The Fifth Lenten talk at SS Anselm and Cecilia, London, in two parts.
F- Making an Act of Faith
For the first Christians then faith did not mean primarily believing in a body of truths or defined dogmas, but in a body that was raised from the dead on the first Easter Day.
Just as I used each letter from the word OUR as a memory jog for morning prayer I will now use each letter of the word FATHER as a memory jog for daily prayer beginning with the letter F for Faith. But first let me make a few preliminary remarks.
The Mysteries of Christian Initiation
At baptism in the early Church, the full immersion, that was customary for adults, took place three times to symbolise the threefold love that would now begin to course through the spiritual veins of the newly formed Christians. As they were drawn up into the Risen Christ, they were ready and able to receive the Father’s love which is the Holy Spirit. Each time they came out of the water, they confirmed their faith by affirming their belief in the ‘Apostles Creed’. This creed was not written down, because it was imprinted on the minds and hearts of those to be baptised during the preparation for participation in the rites of Christian initiation. It also came to be used as a sort of Christian passport, as it’s recitation would assure members of foreign communities that the stranger in their midst was indeed authentic.
When the newly baptised came out of the pool it was to receive an anointing with ‘Chrism’. The very word Christ means ‘the Anointed One’. So this anointing now symbolised their at-one-ment with him, as did the white garment that was used to clothe them in remembrance of the white garment that bedazzled onlookers when Jesus rose from the dead. So when we make an Act of Faith at the beginning of daily prayer we are not primarily proclaiming our faith in a body of religious truths, no matter how true they may be, but in a body full of love, that was raised from the dead on the first Easter Day. It means believing that his glorified body is the instrument that God has chosen to use, to transmit his loving to other human beings, so that what happened to Jesus can happen to all who freely choose to receive the outpouring of love that first took place on the first Pentecost. When you believe IN someone then you believe in all that they say and do. For the first Christians then faith did not mean primarily believing in a body of truths or defined dogmas, but in a body that was raised from the dead on the first Easter Day. The glorified body of Jesus had become the means of converting the infinite loving of God into finite human loving after the Ascension, so that other human being could receive what they could not have received before. That’s why Jesus said that although no man born of woman was greater than John the Baptist even the least in the kingdom is greater than he. Those early Christians were continually aware of something that we can all too easily forget – namely that the outpouring of God’s love that was symbolised by the waters of baptism, wasn’t just something that happened many years before, but something that was happening at every moment of their lives. In order to remind themselves of this, they would bless themselves with Holy Water when they left or re-entered their homes, or when they entered the place where the Eucharist was going to be celebrated, even before churches, as we know them today, came to be built. The Holy Spirit is the personal love of God, that continually infused and animated Jesus while he was on earth, with the inner security that made him the most mature and loving human being that ever walked on the face of this world. Jesus made it clear, that if we only allow ourselves to be filled with the same Holy Spirit who filled him, then what happened to him will happen to us also. But he made it clear that without this love we would be incapable of anything. To refuse the Holy Spirit is to commit spiritual suicide and to deny to others what we have been called to share with them.
Faith and Feelings
The beginning of daily prayer is the time to make an act of Faith in the love of God. He has chosen to channel his love to us through Jesus now in this present moment, and in every moment that we choose to turn to receive it. The present moment is itself a sacrament, because it is the only moment where for us time touches eternity. Nevertheless at first and for some time to come you probably won’t feel a thing, as you try to pray, but that mustn’t make any difference. Feelings can be a great help in prayer, but they can be terribly deceptive, and they don’t change reality. Whether you feel that it’s Easter Day or not doesn’t make the slightest difference to the fact that it is Easter Day. God is our ever-loving Father, and he is loving us now and at all times whether we feel it or not. There will be moments when the realization of this presence will burst in upon us and flood our whole consciousness, but there will also be long periods when we feel absolutely nothing, and we will feel like giving up – not only prayer, but everything to do with religion. This is one of the reasons why it is of vital importance to keep giving the same predetermined time to prayer each day, whether we feel like it or not. At the best of times we are all self-centered primarily preoccupied with what is in it for us, so there will always be the tendency to pray when the sun is out. While the weathers fine, we’ll want to pray for longer than the allotted time, but when it clouds over, we’ll do our level best to pack up as soon as we can, if we haven’t avoided starting in the first place! Continually sticking to prayer time whether we feel like it or not, is, a prayer in itself, that shows that we have come for God , not just for what we can get out of him Remember Jesus taught us that God is our Father, even our Dad, so there’s no need to speak to him in highfalutin religious language. Jesus criticized the Pharisees severely for doing this. Use your own words whenever possible and don’t feel you’ve got to use churchy language. Speak to him as you would speak to a highly respected friend to whom you can tell everything.
An Act of Faith
I know this might be a little difficult for beginners, but you can always start with someone else’s prayers, gradually transposing their words into your own. So let me end by giving you an act of faith to start you off, until you find it easier and better to use your own words – Father, I know and believe that You are loving me here and now through your son Jesus. Help me to welcome His love within me, so that your Holy Spirit can raise me up to know and experience in ever greater fullness, the love that St Paul said surpasses the understanding beginning now and for all eternity – Amen.