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.”
Lent affords us an opportunity to have the lens of our spiritual eyeglasses adjusted, to go from the nearsightedness of our spiritual vision to see the Christ who lives through us, and in us, and with us, the Christ who is in the poor and downtrodden, the Christ who is our neighbor, the Christ who is standing at the door of our hearts and souls, gently asking if we would so kindly let him in so that he can dwell with us.
I had the great privilege of being on pilgrimage in the Holy Land with my seminary classmates almost 11 years ago. We were given the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land with the seminary rector and some other seminarians. At the time, I was a transitional deacon, so I enjoyed exercising diaconal ministry at many of the holy places.
Every year as we begin the season of Lent, someone will ask me the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I could always remember from a very young age looking at Lent as a time in which you “gave something up.” What confused me, especially as I grew older, was why I would give something up that was not good for me and then, after 40 days, go back to it?
As a kid growing up, my parents instilled in me that all I needed to do to be happy and successful was to be myself. I could remember early in my life, especially in school, times in which I needed to be something else or “imitate” someone else to get attention, prestige or acclamations.
This year, St. Peter Claver Church celebrates its 100th year of establishment. The founding pastor, Servant of God Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn founded this church in honor of St. Peter Claver. This Jesuit missionary priest ministered to the Black slaves who were in Colombia. He dedicated his priestly ministry to ultimately become a slave among the slaves.
My parish has a custom of which I am very fond. When the time comes for the announcements at Sunday Mass, the commentator begins by welcoming those who are worshipping with us for the first time.
“Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed!” What might happen if a latter-day Jonah were to stroll down Flatbush Avenue shouting something like that about Brooklyn?
God is going to call you. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, God is going to call you. Of that, faith gives me confidence. As for how or when or through whom, though, I don’t know!
That is the mystery with which the Gospel reading for this solemnity presents us. Mark’s Gospel tells us how “John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and how people “of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”