The Prayer of Jesus and Ours

At the Marquette University Jesuit Community where I live, we all come together once a week to celebrate Mass. This last Tuesday I presided and preached and here's what I said....

A favorite theme of the Gospel of Luke is Jesus at prayer. Today's Gospel (Luke 6: 12-19) begins with one of those scenes: "Jesus departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God." What was the prayer of Jesus like?

I imagine much of it was a time of loving communion with the Father in which he experienced himself as the Beloved Son. Knowing the Father as not only his own "Abba" but also the Father of all humanity made in the image and likeness of God, Jesus experienced in his prayer time the reality that other people were his brothers and sisters, beloved children of the Father. And today's Gospel shows us another aspect of Jesus' prayer. In his prayer he reflected on the decisions he faced and discerned the direction he was to take.

When Jesus came down the mountain he chose 12 apostles from his band of followers. Looking at these men it's obvious that this decision was not the result of human ingenuity and wisdom. It was obviously the result of God's direction in his life for God's ways are not human ways.

Just look at the weak and flawed people Jesus chose to be his closest friends and collaborators. Could you really trust Simon Peter to build your Church upon? He blew hot and cold. One day he might tell you that he was willing to face death with you and the next day he would deny that he even knew you. James and John were opportunists and climbers. They were the kind of people who would send their own mother to finagle getting positions of power and glory next to you.

My favorite examples, though, are Matthew and "Simon who was called a Zealot." According to Josephus, the Jewish historian of the time, Zealots were "Assassins." The Romans called them "Stabbers" because they carried small knives with which they would quickly dispatch the occupying soldiers or those who would collaborate with the hated Roman army. They were terrorists. Jesus calls one of them and Matthew, a tax-collector for the Romans, and expects them to live and work together with him. I can just imagine Jesus, in his infinite sense of humor, getting ready to send the apostles out two-by-two and calling Matthew and Simon the Zealot forward to be sent together.

Jesus called earthen vessels and enemies to be with him and work with him. Humanly speaking, nothing could have kept them together. Only Jesus could. And that's where our First Reading (Colossians 2: 6-15) comes into play. St. Paul tells the Colossians to focus on Jesus. He calls on them to be "rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith." Pope Benedict likes to remind us that our faith is not so much in a set of beliefs as it is in a person--Jesus. Only Jesus could have kept those 12 apostles together. Rooted in and built upon Jesus, they could be the 12 pillars of the New Israel, the Church. He was the source of their union of minds and hearts.

The same is true for us and for the entire Church. But how are we rooted in and built upon Jesus? Through prayer. First and foremost, through the Eucharist where we are in a very real way rooted in Christ, joined to Christ and transformed. But secondly, our personal prayer, like the prayer of Jesus on the mountain, roots us in Jesus. In that prayer we, like Jesus, come to know ourselves as beloved sons of Abba. In that prayer we experience others as our true brothers and sisters. In that prayer we come to know the direction God would have us take.

We are called to a deeper relationship than that of followers. We are called to be one with Christ, rooted in him and built upon him. As we grow in this union, our decisions and actions will follow.