Enwrapped In Prayer
Fourth Sunday of Advent. Fr Simon Francis Gaine explains the significance of Christ’s human body for our salvation.
The Psalms of David were the prayer book of Jesus, as they were the prayer book of his own Jewish people. He was praying psalms at the end of his life, as he lay on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? … Into your hands, I commend my spirit.’ Psalms of lament, psalms of praise, all written centuries before the coming of Christ, found their fulfilment in his prayerful offering of himself for our salvation. And so today’s second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, pictures Jesus praying a psalm around the beginning of his life, as he lay in his mother’s womb: ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.”’
By presenting Christ’s taking flesh in this way, Hebrews tells us a number of things about the mystery of the incarnation. He tells us first about the importance of the body, of Christ’s body. Christmas is a very physical affair. It is about God, who is wholly spiritual and immaterial, sharing in the material, bodily lives of our humanity, so that we may have a share in his divinity. It recognises the fact that we are bodily creatures, part of a material creation, and that our bodies and the physical world around us are of real value in the eyes of the God who created them. Our bodies are essential to our common life together, to the way we communicate one with another, and share our lives with one another. All this was affirmed when God communicated with us, spoke with us, by becoming one of us, by taking a human body to himself from the body of a human mother, when the Word became flesh. The intimacy of the holy family, of Jesus with Mary and Joseph, points to the intimacy God has established with us all.
But Hebrews does not tell us only of a body. It tells us about Christ’s activity. Christ has come to do God’s will. The human body, human life, is brought to perfection by action. We show ourselves in what we do, and our actions form our characters, for good or ill. All of us make something of ourselves by what we do in the body, and activity was just as important to the human life of the Son of God, because what he did, together with what he suffered, was the source of salvation. In the case of Jesus, it is always clear that he came not to do his own will, but the will of the Father who sent him. After his hidden life in Nazareth, he set out to preach, to heal, to forgive, to warn, and to die. Unlike those he came to save, Christ’s will was always perfectly in tune with the Father’s, even when he experienced the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane, and chose his Father’s will to go to the cross rather than his own natural will to preserve his bodily life. Here we see how communion between us and God is restored: the body Christ takes is a body that can die. It is not enough for him simply to be human, and it is not enough for us simply to be human. He does God’s will, and so brings us the forgiveness of our sins. We for our part no longer need to make any burnt offerings for sin. Rather it is for us to participate by grace in Christ’s offering of himself, by receiving his body and blood at the altar, and by becoming more deeply members of his one body, offered in one Spirit to the Father.
Finally, simply by its portrayal of his praying the psalm, Hebrews shows us how the whole of Jesus’ life was enwrapped in prayer. Prayer is a lifting up of the mind and heart to God, and even before he was old enough actually to utter the words of a psalm, his mind and heart were already trained on God, resting in God, and it was this peace which the source of all his activity, of all that he did – and suffered – on our behalf. If we are to share in his life, not simply at mass, but in all that we do in the body, we too need to be supported by prayer. The good news is that the more deeply we are united in Christ’s one body, the more our prayer will be a sharing in his prayer, a sharing that can spread throughout us to touch every detail of our lives.
Torch Christmas Appeal
Torch now reaches readers from all around the world, in dozens of countries from Nigeria to New Zealand.
These homilies offer food for thought to thousands of men and women every week. Torch even helps many clergy with ideas for their own preaching – including some for whom English is not their native language, but who must preach using it.
Torch is provided free of charge, but as mendicant friars we rely on the generosity of others in order to continue our mission.
All the friars who write for Torch give freely of their time, but they still need feeding, clothing and housing – not to mention an internet connection!
We welcome any gift you feel able to make, and wish you every blessing for Christmas and the New Year.