17 September 2007

CAUTION! Prayer is dangerous...

Danger! Risk!

24th Week OT(M): I Tim 2.1-8 and Luke 7.1-10
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


Prayer is dangerous. Some might add that it is futile as well. Or maybe superstitious or magical or essential or risky but worth it. Prayer is intimacy with God. Any moment where you find yourself intimately holding the will of our Father in your body and soul, you are praying. You may petition, give thanks and praise, intercede for someone. You may adore God. And, if you are so inclined, you may contemplate the divine in a life of study in order to share the fruits of your contemplation with others. Regardless of your technique or goal, Paul makes it absolutely clear to Timothy that God expects us to pray. I repeat: prayer is dangerous…not only because you sometimes get you pray for, but because the first fruits of all prayer accrue to the Pray-er, the one praying. Prayer is dangerous because it is divinely designed to change substantially those who take it up as a habit.

Let’s say you’ve decided to live a life of prayer. What can you expect as an eager Pray-er? In no particular order, you can expect most of the following: an overarching sense of peace and joy; a lot of turmoil and struggle day-to-day; a slow growth toward obedience and charity; an occasional raucous tumble with angels and devils alike; long periods of spiritual productivity and emotional health; longer, darker periods of spiritual aridity and roller-coaster passions; the overwhelming presence of the Triune God; and His total absence, an absence that threatens you with despair. In other words, as a creature who chooses to obey God and to pray habitually, you will find yourself becoming more intensely a creature, more fully human as you work out your perfection in His grace. And it is vital, essential that you understand that in prayer your goal is to become fully human, perfectly human as Christ is perfectly human. You will fail if you think your goal is to become an angel. Prayer does many wonderful things for us. It will not, however, help you switch species. Therefore, let God worry about making you divine in His own time.

Our centurion this morning is the perfect pray-er. What does he do? First, he is praying, petitioning for someone else—an act of charity. Second, he involves the entire community in his prayer. He asks the Jewish elders to petition Jesus for help. Next, the Jewish elders acknowledge the centurion’s largesse to their nation and use this to persuade Jesus to do as the soldier asks. Jesus agrees. However, the centurion meets them half-way and then confesses, in great humility, that as a pagan he is not worthy of having Jesus in his house. And then he confesses, again with astonishing humility, that he knows that Jesus has the authority to heal his slave with a word. Jesus is amazed. The slave is healed. And prayer is once again shown to be a very dangerous practice.

When the centurion confesses his absolute trust in Jesus’ power, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” How is this dangerous? Jesus has just publicly admitted that a pagan, a man with no filial connection to the God of Israel, is, despite this debilitating flaw, a man of faith. And it is through trusting prayer—not nationality, not racial heritage, not family affiliation, and not religious creed—but through faith that the centurion’s prayer succeeds. It is through trust in Christ and trust in Christ alone. In Gaudium et spes, the Council Fathers teach us that Christians will die and rise again with Christ and that his promise of resurrection carries us in hope. Addressing the situation of non-Christians, they continue: All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery”(n 22). Thus, the possibility of becoming Christ through Christ in prayer.

Is there anything more dangerous than that?

7 comments:

  1. Michael1:11 AM

    Beautifully expressed...one could almost say perfect.

    Essentially, we need to embrace our life, participate in our life, and learn to understand how truly connected we already are to The One who loves us always. Because ultimately..."(we) will find (our selves) becoming more intensely a creature, more fully human as (we) work out (our) perfection in His grace."

    So, take off the blinders of what you might THINK yourself to be...and enjoy the Life, the Love, and the Truth of how close you really are to The One (God) in you.

    I would love to share with you....

    www.booklocker.com/books/2980.html

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  2. Anonymous11:42 AM

    Thank You.

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  3. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Addressing the situation of non-Christians, they continue: “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery”(n 22). Thus, the possibility of becoming Christ through Christ in prayer.

    Father, with fear and trembling I must confess that this teaching of the Council troubles me. Yes, Christ died for all men -- but not all men will accept his salvation.

    It contradicts centuries of Catholic teaching that outside the church there is no salvation, and also contradicts our Lord's command to go, teach and baptize and that all who believe will be saved.

    I have heard of troubling reports in the mission fields that missionaries no longer preach the gospel since we should affirm all cultures and religions. As St. Paul said, how can they believer if they have not heard and how can they hear if no one is sent to preach to them?

    I wonder what Popes Pius X and XII would have thought of the Council's teaching on this.

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  4. Anon,

    You are saying that something in the VC2 quote is contradictory to something else. I'm not clear on what you think is contradictory.

    As I understand it, the Church teaches (and has always taught) that if you die and find yourself in heaven, you are in heaven b/c of Christ...this applies to Christians, atheists, Buddhists, even Democrats.

    When the teaching "no salvation outside the church" it was taken to mean "we are saved as a church not as individuals," and, since the Catholic Church was the only Christian church in the west, it was taken to mean, "only those who are graced by God for salvation are saved," i.e. "graced by God for salvation" is what we mean by "Church." It is heresy to teach that one must be an official member of the Roman Catholic Church in order to be saved. Why is this heresy? First, as the CCC teaches us, the sacraments are for us not God. God may grace anyone He pleases with salvation. We know for a fact that He graces those who participate in His Church's sacraments. This does not mean therefore that those who do not participate in them are not graced. Second, we know from our history that lots of people are considered saints who were never Catholics per se: Moses, Abraham, Isaac, etc. Third, though the RCC teaches the fullness of truth, the truth is not limited to the RCC. Lots of non-Catholics believe perfectly true things everyday. To the degree that they participate in genuine truth, they participate in God Who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Again, they don't have the whole picture, but the pieces they have are nonetheless true.

    I hope this helps.

    Fr. Philip, OP

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  5. Anonymous12:32 PM

    It is heresy to teach that one must be an official member of the Roman Catholic Church in order to be saved.

    But with all due respect, Father, that is exactly what the preconciliar church taught. Yes, there are saints of the Old Testament because they worshipped the one true God of Israel even before the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

    Nevertheless, in his high priestly prayer Jesus said:

    I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.

    It also seems to me that the sacramental aspect of salvation is not the whole picture. Yes, God can work outside of the Sacraments but Jesus clearly calls for a response of faith in the New Testament:

    “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

    Nor can one square the teachings of Buddhism, etc. with such things as reincarnation. It simply can't be done.

    I wish I could feel more optimistic but I fear the Catholic Church is moving towards syncrestism.

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  6. Anonymous1:16 PM

    It is heresy to teach that one must be an official member of the Roman Catholic Church in order to be saved.

    Then I would humbly ask, Father, is the Athanasian Creed no longer true?

    Why is this heresy? First, as the CCC teaches us, the sacraments are for us not God. God may grace anyone He pleases with salvation. We know for a fact that He graces those who participate in His Church's sacraments. This does not mean therefore that those who do not participate in them are not graced. Second, we know from our history that lots of people are considered saints who were never Catholics per se: Moses, Abraham, Isaac, etc.

    Yes, but Moses and Abraham were a people called out by the one true God to bring forth the Messiah. Israel had a special relationship with God. And again, in Mark 16:

    Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.

    This is the Lord's command in the post-Resurrection age.

    Third, though the RCC teaches the fullness of truth, the truth is not limited to the RCC. Lots of non-Catholics believe perfectly true things everyday. To the degree that they participate in genuine truth, they participate in God Who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Again, they don't have the whole picture, but the pieces they have are nonetheless true.

    Would that include Buddhists who trust in reincarnation rather than Christ?

    Also, how am I to understand the high priestly prayer of our Lord:

    Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. . . . I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.

    I fear that the Catholic Church is headed towards syncretism. The power of the Cross is being nullified by more and more heterodoxy.

    How sad.

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  7. Anon,

    You're not reading what I wrote. And you're trying to pull a Bait and Switch on me! Tsktsk!

    I am not teaching that Christ is unnecessary for our salvation. I am teaching that it is unnecessary for one to be an enrolled member of a Roman Catholic parish in order to be saved. There is nothing syncretistic about that! It's official RCC teaching. Also, I did not say that everything a Buddhist believes is true. I said that Buddhists believe some true things. Most Buddhists would agree that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If so, then they participate in Truth and have a share of God...even if they don't think that they do. You are to understand the Lord's priestly prayer exactly as it is written. How else? Nothing I have written here or anywhere else on this blog contradicts a single word of that prayer. "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned." I have preached this text many times and believe it wholeheartedly. Again, this says nothing about belonging to the Church as a necessary requirement for salvation.

    Fr. Philip, OP

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