“They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to Me.” —Jeremiah 7:24
The prophet Jeremiah has described for us the physiology of sinners. In our sinful rebellion against the Lord, we harden our hearts, turn our backs to God, turn away our faces from God, and stiffen our necks (Jer 7:26). If we don’t repent, the parts of our bodies become even more distorted and perverted. For example, the sinners who martyred Stephen were “stung to the heart,” grinding their teeth, “shouting aloud,” and “holding their hands over their ears” (Acts 7:54, 57).
This Lent and this Easter, look into the mirror of God’s Word (see Jas 1:23). Look at your spiritual appearance. Is your face radiant? Are your feet beautiful? (Is 52:7) Is your forehead imprinted with the seal of the Lamb of God? (Rv 7:3) Do you have praying hands, lips without deceit (see Is 33:15), and a clean heart? (Ps 51:12) Is each part of your body a weapon for justice or for evil? (Rm 6:13) Repent. Be beautiful.
Prayer: Father, may my body always look like a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).
Promise: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out devils, then the reign of God is upon you.” —Lk 11:20
Praise: St. Toribio, a law professor, became a bishop in Spain and a missionary to Native Americans.
What God has asked for we learn from the Gospel. The hour will come, he says, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. God is a spirit, and so he looks for worshippers who are like himself.Prayer is the offering in spirit that has done away with the sacrifices of old. What good do I receive from the multiplicity of your sacrifices? asks God. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and I do not want the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls and goats. Who has asked for these from your hands?
We are true worshippers and true priests. We pray in spirit, and so offer in spirit the sacrifice of prayer. Prayer is an offering that belongs to God and is acceptable to him: it is the offering he has asked for, the offering he planned as his own.
We must dedicate this offering with our whole heart, we must fatten it on faith, tend it by truth, keep it unblemished through innocence and clean through chastity, and crown it with love. We must escort it to the altar of God in a procession of good works to the sound of psalms and hymns. Then it will gain for us all that we ask of God.
Since God asks for prayer offered in spirit and in truth, how can he deny anything to this kind of prayer? How great is the evidence of its power, as we read and hear and believe.
Of old, prayer was able to rescue from fire and beasts and hunger, even before it received its perfection from Christ. How much greater then is the power of Christian prayer. No longer does prayer bring an angel of comfort to the heart of a fiery furnace, or close up the mouths of lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields. No longer does it remove all sense of pain by the grace it wins for others. But it gives the armour of patience to those who suffer, who feel pain, who are distressed. It strengthens the power of grace, so that faith may know what it is gaining from the Lord, and understand what it is suffering for the name of God.
In the past prayer was able to bring down punishment, rout armies, withhold the blessing of rain. Now, however, the prayer of the just turns aside the whole anger of God, keeps vigil for its enemies, pleads for persecutors. Is it any wonder that it can call down water from heaven when it could obtain fire from heaven as well? Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God. But Christ has willed that it should work no evil, and has given it all power over good.
Its only art is to call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the possessed, to open prison cells, to free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travellers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm.
All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look out to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.
What more need be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honour and power for ever and ever. Amen.
|“Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations.” —Deuteronomy 4:6|
Because of their disobedience, the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. They may have assumed they were obeying God, but Moses warned them that they were not obeying carefully enough (Dt 4:6). Jesus’ disciples probably thought they were obeying Him. However, Jesus proclaimed that He expected them to obey even the smallest part of a letter of the law (Mt 5:18; see also Ps 119:112). Then they were to obey the spirit of the law (2 Cor 3:6) and thereby usher in Christ’s kingdom.
The Lord promised us total victory in which we bring down the strongholds, sophistries, and proud pretensions which raise themselves against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:4-5). We will be able to claim this victory when our obedience is perfect, that is, complete (2 Cor 10:6). When we are committed to obey the Lord in every area of life, we will quickly crush Satan under our feet (Rm 16:19-20).
What we call now “obedience” may be more disobedience than obedience. To enter the “promised land,” live in God’s kingdom, and claim total victory, we need an obedience in the Holy Spirit that is careful, strict, and complete. Then we will be great (Dt 4:6-7; Mt 5:19) and have a deep, intimate love for the Lord (see Dt 4:7). When we obey on a new, deeper level, we will live a new life.
|Prayer: Father, through my obedience, raise me beyond my human limitations and weaknesses to the greatness to which You have called me.|
|Promise: “He sends forth His command to the earth; swiftly runs His word! He spreads snow like wool; frost He strews like ashes.” —Ps 147:15-16|
|Praise: Patricia once prayed only on Sundays, but now prays several times a day, entrusting her life to Jesus.|
From the book addressed to Autolycus
Saint Theophilus of Antioch, bishop
[ 120 – 190 A.D. ]