Ordinary Time 17, Year C-2010
- Let my prayer arise before you like incense (Ps. 141:2)
Prayer and faith are inextricably linked. We pray as we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi). Moreover, a faith community is recognized and identified by its prayer (cf. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary [Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1990] 43:128). It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that a member of the new faith fellowship of service that Jesus was starting would ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.”
And Jesus obliged. He taught them what to say when praying. He further instructed them to persevere and be persistent in prayer. He assured them of God’s generosity and of his readiness to respond to their needs in a manner far surpassing that of a human friend or a human father. But if the disciples were moved by the words of the Lord’s Prayer and by Jesus’ further instructions on prayer, they must have found even more attractive and compelling his own prayerfulness, his being “constantly before the Father in prayer” (cf. Robert P. Maloney, C.M., The Way of Vincent de Paul [Brooklyn, N.Y.: New City Press, 1992] 32-33).
So then, just as the followers of Jesus are to do as Jesus did with regard to loving to the end and to the fullest extent, rendering humble service, and celebrating the Eucharist with due discernment of the body (Jn. 13:1, 14-15, 34; 1 Cor. 11:23-29), so they are to pray as Jesus prayed. Jesus is the supreme, foundational and constitutional rule of the prayer of those who believe in him. Needless to say, therefore, while Marianists have their distinctive prayer in the consecration to Mary, or Franciscans, in “We adore you” (cf. the above-cited reference to The New Jerome Biblical Commentary), or Jesuits, in St. Ignatius Loyola’s “Prayer of Surrender” (Suscipe), “Prayer of Generosity,” and even “Soul of Christ” (Anima Christi), these prayers, however, are authentically Christian only because they are in accord with Jesus, with his prayer and prayerfulness.
And members of the Vincentian family, I humbly submit, would do well to take the following prayer as both authentically Christian and distinctly marking the family as Vincentian (cf. P. Coste, IX, 360, as cited and translated by Robert P. Maloney, C.M., ibid., 104, 175):
- We are weak, O God,
- and capable of giving in at the first assault.
- By your pure loving kindness
- you have called us;
- May your infinite goodness, please,
- now help us persevere.
- For our part, with your holy grace,
- we will try with all our strength
- to summon up
- all the service and all the faithfulness that you ask of us.
- So give us, O God, give us the grace to persevere until death.
- This is what I ask of you
- through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ
- with confidence that you will remember me.
To the preceding prayer too—long-guarded, along with the rest of St. Vincent’s writings, from the general public probably because of Vincentian institutional humility—should be added, I believe, such a prayer as follows that can be made out of St. Vincent’s advice to Father Portail (cf. P. Coste, I, 295, as cited and translated by Robert P. Maloney, C.M., ibid., 21; see also the preface by Richard McCullen, C.M. to ibid., 7):
- Father in heaven, we ask in earnest for your Holy Spirit.
- May this Advocate be with us always and guide us to all truth,
- reminding us always, but especially in our participation in the holy Eucharist,
- that we live in Jesus Christ by the death of Jesus Christ
- and that we ought to die in Jesus Christ by the life of Jesus Christ
- and that our life ought to be hidden in Jesus Christ and full of Jesus Christ
- and that in order to die like Jesus Christ it is necessary for us to live like Jesus Christ.
- We ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ the Lord.
Implicit in “We are weak, O God” is St. Vincent’s belief and trust in God as a caring and provident parent. St. Vincent prays to God as one of his “little ones” in need, weak and easily defeated. He glorifies the Father’s name by attributing to him loving kindness and infinite goodness as well as by acknowledging that God is the strength of the weak. It is solely by God’s initiative and grace that the kingdom is brought to realization. In the first place, God is the Lord of the harvest who calls and sends laborers for his harvest who are to preach to the poor the good news that the kingdom is at hand, so that, in effect, may be broken “the boundaries separating rich and poor, hale and halt, men and women, clean and unclean, saint and sinner” (see again the above-cited reference to The New Jerome Biblical Commentary). In asking for the grace to persevere until death, St. Vincent is asking none other than that he and the others be not subjected to the final test; he is asking that he and his family remain and persist in feeding the poor—with the loaf or food that truly satisfies, does not perish but endures for eternal life—and in practicing mutual forgiveness, weak and sinful that everyone is.
Of course, it is Jesus, the Son of Man, who gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink so that we may have eternal life. It is Jesus, our sole mediator before the Father who intercedes more effectively than Abraham, and not just for the innocent but also for the guilty (1 Tim. 4:4-6). Jesus pleads eloquently for sinners by his blood (Heb. 12:24). “Obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.” Hence, the excellence and distinctiveness of being centered in Jesus and of praying a Christ-centered prayer and living according to it (including living a life hidden in Jesus Christ, without seeking “prominent duties or works” or calling attention to our involvement, or lack of it, in great church projects, yet ever deeply appreciative of such Vatican II’s recovery of “a concept of Church that is participative and communitarian [ and ; see also the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, XII, 9-11]), of overcoming both mediocrity or laziness and undisciplined enthusiasm, and of leaving everything to our provident Father and asking with confidence that he will remember us through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If members of the Vincentian family pray as Vincent prayed, they can rest assured that they are praying as Jesus both prayed and taught his disciples to pray, neither proudly for show nor hypocritically nor in a babbling manner, but simply, honestly, humbly and in submission to the Father’s will (Mt. 6:5-8; Lk. 18:9-14; 22:41-42).