1. Relationships. We human beings are wired for relationships with other human beings. From the first moment of our creation we are connected to another human being, and that connection brings us life, and without it, we will perish. When we are little, we will physically shrivel up and die without these nurturing relationships. And when we are grown up, if we don’t maintain these relationships, we will shrivel up and die emotionally and spiritually.
2. In other words, we have to work at it. These sustaining relationships take desire, time and effort. We have to spend time with others, we have to put forth effort, and we have to give love.
3. If this is true for our human relationships, it is also true with the most important relationship in our lives. As essential to our survival are our relationships with other human beings, there is another relationship that is even more essential. This is our relationship with God. In order to fully thrive as human beings, to be all we can be, we have to be in a nurturing, sustaining, and deeply personal relationship with God.
4. This is nothing new. Our saints have taught us this and have lived it in their own lives from the very beginning. They show us that a nurturing, sustaining and deeply personal relationship with God is maintained through prayer and sacraments. And the key is prayer, because without prayer we just go through sacramental motions and never really benefit from all the grace of our sacraments.
5. Like our human relationships, our relationship with God takes time, effort and desire. We have to have the desire to be with God and we have to make the effort to be with God and we have to spend the time with God. This is what prayer is. Prayer is not reciting prayers. Prayer is talking to God, listening to God, and being with God. It is having a personal relationship with God.
6. How do we do this? Well, as I said, we have to set aside time to be with God. Quality time, as we say. And that takes effort, as we all know. How much time? How much time do we have for the things that are really important, for the things that are essential? And how much time to we give to things that aren’t that important, the things that aren’t essential? We have to be honest with ourselves and with God about this. Jesus and the saints show us that time for quality prayer is possible, even for the busiest of people, and most of them were very busy and very much in demand, especially Jesus.
7. And I want to focus on Jesus here, because he is not only our role model for prayer, he is the focus of our prayer as Christians. Certainly we pray the Our Father as Jesus himself taught us, and we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we do so as we say, “…through him, with him and in him…” through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ. Jesus tells us that no one comes to the Father except through him, and he also tells us that he sends us the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the center of our faith. It is called “Christianity” after all. If we want to know God, we must know Jesus. God the Father loved us so much that he sent his Son Jesus into the world so that all who believe in him might not shrivel up and die, but would have life forever. At the last supper when Jesus was talking about God the Father, Philip said, “Jesus, show us the Father.” Jesus said, “Have you been with me so long and you still don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
8. In other words, Jesus is God made visible. And he was made visible so that we would look at him! God tells us, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him!” We need look no further nor anywhere else. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. If we want to know God personally, we have to know Jesus personally. This is God’s plan.
9. That’s what I mean when I say that Jesus must be the focus of our prayer. We can imagine all kinds of things about the Father and about the Holy Spirit, but Jesus we can actually see. We first of all see him in his life on earth as recorded in the scriptures. We have to spend prayer time with Christ in the scriptures. St. Jerome, one of the greatest Biblical scholars of all time, said, “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” He wasn’t saying that we all have to become scripture scholars like him, but rather that we all have to come to know the Christ of the scriptures. And that we all can do.
10. Here’s what the saints teach us about praying with Jesus in the scriptures. Pick a passage from one of the Gospels that is about Jesus, something he did or something he said, and focus on that in your prayer time. Before you begin, ask God to bless your prayer time, ask God to help you to focus on Jesus, ask for the grace to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely. Then slowly read the scripture, and see what is going on in the passage. Take today’s Gospel for example. Jesus and his disciples come to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus goes to the synagogue and taught the people, and they were all astonished at him. Then he cast an unclean spirit out of a man, and everyone was amazed. Then spend some time imagining what all that was like. Imagine you’re one of the disciples and you witness everything in the passage. What is Jesus doing, what is Jesus saying, how does all this make you feel, and does it make you think of things in your own life? (This is where the Holy Spirit comes in and teaches us in prayer, but our focus is still on Jesus.) Then, as you conclude your time of prayer with Jesus, ask Jesus to give you what you know you need to be more like him. I promise you, if you do this on a regular basis, you will come to know Jesus more intimately, and in knowing him, you will love him more intensely, and you will follow him and serve him more closely.
11. You know, some evangelical Christians don’t think that Catholics are Christians. I think it’s because they don’t see Catholics having a personal relationship with Jesus. Now part of me gets very defensive and I want to say to them, “How could you not see that Jesus is what Catholicism is all about? Look at our sacraments, especially the Eucharist. They’re all about Jesus. And look at our saints. They’re all about Jesus.” But another part of me knows that there’s all too much truth in their perspective. I too see too many of us Catholics not really knowing Jesus, at least not in the way that we can know him, and love him and serve him.
12. Christ is truly the heart of Catholicism. He’s the heart of Christianity. And Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship, a deeply personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, and through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, a relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ always comes to us in Holy Communion, and he always wants holy communion with us. If you’ve drifted away from him, come back to him. If you’ve never known him, believe that he knows you, and that he knocks at the door of your heart. Open your heart to him, invite him in, and he will come and fill your life with his life and love. Wherever you’re at today, come to Christ. Do not delay, come to Christ today!