This interregnum period in the Church — and happening, as it is, during Lent — is one that calls us all to deep prayer and reflection. We are a people called to pray unceasingly, and we do so in unity with the Holy Father, now but a pilgrim in the last stage, an intensely private one, on his pilgrimage. (This is how he put it as he bid us farewell today — movingly, the bishop of Rome to people gathered in the square outside his temporary home.) We must pray for the conclave, for the Church, for everyone in our lives, for anyone who may see or hear us.
Earlier this week, a commentary in the Liturgy of the Hours seemed particularly helpful a lesson. There is much uncertainty in the world, and much hostility and pain. It’s not breaking news to anyone that there are challenges. St. Augustine’s offers us a timely — timeless — sermon: Christ nailed our weakness to the cross! So that we may be slaves to sin no longer!
From a commentary on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Ps. 140, 4-6: CCL 40, 2028-2029)
The passion of the whole body of Christ
Lord, I have cried to you, hear me. This is a prayer we can all say. This is not my prayer, but that of the whole body of Christ. Rather,
it is said in the name of his body. When Christ was on earth he prayed in his human nature, and prayed to the Father in the name of his body,
and when he prayed drops of blood flowed from his whole body. So it is written in the Gospel: Jesus prayed with earnest prayer, and sweated
blood. What is this blood streaming from his whole body but the martyrdom of the whole Church?
Lord, I have cried to you, hear me; listen to the sound of my prayer, when I call upon you. Did you imagine that crying was over when you
said: I have cried to you? You have cried out, but do not as yet feel free from care. If anguish is at an end, crying is at an end; but if
the Church, the body of Christ, must suffer anguish until the end of time, it must not say only; I have cried to you, hear me; it must also
say: Listen to the sound of my prayer, when I call upon you.
Let my prayer rise like incense in your sight; let the raising of my hands be an evening sacrifice.
This is generally understood of Christ, the head, as every Christian acknowledges. When day was fading into evening, the Lord laid down his
life on the cross, to take it up again; he did not lose his life against his will. Here, too, we are symbolized. What part of him hung
on the cross if not the part he had received from us? How could God the Father ever cast off and abandon his only Son, who is indeed one
God with him? Yet Christ, nailing our weakness to the cross (where, as the Apostle says: Our old nature was nailed to the cross with him),
cried out with the very voice of our humanity: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The evening sacrifice is then the passion of the Lord, the cross of the Lord, the oblation of the victim that brings salvation the
holocaust acceptable to God. In his resurrection he made this evening sacrifice a morning sacrifice. Prayer offered in holiness from a
faithful heart rises like incense from a holy altar. Nothing is more fragrant than the fragrance of the Lord. May all who believe share in
Therefore, our old nature, in the words of the Apostle, was nailed to the cross with him in order, as he says, to destroy our sinful body,
so that we may be slaves to sin no longer.
The prayers after the sermon in the Breviary that day, the prayer of the Church, which all priests and religious — the pope and the cardinals! — and lay people are more than welcome to pray, are good ones for this moment:
With Christ I have been nailed to the cross,
– and I live now no longer my own life,
but the life of Christ who lives in me.
I live by faith in the Son of God
who loved me and gave up his life for me.
– And I live now no longer my own life,
but the life of Christ who lives in me.
Let us pray.
watch over your Church,
and guide it with your unfailing love.
Protect us from what could harm us
and lead us to what will save us.
Help us always,
for without you we are bound to fail.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen, again, I say, Amen!
And while we’re thinking about prayer: Have you seen the adopt a cardinal initiative? You put in your name and e-mail address and are given a cardinal to pray for as he prepares to elect a new pope. I’m praying for Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio.