The language of us

When the Church closes her year she does so with a flourish. Christ the King is celebrated as a punctuation to a year of Gospels that tell Jesus’ story from birth to death to Resurrection. Each year on this feast we hear a different description of Christ the King in the Gospels. Theologians turn themselves upside down trying to make sense of this humble Servant Who is anything but regal in His demeanor. Over the course of a three-year Liturgical cycle we hear three different reflections on Christ’s Kingship. 

Last year we heard the memorable image of Christ describing the corporal works of mercy that will determine our final judgment. Next year we will hear about the two criminals hanging beside Jesus on the cross. The one who asks that Jesus remember him when He comes into His Kingdom, gives us an image of the reign that is to come. It is the Gospel we hear this year that is very curious. In His exchange with Pilate, Jesus gives us a lesson on how to be subjects in His Kingdom. “You say that I am a King. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.” When we put all three together we learn that we must take care of the needs of others, the Kingdom of God is a present and future reality, and one must listen in order to be a subject in this Kingdom. 

Most Christians are very comfortable being doers of the corporal works of mercy, but can we say that equal emphasis is given to being hearers of the truth? In the exchange between Pilate and Jesus there is a great deal revealed to us about this Kingdom into which we are invited. Jesus tells Pilate that the people who hear His words become people of truth, but the truth for which He came was to simply make God known to us. The only way that we can be hearers of truth is to be people who pray.

Karl Rahner once described the human person as a living “prayer-er.” We focus so much of our energy in the Church on making sure that doctrine is handed down that we might be overlooking a far more important catechetical task. We should be placing our energy into helping people to recognize themselves as Rahner’s homo orans: living prayer-ers. 

God initiates prayer, not the other way around. As the letter of St. James says, “Whoever comes near to God; God comes near to him.” Prayer is the ultimate conveyance of human dignity for it lifts us out of the mundane and into the transcendent. Prayer allows a person to face God, address God however one wishes, and speak to God about anything. Human beings are hard-wired for prayer, and therefore we must direct our resources to helping people to develop this primordial connection to God. 

Prayer may not come as naturally to this generation as it did to our parents and grandparents. Those old customs of making the Sign of the Cross when passing a church; cutting a cross into a loaf of bread; placing a cross on the foreheads of our children, praying the Rosary, making a visit to sit before the Tabernacle; all of these were how they turned their everyday lives into prayer. God is very interested in the mundane moments of our lives. Maybe we need the grandparents to help us find our inner prayer life. After all, it is said that in countries where the faith was persecuted it was Christian grandmothers who handed it on.

God also likes prayers of petition. Rahner suggests that God delights in the arrogance that such little creatures as humans “have the impression that their prayers reach God.” Prayer is as simple as reflecting on all of the little and big things in our life; something that we do every day when we make note of what we have to do or what we just left behind. Our thoughts become prayer when we begin a meditation on our busy lives with “hey God listen to this,” and end with “please help me, God, I’m powerless.” 

For us in this generation the sound of truth must be greatly muted since so many are walking around with no desire to enter this Kingdom where God is known. Hearing God is not so difficult if we learn God’s language. Jesus bequeathed the Holy Spirit to us so that God would forever be within. Prayer, then, is not to the ineffable God above but to the God Who dwells within. This is how we “hear” God, in a language that only we can understand, or as Rahner says, “God speaks us to ourselves.” There is no Rosetta Stone to learn the language of us, but we will become fluent with practice.

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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