“I have been thinking about sacrifice. It seems to me that we have forgotten the true meaning of sacrifice and how it should encompass the whole of our lives.” Peter answers immediately.
I think you are right. The very first Jewish Christians knew all about the meaning of sacrifice because many of them had offered sacrifices themselves through their priests in the temple, even before Jesus began to preach. They already knew therefore, something that we can easily forget, that the end of all sacrifice is communion with God. They knew that if God accepted the offering they made, a new spring lamb, for instance, God would penetrate it with his Holy Presence so that it came to be called ‘God’s Lamb’ or the ‘Lamb of God. Then, when they took and ate the Lamb of God, they would enter into a profound communion with him.
Jesus, the Lamb of God
When Jesus said that he was the ‘Lamb of God’ they knew exactly what he meant. They knew that he was not only the means through which they would in future offer themselves to God, but also the means by which they could enter into the most profound union possible with him on earth. That is why whenever they celebrated the Supper of the Lord, as it was called in those days, their offering of themselves was completed by eating and drinking the bread and wine which was the Lamb of God himself, penetrated through and through with the very life of God. It was in this Holy Communion that they received the help and strength that Jesus had received in his life on earth to enable them to go out and continually offer themselves throughout every moment of every day.
This Holy Communion was so important to them that they did not want to restrict it to the weekly Eucharist, or the Supper of the Lord as it was first called. The practice of daily Mass, as Catholics call it, only became commonplace well into the second millennium. So in those early days, when daily Mass was all but unknown, a practice grew up that was later called Spiritual Communion, in which Christians would set aside time to receive spiritually what they had received physically at the Sunday celebration. In this way their Morning Offerings and their Spiritual Communions would help them to extend what was celebrated in liturgy at the Supper of the Lord, and so they would transform their daily lives into a continual sacrifice for God and for others, as Christ’s life had been before them. It would enable them to be caught up in Christ into an endless cycle of giving and receiving that would encompass every moment of their lives.
In order to try and follow their example and do likewise, I have made the next letter in my blueprint for prayer, using the letters of the Our Father in Latin, S, stand for Spiritual Communion.
The very act of offering ourselves to God enables us to be open to him in such a way that he can enter into us ever more fully to the measure of our purity of heart. That is why, after making this offering, it is time to remain still and silent to relish what we have just received, to wrap ourselves in deep interior stillness so that we can become docile and sensitive to the action of God as he penetrates us more and more fully. In short, we need time in our daily prayer to do what we should do immediately after receiving Holy Communion. Now, the longer we can remain still and open to God’s action in this Spiritual Communion, the more we will enable him to fill us with the self-same love with which he filled Christ.
Transformation into Christ
Peter was becoming anxious to move on and so he moved quickly to the next letter of the Pater Noster, T which stands for Transformation.
After we have been still for a while to savour and give thanks for what, or rather for whom we have received, it is time to pray for what we desire more than anything else, for the power of God’s own Holy Spirit who has entered into us, to begin transforming us into Christ. Then gradually, as this is being brought about, we will begin to love God as he did, with our whole heart and mind and with our whole being and then our neighbours as Christ himself loves them. The more we become like Christ, the more Christ-like action follows quite naturally, almost without our realizing it.
When we have finished praying to be transformed into Christ, we can move on to the next letter, E, which stands for Engagements. Now is the time to look at all our engagements for the forthcoming day, to plan and prepare as best we can to do everything in the most Christ-like manner possible. The Desert Fathers used to spend time each morning examining the forthcoming day to see how they could transform it with the love of God which they had experienced in the Spiritual Communion that was an essential part of their daily prayer. They would try to anticipate all they had to do and the people they would expect to meet, so that throughout that day they could continue to offer themselves to God by the gentle and peaceful way in which they did everything and treated everyone. Success was never gauged by how well they succeeded in doing this, but by how well they tried and tried again and again on successive days, no matter how often they failed. They had already tried to fulfill the first commandment that Jesus gave them, ‘to love God with their whole heart and mind and with their whole being’ now they prepared to fulfill the second. They prepared to channel the love that they had received, in such a way that it could surge outward through them into everything they did and into everyone they would meet.
We can learn from them by using this moment in Morning Prayer to explore the day ahead with all the jobs that we have to do, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Then we can try to anticipate all the people we have to meet, so that we can try to meet them as Christ would have done and serve them as he did.
Once we have offered the day to God and mentally previewed it, it is a good idea to make a few resolutions to do what we are likely to forget or find convenient to forget. That is why I use the letter R as a reminder to end the memory jog by making a few Resolutions. It might be to do humdrum tasks that we keep putting off, like changing the sheets on the bed, putting air into the car tires, defrosting the freezer or something that is more important. There is always that friend or relative who is sick or in need whom we should phone or write to or even visit for a few minutes. Alternatively, perhaps we should make a resolution to apologize to one of the family, a friend or someone at work for the way we behaved towards them the previous day. It is very difficult to stand up for someone who has been abused by authority at work, or elsewhere, or to speak the truth when no one wants to hear it, or to make a stand for what we know is right. But nevertheless these are some of the more important things that could occupy our minds as part of our Morning Prayer.
Perhaps we could end with the most important resolution of all. That is to try and make the forthcoming day a day when we try as best we can to enable God’s love to draw us up, not just into the life of Christ, but into his action. It is only here that we will be able to love God as we should by offering him all that we are and all that we do, but most of all by offering him the way we have tried to serve him through the neighbour in need. The truth of the matter is we will not be judged ultimately by the wonderful feelings we have experienced in prayer, how many ecstasies we have had, or even how many miracles we have worked or people we have healed, but by how we have served God in the neighbour in need. But we will only be able to do this as Jesus did by opening ourselves in prayer to enable us to be filled by the same Spirit that inspired all he said and did.
“I think that’s all I want to say at the moment about the blueprint,” Peter said, standing up. Please keep it and if you find it useful for yourself or for others, you can make further copies. I’ll talk about the middle section tomorrow morning before you go. Oh, one last point that I think is very important: The blueprint is not supposed to be a rigid formula. The idea is that each person can adapt it to his or her own needs. Some people may find it helpful to split it up so they could use the introduction by way of an aid for Morning Prayer and use the end as a memory jog for Evening Prayer, or vice versa. I know quite a few people who prefer to plan their day ahead at the beginning of the actual day rather than on the evening before. If you do split up the schema in this way, the middle section could be used at another time of the day as the main prayer period. However, absolute beginners who are often at a loss to know how to fill their prayer period to begin with, may well be advised to make use of the whole Blueprint so that they will find plenty to occupy themselves during the prayer period.
One final suggestion that you may like to try, a practice used by the Desert Fathers when they retired to bed. Take a short prayer and repeat it slowly and prayerfully. It may simply be the word ‘Jesus’, or the full Jesus Prayer, ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. This prayer and others like it came to be used, most particularly in the Eastern Church with slow rhythmical breathing. It was not just a device for relaxation, but for reminding the believer of the all-pervading action of the Holy Spirit. The ancient Jews believed that a person’s breath was their life-principle, their spirit, so naturally they believed that God’s breath was his life-principle, his Spirit. So the deep rhythmical breathing that often accompanied short prayers of the heart helped remind them of the ever-incoming Spirit who dwelt within them with ever-increasing power the more they prayed.
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Peter said as he dashed off through the door, mumbling something to the effect that Daisy his beloved and dependable cow expected to be milked at 4.30pm sharp!
David Torkington will be reading this series on Radio Maria England in the Autumn of 2020. The program will be broadcast by DAB radio in the north of England or world wide via the internet, or on this site