Friday, March 19, 2010

A Catholic Gem

St. Peter Chrysologos

London, ON.  I have been attending Morning Prayer with some Christian friends of mine in the chapel at St. George Parish, and came across this little gem this morning.

I love the Catholic Church, because for me it contains the full deposit of the faith in Jesus Christ, and I love Him most of all.  So, this is where I am and plan to be unless I am sure that God has called me to go elsewhere.   And it is in moments like these that I know that I am where God has planted me right now, this very moment in time and space.

About a week after our return from Arizona this winter, I was invited to join with 3 brothers in Christ who pray the breviary each morning from Christian Prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours.  God-incidentally (since I don't really believe in coincidences) I had taken my copy of the book of Christian Prayer off the self and placed it right here beside my computer almost immediately on our return.  So, when I was invited to join these friends for prayer, I was pretty sure that God had his hand in it.

One of my friends is a deacon, one is a first year diaconal student, and the third is hopeful of joining the programme this year.  I am in good company.  Why I have the book in the first place is that my friend the deacon, when he was a candidate, used to meet with me in the morning to pray from it a few years back.

The Breviary is not for the faint of heart, in part because it is a bit of a challenge to get your head around the method, so that you can enjoy and draw fruit from the prayers themselves.  As it had been some time since I had prayed from the book, the first few days with my friends were very challenging for me.

But, due to spring break for grade school and high school students here in Ontario, I have found myself alone in the mornings, in the chapel, with my breviary.  This morning, I discovered something which I had totally forgotten over the years.  Tucked away in the back of the book are a number of Biblical and Non-Biblical Readings for various seasons of the church year.

And wouldn't you know it, there in the front of the Lenten Season Non-Biblical Readings is Reading 1: Prayer knocks, fasting obtains, mercy receives, a sermon by St. Peter Chrysologos, a Doctor of the Church, known for his short inspired talks.  Hence his name Chrysologos which means golden-worded.

Here are the exact words of that gem:
There are three thing, my brethren, which cause faith to stand firm, devotion to remain constant, and virtue to endure.  They are prayer, fasting and mercy.  Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, and mercy receives.  Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting.  Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated.  If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.  So if you pray, fast; if you fast show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God's ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others.  If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry.  If you hope for mercy, show mercy.  If you look for kindness, show kindness.  If you want to receive, give.  If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

Therefor let prayer, mercy, and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.

Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others.  Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting.  There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God.  Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

To make these acceptable, mercy must be added.  Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy.  Fasting dries up when mercy dries up.  Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth.  However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn.  Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering.  Give to the poor, and you give to yourself.  You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
I don't know if this stirs up your faith, but it gets mine close to a boil.  There was nothing new here, just a clear unequivocal statement of how to make prayer fruitful.  What faithful Christian does not desire to have prayer that changes things, prayer that draws us to our Creator and Lover, and soothes the pains and hurts of our lives, of those we love, and of those we encounter on our daily walk.

But, unlike a gem stone that is really just for admiring in its beauty, this gem is meant to be put into practice, to become part of our daily life.  What better time to think about the union of prayer, fasting and mercy than in this beautiful season of Lent, when we are preparing to celebrate that once and forever love sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour, and His Resurrection, whereby we were set free forever.  It is by prayer, fasting and mercy that we join ourselves and our pains, sorrows, and needs to His sacrifice on the Cross, and His Resurrection.

The prayer part is easy for most Christians.  The mercy can be more of a challenge, as some of those who need mercy from us have hurt us badly, and many days we don't feel like looking out for number 2.  But imagine using fasting as a glue between the two.  Imagine what fruit it can bear in our lives and in the lives of others.

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