking here.

I am gradually adjusting to the time change from my return to Ireland. It’s great to be back and once again I thank everyone for their prayers while we were away.

Dublin Airport

We are all at the gate after going through customs. I was glad to see they cleared us for entry to the United States so we don’t have to go through Newark. We have quite a long layover in Newark. I am going to walk all around the airport to get my legs stretched out for the nearly 6 hour trip back to Seattle.

While walking to the US Customs area, I bumped into Sr. Briege McKenna. I introduced myself to her and told her I was in attendance at the International Retreat for Priests in Ars, France in 2005. She told me she was headed to Poland. I also told her I saw Fr. Kevin Scallon at the Eucharistic Congress last week. What a pleasant surprise to run into her. You can’t miss her with red hair!

We board our plane in a little while. I thank the Lord for a great pilgrimage and it will be great to return to the US.

Bon Voyage!