We are in the season where the genealogies of Jesus are read at Mass. Admittedly, this reading of a long list of virtually unpronounceable name of unrecognizable people (with a few exceptions such as Abraham and David) is one of the most boring of reading. And yet these lists of begetters, these people who have passed on life throughout the Bible, are the most important structural elements of the Scriptures.
Two things are demonstrated in the genealogies. First, we are all descended from the one man Adam (see 1 Cor 15:22). What happened in the beginning is still with us to-day, both the good and the ill. Every human being carries the image of God. Adam was made in His image and through procreation, each new born child also is made in that image. But also, as the first man fell, so we are all fallen. We are born with original sin because of our organic connection to Adam. The whole of humanity is separated from God because of mankind’s initial turning from God. All of this is passed on organically ‘from the beginning’.
But secondly, the blessing (which is linked to salvation) is also tied up with the Biblical generations. Starting with Abraham, God placed into the world “the blessing” which ultimately effected the salvation of the world. In Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed and so his family line became the line of salvation (see Gen 12:1-3). Through each successive generation this blessing was handed down until Jesus, who is part of this genealogy, appears. After Jesus, there are n o more mention of genealogies. Finally, with Him, the blessing which would save the world is realized. But it will take His incarnation, His Passion, death and Resurrection to achieve it.
Each part of the genealogy is important because each moment of passing on life in this salvific chain secured the ultimate coming of Christ. The great invitation to the world is that we are all invited to become a part of this genealogy and this family through baptism. “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:29)
The gift of the new translation of the Roman Missal takes a bit getting used to. Some phrasing is unfamiliar and, at first glance, a bit strange. We are not used to speaking about souls and spirits these days. The joy of liturgy is that, after a while, it becomes like a favorite old glove. It just fits snugly and feels comfortable. But the new phrasing, because it is unfamiliar, forces us to be conscious of what what we are saying.
In the preface to the Lord’s Prayer, the priest intones, “We dare say”. This sounds strange to our ears. Whey do we “dare” pray this most fundamental of all Christian prayers? In point of fact, we have become anesthetized to the astonishing claim in Jesus’ prayer. To call God creator is simply a just act. In doing so, we are stating the obvious (see Rom 1). But to say “our Father” is to cross a fundamental line. We are claiming that the infinite distance between God and man has somehow been overcome. While remaining creatures, we are now claiming to be sons of the One we worship.
God is no longer just an external fabricator who makes a universe but the Father who has infinite love for His children. It is on this basis that we now approach Him. It is an act of justice to render homage to the divine Creator (‘It is right and just’) but it is truly “daring” to claim this same Creator as ‘Father’. Jesus has shown us that not only are we His creatures but we are also His sons.
The last movement of prayer is surrender. “Not my will, but Thine be done.” This cry of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane crystallizes for us the final response of prayer that, at some point, we all must make. Prayer is asking and receiving. Prayer is listening and hearing. But prayer finally is bringing our will into line with God’s. This final movement in prayer overcomes the fundamental rebellion that began with Adam and which is at the core of our fallen human nature.
It is perhaps not obvious, but all other forms of prayer lead us and prepare us for this moment- which happens again and again. When we ask for things, we recognize we cannot make it on our own. This begins the weaning process for us. We no longer see ourselves as simply self-sufficient creatures but people who need others, people who need God. After a time, we move beyond seeing God as simply a “provider” but actually as a “Someone”. The walls go down and we begin to take this “Person” seriously, to listen for His response. We begin to want and to hunger after what He wants, what He thinks.
But all of this is leading up to the moment when our fallen natures will want to assert themselves against God. It may be over a simple innocuous thing or it may be over a large moral matter. In this dramatic moment, we re-enact man’s initial crisis in the Garden of Eden. What direction shall we take? We can take the adamic way, listening no longer to the voice of God but hearing only the sound of our own disordered will. We can turn from the life-giving presence of God into our own silence, breaking from genuine communion with Him. Or we can continue in prayer which we now discover, is nothing other than a genuine communion with God in which He is transparent before us and we before Him. If we continue in this communion with Him (or put another way, if we continue in prayer), we will stop our rebellion and yield ourselves to His will, thereby finding life. Not my will, Lord, but Yours be done.
Last time, we saw that the first aspect of prayer was asking. In this way we come to know God as The Father who provides. It takes a certain form of humility to admit I cannot supply all my needs; I am dependent. But by doing so, we begin to realize more deeply our filial relationship with God.
The second aspect of prayer is ‘listening’. This is more difficult and it takes time for us to develop this attitude. In essence, we have to mature in the spiritual life enough to quiet all the impulses within us in order to listen to the One outside of ourselves. Of course, it makes perfect sense. If we are asking for something, we need to develop an attitude of listening to see what the response will be. This is captured for us in the response of the small boy Samuel. Although he was brought up in the Israelite sanctuary, he did not know the Lord (1 Sam 3:7). When God speaks to him one night, Samuel mistakenly rushes to the priest, Eli, to see what he wants. Eli tells him to go back to sleep. This happens a second and third time. On the third occasion, Eli realizes that God is speaking to Samuel and instructs the young boy that if the Lord should call again, he is to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9). Samuel was learning to discern what the voice of God was, and he adopted an attitude of listening. In this, Samuel was not expressing his own needs or desires. Rather, he was simply being receptive of whatever word God was sending to him. He was attempting to hear what God was speaking.
When we pray, we often forget to listen for God’s response after we have made our requests. If we are not careful, we can tend to have a one-way conversation. We ask God to supply our need and trust He will supply. But this second stage of listening is important. We have made our requests known (Phil 4:6 ), now we need to listen to what God has to say about our situation. We need to allow Him speak to us and to mould us in the crucible of our needs.
Lord, grant that I may have a listening spirit, open to hearing the Word that You are always sending, trusting that in all things You are my supply and my all.
As Christians, we know that prayer is essential to our spiritual life and well-being. But what is prayer? I would suggest that it is three things activities which interpenetrate each other. The first (which we will look at to-day) and probably most elemental form of prayer is “asking.” Need awakens within us the desire to reach out to someone. When we have a need – particularly one which we cannot deal with by ourselves- we reach beyond ourselves and ask for help. This is the beginning of a prayer life. Sometimes one is made to feel inferior with type of prayer. But Scripture makes it abundantly clear that we need to ask. The Letter of James explains: ‘You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Jesus, on the Sermon on the Mount tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt 7:7).
But there is a dynamic in this process of asking which is often overlooked. Prayer is not like going to the candy store and asking for some goodies and then automatically receiving them. “Asking prayer” – whether we know it or not- begins a process of dialogue between us and God. We enter into a relationship with God on this one issue. We are taking God at His Word and trust that He cares for us. But as we keep asking, something happens. We begin to change. We rarely see things from the wider perspective. In earnest prayer, we begin to see things increasingly more from God’s perspective. We actually begin to pick up God’s mind about things (see Phil 2:5). Over time, our desires come more into line with God’s perfect will for us and we often change what we initially were asking for. God does answer prayer but first He needs to align our minds and hearts with His perfect will, making them one, so that whatever He gives to us will always be for our good.