Fr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sanctae Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
Thursday of the First Week of Lent
March 16, 2000
Esther 12:14-16, 23-25; Mt 7:7-12
The readings that the Church gives us today are clearly and primarily about confidence in prayer. The Church gives them to us in order to inspire us to be bold in our prayer this Lent, both for ourselves and for others. But insofar as I preached to you at length on February 7th about praying with audacious trust in God, today I would like to focus on something from the Gospel that actually is one of the FOUNDATIONS AND CONDITIONS OF CHRISTIAN PRAYER, in the hope that it might orient, embolden and inspire our Lenten prayer.
Jesus says to us in the Gospel, “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” Jesus’ three imperatives are ASK, SEEK AND KNOCK. Behind each of these commands is something simple, something that’s crucial and fundamental for prayer, but something too many of us too often overlook: DESIRE. We ask because we want something, seek because we’re looking for something, knock because we want to enter through the portal. So within the context of the Lenten pilgrimage we’re making and within the specific context of the things we’re praying for, we need to ask ourselves directly several related and important questions: What are we really seeking this Lent? Are we seeking anything at all or just going through the motions of this liturgical season? What doors are we trying to enter? Do we recognize we’re not now in the room we want to be? How insistently are we knocking? Ultimately: WHAT DO WE REALLY WANT FROM GOD THIS LENT AND HOW PERTINACIOUS IS OUR PRAYER THAT GOD GIVE IT TO US?
These are very important questions to gauge our interior pulse now, nine days into Lent. I’m obviously not privy to what you’ve been asking God in prayer to give you so far during this season. But in the event that you might be sensing that there’s something missing in your prayer life this Lent, something absent in your relationship with the Lord that you hoped would have been there by now, I’d like to turn our focus to the desires that ultimately undergird our prayers in the hope that we might there find the rejuvenation that will rekindle our efforts. I’ll concentrate on three fundamental desires that should be inspiring our lives this Lent and therefore our prayers.
The first desire which should be burning within us is for the KINGDOM OF GOD. This is fundamental in Lent. As Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his public ministry and yet again to us this past Sunday: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus has already inaugurated the kingdom — it’s già e non ancora, as the theologians tell us, already here but not yet fully realized as it will be in heaven — but too often too few of us live as if it has already begun, and too seldom do we repent and reorient our lives in conformity with this realization. Do we realize that the kingdom of God is already here? That all the parables of Jesus on the kingdom are in some sense fulfilled? For example, that just as he promised, in the kingdom there will be a banquet in which he will gird himself with an apron and wait on us at table? That reality is already present when the priest in persona Christi dons a full length apron every day at the nuptial banquet of the Lamb. If we recognize that the kingdom is already here, our prayer will change dramatically this Lent. Jesus addressed this clearly in the sermon on the Mount, when he said: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For … your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. BUT STRIVE FIRST FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, and all these things will be given to you as well.” If Jesus is saying this about the things we really need — food, drink, clothing — then how much more is he saying it about the things we don’t really need, like that stellar grade, or the removal of that particular cross, etc. The first thing we need to examine ourselves on this Lent is whether we’re striving to live confidently and filially in that kingdom Jesus has already inaugurated.
The second desire we should hope is burning within us is FOR TRUE AND FULL CHRISTIAN LIFE. Jesus himself said in St. John’s Gospel that he came that we might have life and have it to the full. He came to help us become FULLY ALIVE so that we might be and experience all he created us to be and thereby give glory to our Father in heaven. Too often in Lent, I think, too many people look on their voluntary mortifications and the whole season as something that literally “mortifies,” something that kills. To the extent that someone is still in the purgative way of the spiritual life, such mortifications are obviously good. But they’re only means for us to die to ourselves and to sin SO THAT WE MIGHT RISE FULLY ALIVE IN THE LIFE OF GRACE. What LIFE are we seeking this Lent? Do we feel fully alive? Do we actively aspire to this life and pray for it? This life to the full to which Jesus refers is life with him. The culmination of St. Paul’s every desire was when we has able to say to the Galatians what could very well be our Lenten motto and goal: “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Are all our prayers and actions this Lent geared toward allowing this crucified and risen Lord ever more to live in us and us in him?
The third and last desire we’ll touch on today is LOVE. This in some ways is the most important of the three, because it undergirds and inspires the others. St. Paul minces no words in describing how important and even indispensible it is to everything in Christian life. He says to the Church in Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a NOISY GONG OR A CLANGING CYMBAL. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have ALL FAITH, SO AS TO MOVE MOUNTAINS, but do not have love, I AM NOTHING. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to the torturers, but do not have love, I GAIN NOTHING.” So even if you pray with the faith to move mountains and bring about other miracles; even if you suffer all types of pain for the faith; even if you become the greatest theologian the Angelicum has ever graduated; even if you keep all of your Lenten resolutions perfectly, spend three hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament each day, and fulfill all your duties here at the Domus such that your superiors can’t stop singing your praises: IF YOU DON’T HAVE LOVE, YOU GAIN NOTHING AND ARE NOTHING. And so the question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we in love this Lent? Would anyone else think we were in love by how we act? Do we recognize how loved we are by God and express that joy of being loved in our relations with each other? Or are we just adding to the list of sterile and unhappy celibates imperfectly living the virtue of chastity (which is meant to help us love fully within our state of life)? We will only live our vocations fully when we burn with love for the Lord and for others, and feel his heart burning out of love for us. Are we seeking this love this Lent? Are we trying to bust down heaven’s door so that God will fill us with this love? Are we opening the door to him when he’s knocking on our hearts to give it to us?
“Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” This Mass is a Godsend to us to rekindle these desires, as we participate in the very feast of the KINGDOM OF GOD, receive God’s very life within us, and recognize the indescribable LOVE of the Father that made it possible. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans about the Father’s love in the context of prayer: “The Father did not even withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us: will he not with him also give us everything else?” Yes he will. And love so amazing, so divine, demands in return ours souls, our lives, our all.