Faith in Christ opens us to unconquerable ecclesial horizons even when love seems impossible and the world is falling apart around us. It is about the solidarity we have in Christ. The solidarity that compels us to pray in terms of “we” and “our” instead of remaining on the level of “I” and “mine.” The faith we have in Christ opens to a new solidarity, a new peace that the tired out systems of society promise but cannot deliver. The prayer that flows from solidarity with one another in Christ is as unvanquished in each one’s personal life as it is in world history.
In Saint Cyprian’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, he explains why the prayer begins “Our Father” instead of “My Father.” His explanation unveils a beautiful dimension to Christian prayer – its movement to a new unity and peace that is the only real hope of alienated humanity. Christ is for Saint Cyprian the “Master” of unity and “Doctor” of peace – precisely because of how He taught us to pray and because of the prayer which faith in Him makes possible – a union of hearts in Him in which beautiful ecclesial horizons can be seen.
This means to look on these horizons of hope, we must be captivated together by Christ, implicating ourselves in one another lives through His love. Who can be indifferent to the plight of his neighbor when we look at one another through the eyes of our Risen Lord. With His eyes we see horizons of hope not only individually and in private, but historically, publicly and socially– He shows us a shining witness for the whole world.
To see the mystery of Christian prayer from the Lord’s perspective is impossible without recourse to the mystery of the Church. Those who are baptized into Christ never pray as isolated individuals. Although intensely personal, Christian prayer is no private affair. Prayer impelled by the love of Christ does not culminate in any isolated psychological feat or private state of consciousness. Instead, the simple prayer we have learned from the Only Begotten Son of the Father remains always the cry of a child’s heart.
True Christian prayer is a cry that implicates itself in the plight of the most vulnerable. It is a cry of solidarity and love that embraces not only joy but also sorrow. The deepest meaning of such prayer is disclosed only as we approach the Cross and search the face of the Word made flesh. Before His Face, we know we are not alone and we know we must never abandon one another. It is out of this deep familiarity with the mystery of Christ that Saint Cyprian sees in the words “Our Father” a definitive and public expression of that peaceful solidarity of the Church in the world.
No matter how lofty or intense our contemplation, the love of Christ constantly urges Christians to deeper and more meaningful unity with one another. It is not a matter of peaceful “feelings” and even less does it concern a superficial “sense” of community. It is real peace that stands firm even when everything else in the world falls apart. It is real unity bound by real sacrifice. If it is personal, it is also public. It flows from the real presence of Christ to us. It reaches us to Him and through Him to one another, even the most vulnerable and defenseless. If it is hidden in suffering and hardship, this living solidarity is revealed by faith in Christ.
Faith in Christ not only makes love possible in hardship – the prayer that flows from it makes God’s love the defining moment of every situation. When we love, when we persevere with one another out of reverence for Christ, we endeavor something that takes us beyond the boundaries of our frail existence. Beyond these boundaries, the misery of broken world systems and broken families has no more power over us – this misery is no longer the final word, the defining element of our lives. By faith, we know a deeper purpose that only love knows. It is this loving purpose that fills Christian prayer.
G.K. Chesterton once made the observation that the Church is the one institution that continually outlasts its conquerors. Christian prayer, as the animating activity of Christian existence, is always in this communion, always ordered to this unity of love that neither sin nor death can destroy. This is because God is love and love is stronger than death. In Him, love wins even when it appears defeated. Thus, Christians begin the greatest prayer of all with words that raise their hearts toward the ultimate purpose of the ecclesial communion they share in Christ — a purpose who is a person, the Person who in communion with the Son and the Spirit is the source and origin of the love, peace, and unity the world needs today: “Our Father.”
Art for this post on the solidarity of Christian prayer: All saints (“Landauer Altar”) [alternate title Adoration of the Trinity], Albrecht Dürer, 1511, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.