Psychologists have long known that every person has two great longings and inward needs. The first is to be loved, and the second is to love. But when pressures and heartaches come into our lives, many give up any hope of ever finding love.
The tragedy is that we often look in the wrong places to fill this deep, deep need and longing. Some substitute lust for love. Others pursue material things or superficial relationships – all in the futile attempt to fill a God-shaped cookie cutter that has left what they feel is a vacuum in their human heart.
Then there are those who have found the real deal. A partner whom they love and trust. But sometimes there is still missing in that love mold that has been genetically stamped onto your heart.
Here’s the deal: The heart of an active, dynamic and satisfying Catholic faith isn’t about the rules, it’s about the relationship. The God who created the heavens and the earth knows each one of us — intimately. He loves us more than we can possibly imagine. And you know what He wants? He desires to be in a relationship with us — a personal, intimate communion. He wants us to turn to Him, to know Him, to hear Him. He wants to shower His love on us, to enlarge our hearts, to bring about what is absolutely best for us in our lives as long as it is consistent with His plan.
But He can’t do that if we don’t seek Him out, if we don’t open the door to that relationship, if we don’t make room for Him in our lives.
I think that, even among those of us Catholics who do believe in a personal God, it is easy to slip from a “relationship” mentality to a “rules” mentality. Our catechesis may have revolved mostly around the “thou shalt not’s.” And it’s a unny thing about Catholics. Not a lot of people around us actually talk about having a real relationship with God, and those who do frequently strike us as, well, perhaps a bit zealous. You and I have met them. == even here in Boquete/ The person whose relationship with God is so intimate that he or she has to talk about it incessantly, sometimes even show off about it .(A conference organizer I met once described his day thusly: “Satan tried to blow my car up, but Jesus made me a real nice cup of coffee.”)
I also think that we are sometimes suspicious of the whole thing. Most of us have been accosted by well-meaning but over-zealous Protestants demanding to know if we “have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” The implication, embraced by many, seems to be that as long as there is a relationship, we are free to disregard the rules. And that just seems too darned easy to us.
What we NEED to know is that: God loves you. Crazy much. He created you, and He is head-over-heels in love with you. He desires that you know Him. He wants to pour His love into your heart. He knows, as only God can, what is absolutely best for you, and He wants you to trust Him to guide you to it.
He created you in such a way that you will only be complete and whole when you find true, lasting satisfaction and fulfillment in Him.
But He doesn’t force any of it. He created us to be free and to freely choose whether we wish to avail ourselves of His loving care or not.
Now, let’s not skip over the rules. Of course, the rules matter. Rules matter in any relationship. You can’t remain close to somebody while insisting on your right to constantly kick his cat, or steal his money, or mistreat his loved ones. So the rules are really parameters of our relationship. They define and orient us in our relationship with the one who made us and loves us. It’s no different than the parameters in any loving relationship. After a while, we both define together the way we interact with each other. Well, Jesus came to tell us about those parameters. And he demonstrated them through parables, miracles and daily actions. But he summed them up with the Two Great Commandments:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” “
Fortunately, the God who loves us so much and so intimately, by definition, knows our brokenness. Not only does He forgive our failings, but through our relationship of prayer and the sacramental life of the Church, He makes of us a “new creation,” changing our hearts and actually making it easier to “follow the rules.” That’s why St. Paul said that, in Christ, we are no longer “under the law.” We become transformed. It’s no longer about following the rules, it’s about loving the beloved. We don’t avoid sin because we fear punishment. It loses its appeal to us because it is a violation of the relationship of our God who loves us to the core. Do you see the magnitude of that mind change about rules. We don’t obey these rules because of what they say; instead we observe the parameters of a loving relationship with The Great Lover. It’s no different than following the parameters of a loving relationship with another person. We respect them and the things that define our relationship with them because we love them and they love us in return. The only difference here is THE Great Friend, The GREAT Lover, reminds us in the two greatest of commandments that he loves ALL those around us and he wants to be sure that we can, at least, be in harmony with them. Would any of us intentionally hurt or insult our dearest friends friend?
Do you want to learn more about what these loving relationships can look like? Read the lives of the saints. You will find them beautiful, dynamic and life-changing. You will also find that no two are the same, just as no two human relationships could be identical. You are unique, and your relationship with God will be uniquely yours. But you will find one commonality — somewhere in their life, they discovered or focused that they were loved by God and that love motivated them to love him in return. Some came to the realization of that love early; some came to it late in life.
How does that realization start? It begins with communication or, in this case, more properly, with prayer. Just as any human relationship does. Talk to Him. Invite Him into your heart. Tell Him you want to know Him better. Read Scripture, where He reveals Himself to us. Receive the sacraments prayerfully. Visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Create silence in your life, so that He can be heard above the noise. Seek competent spiritual direction if it’s available to you. Pray some more. That’s what communication with The Great Lover is all about. No relationship survives without communications, without intimacy, without whispering to each other how much you care for one another.
It’s interesting to me that the The Second Vatican Council and all of the recent Popes have urged all the baptized to respond to Jesus’ command to “go make disciples of all nations.” The Decree on the Mission [Activity] of the Church says that proclamation and conversion must be, “sufficient to make a man realize that he has been snatched away from sin and led into the mystery of God’s love, who called him to enter into a personal relationship with Him in Christ” (§13).
The language here is clear: God seeks a relationship with each one of us that is personal. These same words are echoed by St. Pope John Paul II when he wrote:
“In the complex reality of mission, initial proclamation has a central and irreplaceable role, since it introduces man “into the mystery of the love of God, who invites him to enter into a personal relationship with himself in Christ” and opens the way to conversion. (Redemptoris Missio, 44)”
We are reminded through the words of Scripture that God seeks a “personal relationship” with His people: “The word of God is the first source of all Christian spirituality. It gives rise to a personal relationship with the living God and with his saving and sanctifying will,” (Vita Consecrata, 94).
The Bible “gives rise to a personal relationship” because Jesus reveals Himself to us on every page. The Holy Spirit, the one who “searches the depths of God,” (1 Cor 2:10) inspires that word in such a way that we actually encounter Christ in the words of scripture. He speaks directly to our spirit, enabling us to know Him. Yet, in many Catholic homes, the Bible lays on a table sadly accumulating the dust and debris of our lives.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called for a “new season” of the reading of the Word of God by all the baptized, “so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus”(Verbum Domini, 72).
He also reminds us that the personal relationship we have with Jesus is deepened and shared most profoundly in the Eucharist:
The personal relationship which the individual believer establishes with Jesus present in the Eucharist constantly points beyond itself to the whole communion of the Church and nourishes a fuller sense of membership in the Body of Christ. (Sacramentum Caritatis, 68)
It’s obvious from these texts that the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” is an important part of the way the Magisterium of the Church refers to our faith in Christ. It’s not foreign or simply a Protestant imposition. Rather, it expresses an essential element of a deeply Catholic understanding of conversion and discipleship.
Folks, it’s there. It’s not from a pamphlet received from a Seventh Day Adventist or a Mormon on a mission. This is our faith talking to us. This is the Catholic faith—the Church that Jesus founded and has existed through apostolic succession for 2014 years. THAT Church is telling us and calling us to have a personal relationship with Christ. More than that, it is Christ himself calling us to know him better, to experience the love that he bestows, to remind us that His presence is with us always and, even in the greatest of tragedies, He is there to comfort us and love us.
Always remember he doesn’t cause the tragedies of our lives – the free will of mankind and nature does – even when sickness overtakes one that we love – that is the biological nature that is taking of – when that happens, we sometimes lash out at The Great Lover and wonder where He is or why He didn’t answer our prayer. But you know what his answer is? I was there and I am here. Nature or free will took its course but now because I love you so much and those that you love, I am taking them with me. To care for them, to love them, to hold them and to keep them perfect until you meet them again. My friends, THAT IS LOVE. And THAT LOVE then comforts us and carries us through our grief.
Isn’t that what a Great Friend does? Is that’s what someone who loves does. THAT is personal. That is intimate. THAT is what a personal relationship with God is about.
So now, let’s talk about that. We are going to break into discussion groups, each with a leader and share our observations about a personal relationship with God.
PART 2 – How We Pray
So that is the beginning and strangely the end – prayer. We begin our life at baptism with prayer and we end our life, at death with prayer.
But it is the donut hole in the middle which is important. To know Jesus as our personal savior requires us to be in prayer with him. Because being in prayer with Jesus is being in communion with him.
It’s prayer that is constant, It’s prayer that goes on throughout the day and only stops when we close our eyes.
This constancy of prayer – this continual prayer – can be summed up in a lot of ways, For me, it begins as I open my eyes and go to prayer. My prayer is simple but it calls for constancy in my life. Here it is: May the thoughts from my mind bring You glory, may the words from my mouth portray Your glory, may the actions of my hands bring you glory.
Now that’s the start of the day but imagine if those words – that simple prayer actually was your daily life. WOW! METO! If each of us could do that, what a changed person we would be and what a changed place we would live in.
But now I want to take you to the foundational prayer of our Church – the very way Jesus taught us to prayer when he gave us the words of, what is come to be known, as the Our Father: But it is more than the foundational prayer of the Church. It is THE prayer that tell how we are loved and how we should be living our life.
The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect of prayers…. In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.
The first communities prayed the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, in place of the “Eighteen Benedictions” customary in Jewish piety.
So let’s begin with the words of the prayer and what they mean,
We can invoke God as “Father” because he is revealed to us by his Son become man and because his Spirit makes him known to us. When we pray to the Father, we are in communion with him and with his Son, Jesus Christ. Then we know and recognize him with an ever new sense of wonder. The first phrase of the Our Father is a blessing of adoration before it is a supplication. For it is the glory of God that we should recognize him as “Father,” the true God. When we use the words “Our Father,” we give him thanks for having revealed his name to us, for the gift of believing in it, and for the indwelling of his Presence in us
Praying to our Father should develop in us two fundamental dispositions:
First, the desire to become like him: though created in his image, we are restored to HIm; and we must respond to this grace. Or to put it another way. We must remember… and know that when we call God “our Father” we ought to behave as sons and daughters of God.
Secondly, You cannot call the God of all kindness your Father if you preserve a cruel and inhuman heart; for in this case you no longer have in you the marks of the heavenly Father’s kindness.
So the words “Our Father” are pregnant with implication.
Who Art In Heaven
“Our Father who art in heaven” is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as He is in his holy temple. At the same time, it means that those who pray should desire the one they invoke to dwell in them.
“Who art in heaven” does not refer to a place but to God’s majesty and his presence in the hearts of those that love Him. Heaven, the Father’s house, is the true homeland toward which we are heading and to which, already, we belong.
When we have placed ourselves in the presence of God our Father to adore and to love and to bless him – rtruly not just with rote words — the Holy Spirit stirs up in our hearts seven petitions, seven blessings. The first three, more theological, draw us toward the glory of the Father; the last four, as ways toward him, commend our human sinfulness to his grace.
The first series of petitions carries us toward him, for his own sake: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will! Hallowed be thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done ,It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love. In none of the three petitions do we mention ourselves; . Instead, these words draw us to Him. They speak of His role, His place, and His desire to do that which is right for all mankind. These three supplications were already answered in the saving sacrifice of Christ, but they are directed in hope toward their final fulfillment, for God is not yet all in all.
The second series of petitions unfolds with the same movement that draws down upon itself the eyes of the Father of mercies and the God of Love. They go up from us and concern us from this very moment, in our present world: “give us… forgive us… lead us not… deliver us.…” The fourth and fifth petitions concern our life as such—to be fed and to be healed of sin; the last two concern our battle for the victory of life—that battle for which prayer is intended.
In the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” refers primarily to the final coming of the reign of God through Christ’s return. But, far from distracting the Church from her mission in this present world, this desire commits her to it all the more strongly. Since Pentecost, the coming of that Reign of God is the work of the Spirit of the Lord who “complete[s] his work on earth and brings us the fullness of grace.”
This petition is taken up and granted in the prayer of Jesus which is present and effective in the Eucharist; it bears its fruit in new life in keeping with the Beatitudes
“Give us”: The trust of children who look to their Father for everything is beautiful. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” He gives to all the living “their food in due season.” Jesus teaches us this petition, because it glorifies our Father by acknowledging how good he is, beyond all goodness.
Our bread”: The Father who gives us life cannot but give us the nourishment life requires—all appropriate goods and blessings, both material and spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists on the filial trust that cooperates with our Father’s providence. He is not inviting us to idleness waiting for God to give us our Bread but He wants to relieve us from nagging worry and preoccupation about it. God WILL provide.
But the presence of those who hunger because they lack bread opens up another profound meaning of this petition. The drama of hunger in the world calls Christians who pray sincerely to exercise responsibility toward their brethren, both in their personal behavior and in their solidarity with the human family. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer cannot be isolated from the parables of the poor man Lazarus and of the Last Judgment when we are judged on the kindness of our life toward each other.
This next petition is astonishing. If it consisted only of the first phrase, “And forgive us our trespasses,” it might have been included, implicitly, in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, since Christ’s sacrifice is “that sins may be forgiven.” But, according to the second phrase, our petition will not be heard unless we have first met a strict requirement. Our petition looks to the future, but our response must come first, for the two parts are joined by the single word “as.” We forgive us our trespasses…
With bold confidence, we began praying to our Father. In begging him that his name be hallowed, we were in fact asking him that we ourselves might be always made more holy. But though we are clothed with the baptismal garment, we do not cease to sin, to turn away from God. Now, in this new petition, we return to him like the prodigal son and, like the tax collector, recognize that we are sinners before him. Our petition begins with a “confession” of our wretchedness and his mercy. Our hope is firm because, in his Son, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
We find the signs of his forgiveness in the sacraments of his Church. Now—and this is daunting—this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. (Repeat) In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace.
This petition is so important that it is the only one to which the Lord returns and which he develops explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount. This crucial requirement of the covenant mystery is impossible for man. But “with God all things are possible.”
…as we forgive those who trespass against us
This “as” is not unique in Jesus’ teaching: He said: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”; He also said: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”; He ALSO said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by trying to imitate the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. That we display in our lives. Only the Spirit by whom we live can make “ours” the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. Then the unity of forgiveness becomes possible and we find ourselves “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave” us.
“ Lead us not into temptation” implies a decision of the heart: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…. No one can serve two masters.” Or “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” In this assent to the Holy Spirit the Father gives us strength. We need to believe the words of Holy Mother Church when she wrote “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, so that you may be able to endure it.”
“ But deliver us from evil” The last petition to our Father is also included in Jesus’ prayer: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” It touches each of us personally, but it is always “we” who pray, in communion with the whole Church, for the deliverance of the whole human family. The Lord’s Prayer continually opens us to the range of God’s economy of salvation. Our interdependence in the drama of sin and death is turned into solidarity in the Body of Christ, the “communion of saints” as we know it.
So then why all of this on the Lord’s prayer, First, because if we truly wish to deepen our relationship with Christ this Advent, we need to center ourselves in prayer. We need to make prayer a living part of our daily life. A Christian life cannot be fully realized until we have centered ourselves in prayer and then live out that life in prayer. Secondly, this beautiful prayer, taught to us, by Jesus Christ, calls us to do the one thing that is necessary for Him to dwell within us in a truly full way. You know what it is. It’s the hardest thing for all of us to do: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
That. My friends, is the action of our lives that dictates how deeply we want the Spirit of God within us. Do we forgive? Can we forgive? Can we truly ease our minds and hearts to realize that not to forgive is to allow into our lives an ugly beast that not only controls our life but prevents us from knowing the real peace that comes from the true presence of Christ within us.
PART 3 – THE ULTIMATE EXPRESSION OF HIS LOVE
Yes it was Jesus’ death upon the cross that was the ultimate expression of His love for us and the ultimate expression of His love. It was that death and that resurrection that brought each of us eternal life. That is a gift that has no price.
But Jesus, as he did throughout his life, also gave us so much more. And one of those gifts is the one that can bring the personal Jesus alive within us. It is perhaps one of His greatest gifts. Yet, it comes unadorned. Is quite plain looking in appearance and has few physical attributes that would appeal to most of us.
Yet it is the gift that truly never stops giving. It is the gift that promises us personal union, peace and ultimate protection. It is, of course, the gift of the Holy Eucharist. In seminary, we were taught that the Eucharist is The Sum and The Substance of Our Faith. Think about that because it really is,
This afternoon, we have looked deeply at the use of prayer to deepen our relationship with the personal Jesus; we have explored the need to forgive as He forgave us in order to know Him truly in our lives; we have explored the Lord’s Prayer in terms of what it means and how it, when thought about it and prayed reverently, can bring us a deeper reflection of God the Father in our life and we come to the most intimate gift of all – union and oneness with His body and blood. How fortunate we are as Catholics to have this gift passed down for more than 2,014 years.
This intimacy is so unique because of its strength and what it can mean for our life. This IS Jesus Christ within us. Physically within us. Have you ever thought about the fact that each of us becomes a tabernacle when we leave Church ? We carry the true Christ in our bodies. It should be revered as much as it is when it reposed within the tabernacle on the altar.
Think about that. Think about what would happen if each of us decided to attend Mass on a daily basis or even 3-4 times a week. Each time we came to Mass, we received the Eucharist and walked out of here a living temple.
Would any one of us blaspheme in Church? Would any of us gossip in Church? Would any of us hurt another in Church? Of course not!
But you know where I am going next. We do that, don’t we? We live Church with Christ within us and we act as if it nothing happened., I sometimes wonder if we just don’t take this gift as a matter of fact. Perhaps we have come to jaded, too blasé about what it is.
What it is, IS the power to transform. It is a mingling of His Body and Blood with us. There is nothing more intimate in human nature. In that intimacy, each of us becomes one with God. Think about it. One with God. What does that mean in terms of all the hardships and joys of life? What does that mean in terms of how we face life? What does that mean when adversity befalls us? What does that mean when we feel lonely? What does that mean when we feel that there is no way out?
The answer is there. There is ALWAYS God, And there is God WITHIN US when we receive Holy Eucharist. With God, there is nothing that is impossible. Yes, it is true that God sometimes does not answer our prayers the way we want, Sometimes tragedy hits us and we wonder where is that loving God?
But no matter the joy, the sadness, the happenings of life, we have the opportunity to call on the greatest strength the world knows – The Presence of God. Why do we Catholics forget this? Why do sometimes let our faith grow fallow? If our children fall away from the Church, why aren’t we reminding them of the gift of the Eucharist? If our fellow Catholics who have fallen away talk to us about not needing the Church to worship God, do we talk about Church as the place where they can receive the greatest gift that has ever been given? Do we talk to them about the gift of having God within in? Yes, it is our obligation to present this to others. It is, as I said, the Sum and the Substance of our faith. It is such a gift that we should want to share it.
Christ Above Us, Christ Around Us, Christ Within Us. How full the circle. How complete the promise.
Here you are. Here you are today. Here is your chance to make the presence of God within you even more meaningful and even more pronounced. He waits for you to answer that call. I pray that you answer that call.