As Christians, we focus particularly on the fundamental importance of belief in Jesus Christ as Lord (meaning “Master”), Teacher, and Savior. As Catholics, we especially highlight Jesus’ fulfillment of the threefold office of being Prophet, Priest, and King. Belief in Jesus Christ, however, involves much more than stating Jesus’ qualities at a level of mere factual detail.
It is all too tempting to pronounce, “I believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” without pondering the true weight of what we are saying. We may become quite uncomfortable when reminded that Satan believes Jesus to be the Son of God and knows from plenty of experience that Jesus is truly Lord, Teacher, Savior, Prophet, Priest, and King (cf. Phil 2.9-11)! Certainly, we know at the same time that Satan is not at all saved by such “belief”.
So what is the difference between authentic belief that leads to salvation and the “belief” of the Adversary? It’s all a matter of faith, which stirs in us when we open ourselves to receive the grace-filled gift of a relationship with Jesus Christ at the most personal level of our being.
God calls for us to enter into relationship with Him not only with our mind but also with our heart, indeed with our entire being! It is at this level where Christian prayer becomes crucial, for prayer is the locus in our existence where communion with God is constructed, building it through the bricks and mortar of love, and manifested in Christian life one loving action at a time … Doing what is good, avoiding what is evil, discerned first as such by way of constant communication between God and us in prayer.
It is in this spirit that the Rule of Saint Benedict (RB) cites St. Matthew’s Gospel: We ask God in prayer that His will may be done in us (Chapter 7, cf. Mt. 6:10). Our minds and hearts can enter the fullness of communion with God ultimately only through the vehicle of prayer, for it is in prayer that He reveals to us precisely what is His will, what God’s will determines to be good as action to be carried out, or evil to be shunned and avoided. It is in prayer that Jesus Christ and the human being enter together into personal relationship, where Jesus is able to become our Lord, our Savior, our Teacher, and our Prophet, Priest and King. It is in the possessive pronoun that we find God’s possession of our souls and our reciprocal possession of His Way, Truth, and Life in us. It is where we find the relationship of authentic faith that saves us in hope (cf. Rom 8.24) ; this relationship is what the devil lacks that leads to true salvation, for he that anybody be his lord or savior, his prophet, priest or king …
How do we discover a genuine relationship with the True God of the universe? First and foremost, we must seek to follow His example perfectly, going regularly up the mountain (e.g., Mk 6.46) or to the desert (e.g., Lk 5.16) to pray intimately and to rest in relationship with His heavenly Father. Numerous New Testament passages emphasize that Jesus regularly did just so, and we know in examination of the life and pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II that the beloved pontiff found the strength to carry out his expansive ministry across the globe in regulary, intense, and even mystical times of prayerful solitude. The greatest saints of the Church indeed were able to become so distinguished because they were people who first rooted their loving actions in prayer, as contemplatives in action if you will. Their dependence first on God’s Providence in their lives provided the personal foundation in Divine-human relationship that enabled these saints to carry out great works of love and goodness, actions for which they have come to be identified and renowned transcending time and space.
Saint Benedict shares this secret to carrying out good works in the Prologue to his Rule: Every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection (v.4) … Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God, and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (cf. Ps 95:8) (RB Prol. 9-10) … If you desire true and eternal life … turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim (Ps 34: 14-15). Once you have done this, my eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen for your prayers; and even before you ask me, I will say to you: Here I am (Is 58:9) (RB Prol. 17-18).
We are able to perform truly good works only when we first have looked to Jesus Christ through eyes of believing faith. The 17th century French Saint John Eudes teaches that Jesus Christ Himself is the first and last point of reference in doing good works that provide us with the fulfillment we seek in life. He states, “It is by looking to Him in faith that Christ’s faithful can hope that He Himself fulfills His promises in them, and that, by loving Him with the same love with which He has loved them, they may perform works in keeping with their dignity”. According to St. John Eudes, when we lead a prayerful life, we are drawn to consider Jesus Christ as our true head, and we as the members of His body. As such, everything that is His becomes ours: His spirit, His heart, His body and soul, and all of His faculties. Good works transpire whenever we make use of these powers “to serve, praise, love, and glorify God. [We then] belong to him, as members belong to their head. And so He longs for [us] to use all that is in [us], as if it were His own, for the service and glory of the Father” (Tract. De admirabili corde Jesu, 1, 5).
Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has been focusing his latest Wednesday audience series over the past several weeks on the theme of Christian prayer. On May 11th, Pope Benedict described prayer as a “[thirst within himself] for the infinite, a nostalgia for eternity, a search for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and truth, which drive him toward the Absolute.” In this thirst within himself, man desires God and knows deep in his heart that he can pray to Him. The Pope elaborates that this attraction toward God is at the core of what it means for the soul to pray, and this desire in man comes from God Himself so that we will have the interior attitude necessary to seek His Face. Benedict XVI describes how prayer involves being before God more than simply “carrying out acts of worship or pronouncing words. Prayer has its center and founds its roots in the most profound being of the person … However, the full realization of man’s search is found only in the God who reveals himself. Prayer, which is the opening and raising of the heart to God, becomes a personal relationship with Him” (General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, 11 May 2011).
Part IV of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is devoted completely to the important topic of Christian prayer and is worth careful examination (accessible free online courtesy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ). Section One is dedicated to “Prayer in the Christian Life” and includes the themes of the revelation, tradition, and life of prayer. Section Two elaborates upon the tenets of the prayer Christ our Savior gave us, what is commonly known as “The Our Father” or “The Lord’s Prayer”. Citing the Catechism at the same Vatican audience, Pope Benedict reminded us, “Even if man forgets his Creator, the living and true God does not fail to call man to the mysterious encounter of prayer … ‘In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation’” (cf. CCC 2567).
As we prepare now liturgically for the Ascension of our Lord and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, may we as young or elder Christians alike enter into ever deeper prayerful relationship with our our Lord. May we respond prayerfully to God’s initiative of love within us, which seeks to draw us into ever loving communion to encounter most intimately our Creator. May our hearts truly be engaged in the love of Christ so that all of the works we do may be truly good, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.