By Father John P. Cush, STD
In today’s Gospel passage, the Lord Jesus encounters a disciple, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin Council, who was his secret follower.
What is interesting about this meeting by nightfall between the Lord and Nicodemus is that, at first, it starts as a genuine dialogue. Nicodemus is asking questions, incredulous at the words of Jesus, asking what he means that all must be born again. Gradually, this dialogue becomes a monologue, with Nicodemus bowing out and letting Our Lord Jesus dominate the conversation.
And isn’t that the way things are supposed to be in prayer? Letting Jesus’ heart speak to our heart or as St. John Henry Newman had as his episcopal motto, “Cor ad cor locquitur,” “Heart speaks to the heart.” All too often, prayer is a monologue — we rattle off in front of the Lord. And, of course, that’s fine. Do we ever stop listening to what He is saying to us in our prayer, our contemplation, and our meditation?
What is prayer? According to one of the Fathers of the Church, St. John Damascene, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” There are four types of prayer: blessing and adoration (recognizing that God is God, we are not, and thank God for that!), contrition (saying we are sorry for our sins and those of the whole world), thanksgiving (showing appreciation to God for everything in our lives, both the happy and the sad), and supplication (pleading to God for our needs and wants and those of others).
So much of prayer consists of us just listening to the will of the Lord, which he graciously reveals in our life. Prayer involves as much listening as it does speaking to the Lord.
The Catechism (2626) states: “Blessing expresses the basic movement of Christian prayer: it is an encounter between God and man. In blessing, God’s gift and man’s acceptance of it are united in dialogue with each other. The prayer of blessing is man’s response to God’s gifts: because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing.” Adoration is described as “the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his creator” (CCC 2628). Note what the Catechism is telling us. It is all about two “R’s” needed for the spiritual life: religion and relationship.
At its essence, what is religion? We could say it is the human being’s response to God as God reveals himself to us. This is a straightforward way of saying that it is a relationship or a covenant, to use a biblical word, between two unequal partners. God, the faithful partner, is always the one who initiates the relationship. The human being, perpetually falling into unfaithfulness, is the one who responds to this covenantal offer from God with true and proper worship of God. Man realizes that he is ultimately totally dependent on God. And that’s okay!
Nicodemus, a follower of Jesus, who comes to him at night and who will be present again in John’s Gospel in chapter 7 when he advises the Sanhedrin to stop and investigate all charges that could be made against the Lord Jesus and then again in John 19 when he brings an overabundance of aloes and myrrh for the burial of the Christ, can allow the Lord Jesus to begin a dialogue, a dialogue of the heart with the Lord. Ultimately, he is able to permit the Lord Christ, who is the gracious and holy one of God, to have a monologue, a monologue of goodness, peace, and mercy, a catechesis of truth with his heart. Can we do this?
In this Lenten season, can we take the time to be silent in our noise-saturated age and to listen to the Lord who is always speaking to us in the quiet (and the noise and busyness) of our daily lives? Salvation comes when we can allow Christ to have “cor ad cor loquitur,” his heart speaking to our heart.
Readings for Fourth Sunday of Lent
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Psalm 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Father Cush is the Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, also in Rome.