Editor’s note: This article is part 10 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 9 can be found here.
“Love unites,” says the ancient proverb. It is particularly true with the God of Love. When people love each other they spontaneously tend to seek one another out, find means of contact, and work to remain together. In this sense, love seeks union.
But love unites in another way. Love forges a bond between people, and through the bond of love features of one person transfer to the other. Married couples who have lived together long enough talk like each other, sound like each other, and even look like each other. Even the thoughts and feelings of their hearts belong to one another in ways that only they can understand. If love works so powerfully to unite people in natural friendships, how much more so in the supernatural friendship between us and God.
God has given us a special gift of Love called grace. He has reached down to us and called us up into friendship with himself – into true Life in God. In our friendship with God, love is at work uniting us with God in amazing ways. Just as a lover seeks out the beloved, so God seeks us out. But for a moment had Adam fallen and God called out: “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
The pattern of God seeking us out repeats itself with the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles – with each of us in a unique way. He addresses us as friends. Each of us tends to think that it is I who seek out God, but in fact, it is God who first seeks out each of us. Indeed, “we are not Christians because of our own achievement, but because God has sought us from eternity with the power of his love.”*
Just as friends come to share one another’s features through the bond of love, so we have come to share the features of God himself through the bond of love established with him by grace. There is really no end to saying all that has been or ever could be exchanged between us and God in our friendship with him. It is just too much. To enjoy his holy Name dwelling in our hearts by grace is only the beginning of the grandeurs.
Another astonishing thing transmitted to us through the bond of friendship with God is that our hearts now share in the very prayer of Jesus Christ himself.
What could be more central to someone than his or her prayer? The prayer of a person is an interior act, very secret, and something of a personal characteristic or unique trait. Just as each human finger leaves a unique fingerprint, so each human heart raises a unique prayer to God. The prayer of one’s heart is deeply personal, and for no two people is the prayer of the heart ever quite the same. The deepest prayer of your heart or mine might well be as of yet unspoken. It might not yet have surfaced. But truly God seeks your prayer. For no one else can give your prayer to God except you.
The deepest prayer of your heart or mine might well be as of yet unspoken. It might not yet have surfaced. But truly God seeks your prayer. For no one else can give your prayer to God except you.
So, too, it is with the person of Jesus Christ. He had a prayer all of his own. The Gospels tell us what it was: “Abba!” (Mk. 14:36). It was a unique prayer, unprecedented in all of Israel, and it belonged to Jesus alone. But something very interesting appears in the letters of the New Testament. Saint Paul tells us that, thanks to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Spirit of sonship has been sent into our hearts and now we cry: “Abba!” (Rom. 8:15: Gal. 4:6). The most personal, interior, and intimate act of the heart of Jesus has now been transmitted to Christian hearts too through the Spirit of Love. As a result, the prayer that was original and proper to the heart of Jesus is now the prayer of our hearts too. Our prayer participates in his. Thanks to this participation, one and the same prayer-event going on in the heart of the Lord Jesus is now going on in our hearts too. “The Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus” (CCC 2717).
How can this be so? “All who cling to the Lord become one spirit with him,” says Saint Paul (1 Cor. 6:17). One could never ponder enough what it means to cling to the Lord and become one spirit with him, but in essence, it means that there is an exchange of prayer-life with the Lord through the bond of love. The prayer of his heart and the prayer of our hearts are one prayer. The fusion of our prayer life with his comes to pass through the bond of love, or more specifically, through clinging to the Lord in love. The more deeply and intensely each one of us clings to the Lord in love, the more each and all of our hearts will share in the one prayer – the Son’s prayer to the Father in the Spirit. It is sometimes called the filial prayer.
The filial prayer is a shared action going on now between the heart of Jesus Christ in heaven, and our own hearts here on earth. Though we live on the earth, and Jesus Christ lives in the heavenly places, the prayer of our hearts on earth is the prayer of his heart in heaven. It is also the one prayer of the holy angels, the saints, and the Virgin. It is the one prayer that saves the world, and it is our joy and our calling to share in the filial prayer of the Lord day and night. His filial prayer is at its most perfect on earth in the celebration of the Eucharist, but the share of our hearts in the filial prayer is not limited or reserved to moments of external rites.
The filial prayer is a shared action going on now between the heart of Jesus Christ in heaven, and our own hearts here on earth. Though we live on the earth, and Jesus Christ lives in the heavenly places, the prayer of our hearts on earth is the prayer of his heart in heaven.
For those living in a state of sanctifying grace, walking by the light of faith and living in friendship with God, the filial prayer takes place in the depths of our hearts even when we are busy about other matters. In the depths of our hearts is where the true life is found.
True life is found in living the one prayer that saves the world – the filial prayer of Jesus Christ.
*Josef Ratzinger, Seeking God’s Face: Meditations for the Church Year. Translated by David Smith and Robert Cunningham. (Providence, RI: Cluny, 2020): p.54
Father James Dominic Brent, O.P. is a Dominican Friar who lives and teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. Several of his homilies, spiritual conferences, interviews, and radio spots can be found on his personal Soundcloud site. He frequently lectures for the Thomistic Institute and appears on Aquinas 101.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.