What is the Most Perfect Prayer?

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Created by Tito and Eva Marie Balangue. https://www.flickr.com/photos/titobalangue/

Photo Source: Flickr Commons. Created by Tito and Eva Marie Balangue. https://www.flickr.com/photos/titobalangue/

In keeping with my longstanding tradition of kicking over hornet’s nests, I’m going to ask a question.

What is the most perfect prayer?

Over on the Facebook page of a friend of mine, a commenter who identified himself as a priest said that the Holy Mass is the “most perfect prayer.” A Deacon of the Church responded that yes, it was.

I’ve been rolling that one around in my mind ever since I read it.

Mass is, from beginning to end, one long prayer. It is also the sacrifice of Calvary, brought into our daily lives. More than that, it brings that Sacrifice and the Lord Himself into a reliable, supremely accessible form under the guise of bread and wine.

As we would say in Oklahoma, that’s pretty stout.

But is it the most perfect prayer? Is there such a thing as a perfect prayer?

I can’t answer that, even though I raised the question myself. Instead, I will tell you what I know and why I ask the question in the first place.

I know that my personal conversion experience was a sort of eucharist. Let me describe it and explain what I mean.

I was driving in my car, on my way to make a speech. I was deeply troubled and sore at heart because of a sin I had committed against another person. Almost from nowhere, I said aloud, “Forgive me.”

The moment I said that, I felt the long years of sinfulness lift off me. It as an actual physical sensation. I also felt this Other, a Being, respond with such joy and love that words fail to describe it. In the same moment, I felt this joy and love, filling me up.

What was all this? I didn’t know at the time. It was a while into the future before I figured out that the Being I met that day and Who has never left me since was the Holy Spirit.

I never, until I read that exchange on Facebook, considered the possibility that in that moment, I became a form of Eucharist. What I mean by that is that I now believe without doubt that what I experienced was what Protestants call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” and what I’ve seen described in other places as the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

In fact, even though I didn’t know it when it happened to me, Scripture has quite a lot to say about the Holy Spirit, dwelling within us. That Scripture is not describing a theological concept. It is talking about an absolute reality of Christian life. I suppose that what I am also describing might be what Catholics call “a state of grace.”

All I know is that God reached down into that car and loved me back to life in an instant, He came to live within me and me with Him and He has walked with me since that moment. All this happened because of a two-word prayer that I didn’t know was a prayer: “Forgive me.”

I read the comment that the mass is the most perfect prayer, and I agreed with it. But I also know that God can and does create individual Eucharists in people’s hearts every day. I was not unusual or even especially blessed by what happened to me. The reason is that God answers sincere prayers. And He can make a Eucharist, a communion, of any person, at any time.

I know of a young woman who was kidnapped off the street on her way to school. She was put in a brothel and sold over and over as a victim of human trafficking. She lived in India. She had never heard the name of Jesus, knew nothing about Him.

One day, He came to her in the tiny room where she was held when she was not being sold. She saw a light, then a vision of a man. “I am Jesus,” He told her. “I will take care of you.” This young woman now attends a Christian university here in Oklahoma in preparation for returning to India to work among trafficked women.

Her prayer was no prayer at all, at least not as we normally understand it. Her prayer was the desperation and suffering of a young girl, sold into sex slavery. It was the wounded cry of one of His children, reaching up to heaven. Her prayer was not of her own initiative. Her prayer was His love, and it came from Him to her, not the other way around.

And that is the crux of it.

I did not deserve forgiveness. I did not deserve the love and joy that He gave to me.

The goodness was all His. The need and unworthiness was all mine.

The young girl, held prisoner in a brothel, did not even know His name; she did not call to Him because she did not know Him. He came to her. Because He loved her.

I have a friend who spent years trapped in the sins of prostitution, drug dealing,  alcoholism and addiction. For a long time, she would visit one of our Catholic churches here in Oklahoma City. She didn’t go there during mass. She sat at the back of the sanctuary alone, when it was empty. Her reason for being there was that Christ in the Eucharist was calling her to Him. She went there because He called her to Himself.

Her prayer was shame and a sense of unworthiness. It was isolation and alienation and aloneness. It was believing that the good people of the parish would never have her there, but knowing, because He called her, that she had to be there. With Him.

The perfect prayer is a mother, sitting up at night in a steamy bathroom with a croupy baby. The perfect prayer is a father, going to a job he hates and taking all manner of humiliation in order to support his family. It is the rape victim who chooses life for her baby and the cop who follows the evidence rather than just cooking up a case against the most likely.

The perfect prayer is to look at insurmountable problems and terrible insults, to stare in the face of your deepest terror and say, “Lord Jesus, I trust You.”

The mass is a gift, but it is not a gift we give to Him. It, along with the Church, is a gift that He gives to us. The Eucharist is a gift, a covenant, a bond and a promise that He is, as St Paul said, able to keep that which we have entrusted to Him against that day.

The Eucharist heals, gives life, and assures us that at the other end of this earthly passage, in the words of Julian of Norwich, all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

The Eucharist comes from Him, to us. Not the other way around. In like manner the perfect prayer is always His prayer in us. The mass is prayer. A simple forgive me is prayer. Desperation and fear are prayers. Shame and sin sickness are prayers. Love, fidelity, courage are prayers.

Grace is a gift. Mercy is a gift. Salvation is a gift. The Eucharist is a gift. Life is a gift.

They are gifts to us from Him.

The only gift we have to give Him is our love. Everything else, including obedience, comes from that.

What is the most perfect prayer? I think it is to take the whole of our selves, including the pits and stains, welts and scars, lay them down in peace, and say with the confidence of a child talking to her Daddy, “Lord Jesus, I trust in you.”

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Conversion Story: Finding Jesus in Prison

 

Those who are forgiven much, love much.  Jesus Christ

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Judas, called Iscariot

Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.

According to the folks at the History Channel, NatGeo and other purveyors of revisionist Christianity, Judas Iscariot was a well-meaning, misunderstood victim of his own good intentions.

Every year at this time, we are treated to shows that expose us to experts we’ve never heard of before expounding on how Judas didn’t really mean it. He was, they tell us with remarkable certainty, just trying to provoke Jesus into defending Himself and starting a revolution. Judas wanted a warrior messiah who would throw off the Roman yoke and return Israel to the glory days of Kings David and Solomon, they say.

Instead, he got this gentle healer and teacher who refused, as Scripture tells us, to bruise a reed.

So, Judas took things into his own hands. He set Jesus up with the intention of having Him throw off his attackers like Samson slaying the Philistines. What he got instead was a crucified Lord and guilt that destroyed him.

It’s difficult, 2,000 years later, to determine Judas’ intentions. Whatever he intended to happen, his failure of faith doomed him in the end.

Notice, I do not say that his betrayal of our Lord doomed him. I don’t say it, because that didn’t do it.

Peter betrayed Jesus, as did all the Apostles except John. Peter suffered the ignominy of denying that he even knew Jesus. He denied Jesus repeatedly, and then, at the critical moment, when he was actively cursing Jesus, he turned and saw his Master looking at him while he did it.

That black night was such a welter of misery and betrayal. It was, as Jesus said, Satan’s hour.

There is such poignance to the things Jesus said during this time. The hurt echoes in the statement, Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

Think about it for a moment. Judas knew Him. He had traveled with Him, ate with Him, followed, listened and been near Him for years. He’d seen the miracles, experienced the love. Then, whatever his motives, he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. And he did it with a kiss.

Jesus’ sadness, not for Himself, but for Judas, reverberates down the centuries. Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

But it wasn’t the kiss the doomed Judas. It wasn’t the thirty pieces of silver or the betrayal. It was Judas’ lack of faith.

In the final analysis, the thing that separates Judas and Peter is faith.

Is it faith, or is it weakness to turn to God with our sins and confess them to the depths of their utter blackness? Is it faith or is it brokenness that makes us throw ourselves on His mercy and seek forgiveness we know we do not deserve and can never earn?

It is lack of faith, or is it pride that keeps others from admitting their crimes against God? What causes one person to seal themselves inside their sinfulness and die there, while another reaches out like they were drowning and grasps the nail-scarred hand?

I think all these things are factors to differing degrees with different people. But in Judas’ case, it was most likely a lack of faith. Judas had no pride when he went to the priests and threw the money at them. “I have betrayed an innocent man,” he said.

He had no problem admitting the truth of what he had done. He just didn’t admit it to the right person. The priests, now that they had their prey, no longer found Judas useful. “What is that to us,” they replied to his anguished admission. “See to it yourself.”

One might ask what kind of priests these really were who would turn away a sin-sick man so coldly. But such a question would be redundant. They were corrupt priests who had plotted, bribed and bullied their way to the execution of an innocent man in order to preserve their delicately balanced position of power in occupied Israel.

Did they know this innocent man was God? I don’t think so. After all, Jesus, when He prayed for them, said they know not what they do.

But they did know He was innocent. They did know the lies, bribes and political maneuvering they had committed to bring about His death. They knew what they had done, and they were, as Jesus described them earlier in His ministry, indifferent with great hardness of heart. 

Judas confessed his sin. But he confessed it to the wrong person. He went to corrupt priests who told him to “see to it” himself.

Peter, after enduring what must have been unbearable grief and shame, took his sin to Christ.

Judas could and would have been forgiven. All he had to do was humble himself and ask for it of the Man he had betrayed.

The lesson in all this for us is not so much that we should never betray a friend — although that is certainly a worthwhile lesson to learn. The lesson is that, no matter what we have done, we can find forgiveness in the merciful heart of Jesus.

No matter what we have done. No matter how many times we have done it. No matter how horrible or trivial it is. We are sinners. And we need the forgiveness of the only One who has the right to forgive. We need tthe forgiveness of the Living Christ.

Confession is not a way of sidestepping this forgiveness, it is a conduit of its grace. The priest does not and cannot forgive us. He does not and cannot confer newness of life on us. Those things come only from Christ Jesus.

Confession is a simple and accessible way to meet the Risen Lord. it is contact with Christ through the graces of the Church.

However, the healing comes from one place only, and that is the Heart of Our Lord. Even though we should all go to confession, we should never wait to take our sins to Jesus.

If you have sinned — and we all have — turn to Him immediately and ask forgiveness. Then, go to confession when it’s available to you.

Then, Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, Scripture tells us.

Simon, Satan has asked to have you, that he may sift you like wheat, Jesus warned Peter.

Satan had his day with both these men. One of them emerged stronger, the rock on which Christ would build His Church.

The other went out and hanged himself.

They both repented of their sins, and grieved them deeply. The difference is who they asked for forgiveness.

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Seek Him this Christmas

The true meaning of Christmas.

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The Burden of Sin: What Jesus Endured on the Cross


The One Who knew no sin became sin for us.

 

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Graphic images, not for children.

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Abby Johnson Speaks to Abortion Workers

Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic director, speaks from her heart to abortion workers in this video.

I understand how she feels. No one could be more pro choice that I was at one time. God rescued me and forgave me. Once I realized the full horror of what I had done, the hardest part was forgiving myself and accepting God’s forgiveness. I finally came to the realization that I had to let go of it because doing anything else would be refusing God’s forgiveness; it would be a way of saying that my sins were greater than His love, which is a lie.

However, I have never lost the awareness of myself as a sinner saved by unmerited grace. I also still feel sadness over the people I know who are still in that place where I was. I once told a group of people I was speaking to that it was like being in a terrible car wreck and by a miracle getting out of it unscratched but being unable to go on and forget it because I knew that there were still people trapped inside.

Abby Johnson’s love and concern for those people who are still trapped inside the abortion industry is apparent in this video.

I am posting it here in the prayerful hope that it will touch the life some abortion worker who might see it and be changed by it.

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