The prime characteristic of Christian faith is that it is faith in God. Furthermore, that this God is someone who speaks, someone to whom man can speak. The Christian God is characterized by revelation, that is, by the words and deeds in which he addresses man, and the goal of revelation is man’s response in word and deed, which thus expands revelation into a dialogue between Creator and creature which guides man toward union with God.
So prayer is not something on the periphery of the Christian concept of God; it is a fundamental trait. The whole Bible is dialogue: on the one side, revelation, God’s words and deeds, and on the other side, man’s response in accepting the word of God and allowing himself to be led by God. To delete prayer and dialogue, genuine two-way dialogue, is to delete the whole Bible.
Joseph Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, 16
Reflection – It is October, of course, and in Catholic tradition this month is dedicated to a religious theme, as each month of the year is. October is dedicated to the Rosary, and I hope to have posts dotting the month that relate to that theme. Posts on Mary, and posts on prayer, perhaps posts on the specific mysteries of the Rosary. That’s the plan, anyhow (I'm making it up as I go along...).
This excerpt from a very fine book by Ratzinger brings out the central nature of prayer in our faith. The whole revealed picture of God we get from the Bible and taken up in the tradition of the Church is a God who wants to be in conversation with us, a God who talks to us and wants us to respond. Our God, the God of Christianity, is not some enigmatic cloudy figure up there somewhere, not some energy field or faceless voiceless ‘ground of being’, or some philosophical axiom or the answer to a metaphysical or ethical puzzle. He may well be all those things in some fashion or other, but ultimately, He is a Father who wants to be in relationship with his children.
And so, prayer. At the very heart of Christian faith is Christian prayer and Christian worship. We are made, not simply to be in good order with one another, not simply to work for a humane, kind, just way of life as a human community. We are made to open up this human life and community to something altogether other, altogether transcendent from ourselves, and to live not only on good terms with one another but in communion with this Other, this One, this God.
And this is not, as it is in some religious traditions, a task reserved for some elite class of ‘professional religious’. Even in our Catholic tradition, the corruption of elitism has entered in, and true union with God has at times been reserved to the monastics or rare elect souls. But that is not a view consistent with Catholic theology—it is a corruption, a distortion.
Our Catholic sense is that God wants to be in union with all of us, with every human being, and all of us together as a body, a community of persons. This is consistent with the whole Bible, where God comes to individuals but then fashions them into a people of his own. And so the deepest realization of communion with God comes, not on a mountain top or in a lonely hermitage or in a trance, but… well, at Sunday Mass.
You know, that place with the crying babies, the bored teenagers, the crabby old people, the priest who is a total doofus, the sour judgmental holier than thou types, the nightmarishly bad music… or whatever your current beef might be about your parish. That’s where heaven comes down to earth, God speaks to His people, gives Himself to them most fully this side of heaven and asks us to respond, individually and communally, by pledging our lives and our hearts to Him.
Prayer, but prayer always understood in that biggest context, that call to communion that draws us first to God but then to the community, the body of the Church. And it all goes together—our life long seeking of God and His love, His presence, His voice, and our life long struggle and joy of loving our neighbor as ourselves.
It’s all part of the same picture, and that picture is that the God who speaks to us and wants us to speak to Him is Himself a Communion of Love, a three-personed unity that utterly exceeds our understanding. It’s a good thing we have Mary to help us in all this, and that the Rosary has been given to the Church as such a simple way of being with Mary. It’s all a bit too much for us, but she seems to get it, and helps us get it a little better each day as we turn to her for help. So, happy October to you.