Father, I Give Thee Thanks

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Homily preached this morning
at Holy Family Cathedral, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Over the past three Sundays,
brothers and sisters,
we have listened attentively to the Gospel of Saint John.
Saint John's is the divine and mystic Gospel:
its every page shines
with the brightness of the Face of Christ,
revealing the glory of the Father.
Its every page burns
the fire of the Heart of Jesus
revealing the Father's merciful love.

Saint John's Gospel is alive
with the prayer of Jesus to the Father.
One cannot listen to the Gospel of Saint John,
or read it, or meditate it in one's heart
without being lifted, almost imperceptibly,
into the prayer of Jesus to the Father:
a prayer that rises on the wings of an unshakable confidence
in the Father's readiness to hear us at every moment.

So few of us pray as the Father would have us pray
because we cling to our own prayers
-- narrow, myopic, half-hearted,
constrained by our fears,
and weighed down by our inability to trust.
Jesus, however, would have us pray as He prays.
Even more than that,
He would have us open our hearts
to His own prayer to the Father;
the bold and trusting prayer of the Son,
the sacrificial and all-powerful prayer
of the Eternal High Priest.

Jesus would infuse His own prayer into our souls
and, by the action of the Holy Ghost,
so draw us into His own relationship with the Father
that He will pray in us,
and we in Him,
and the Father, seeing us in prayer
hearing our words,
attentive to our groanings,
and counting our tears
as so many pearls for the treasury of the Kingdom,
will see on our faces the Face of the Son,
the Eternal High Priest,
and hear in our every heartbeat
the echo of His.

There is much in today's Gospel
that solicits my attention
and almost begs to be preached.
There is, for instance,
the message sent to Jesus by Martha and Mary,
the model of all intercessory prayer:
"Lord, behold him whom Thou lovest is sick."
How like the prayer of the Mother of God at Cana
is this prayer of two women, friends of Jesus,
fully confident in His response even before He gives it.
"They have no wine." (Jn 2:3)
"Lord, behold him whom Thou lovest is sick."
There is no need to say more.
A prayer of intercession patterned after this prayer
cannot fail to touch the Heart of Jesus.

I could also linger over the message that Martha
whispers into Mary's ear:
"The Master is here, and calleth for thee." (Jn 11:28)
This is the very message that everything in our churches
whispers to the believing heart:
the doors of the Church says it,
the Holy Water at the entrance of the Church says it,
the flicker of the sanctuary lamp says it,
the centrality of the tabernacle says it.
"The Master is here, and calleth for thee." (Jn 11:28)
How can you or I remain indifferent to such an appeal?

I could preach about the tears of Jesus:
the tears of the God-Man,
the tears that reveal the Divine Sensitivity of the Human Heart of God,
the tears that show us the Divine capacity for human friendship,
the tears that, falling upon our stony, hardened hearts,
soften them, change them, and wash them clean.

There is much more in today's Gospel
that begs to be preached, repeated, prayed
and held in our hearts.
Every line, in fact, is a vein of purest gold
waiting to be mined for the treasury of Mother Church.

All of this being said,
today I am drawn irresistibly to verses 41 and 42
of this eleventh chapter of Saint John\.
"And Jesus, lifting up His eyes said:
'Father, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast heard me.
And I know that Thou hearest me always;
but because of the people who stand about have I said it,
that they may believe that Thou hast sent me." (Jn 11:41-42).

Jesus lifts up His eyes.
By lifting His eyes towards heaven,
Jesus teaches us that prayer is nothing else
than the lifting of the heart and mind to God.
The direction of His eyes
reveal the movement of His Heart.
Everything in the Son is turned towards His Father.
There is not a moment in His earthly life
when He, the Word who was in the beginning,
is not God facing God.

Instructed by His example,
the Church directs that in the most sacred part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
in that "Holy of Holies" that is the Canon of the Mass,
the priest, in imitation of Jesus,
lift his eyes towards the Father.
Here, the priest functions as the Head of the whole
worshipping body,
the congregation kneeling behind him.

When the eyes of the priest are raised heavenward,
the hearts of the faithful are also drawn upward,
for the eyes of the head
determine the orientation of the whole body.

There is no detail in the liturgy of the Church
that is of no consequence.
The lifting of the eyes heavenward
sets in motion the whole Church,
that is, the multitude of those who
"being of but one mind and one soul" (Ac 4:4)
lay aside all earthly cares
and forsake all that weighs upon their hearts
to enter with the Son, the High Priest,
into the sanctuary of heaven.

'Father, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast heard me."
Here is Saint John's echo of that admirable thanksgiving of the Son in the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke:
"In that same hour, He rejoiced in the Holy Ghost,
and said: I confess to Thee, O Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
because Thou hast hidden these things
from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them to little ones.
Yea, Father,
for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight." (Lk 10:21)

The prayer of the Son to the Father
is an outpouring of thanksgiving:
every utterance of the Son says to the Father:
I praise Thee,
I bless Thee,
I adore Thee,
I glorify Thee,
I give Thee thanks for Thy great glory.
Is this not the hymn of His Bride the Church
that will set all our cathedral bells ringing
in the night of Holy Pascha?
And where did the Church learn her language of thanksgiving
if not in the school of the Heart of Jesus,
her High Priest and her Spouse?

There is never a moment when the prayer of the Son
does not capture
the full and infinitely loving attention of His Father.
What was from all eternity
-- the ineffable conversation of the Father with the Son,
and the Son with the Father --
is actualized for us here and now
in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Mass, being the Son in dialogue with the Father,
being, even more, the Son handing Himself over to death
the Son immolated,
the Son sacrificed, albeit in an unbloody manner,
for our sakes
and for the Father's glory,
authorizes every boldness in prayer.

There is nothing that the Mass cannot obtain.
Saint John Fisher said that
"He who goes about
to take the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from the Church,
plots no less a calamity
than if he tried to snatch the sun from the universe."
Were the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
to cease on this earth of our ours,
we would be plunged into a darkness
as terrible as if the sun, the moon, and the stars
were extinguished in the firmament.
And why?
Because the Mass is the Eternal Father
captivated by the prayer of the Son:
Christ's prayer in us
and our prayer in Him.

"Because of the people who stand about have I said it,
that they may believe that Thou hast sent me."
Our Lord prays aloud
not because the Father needs to hear His human voice,
but because He would have us hear Him pray.
Hearing Him pray with such boldness,
with such filial confidence,
with such priestly majesty,
how can we not believe
that He who prays
is the Resurrection and the Life?

The Son's prayer to the Father
is uninterrupted,
ceaseless from before the beginning of time
and into the infinite unfolding of eternity.
This is the prayer that He articulates
for our sakes
in front of the tomb of Lazarus,
so that we, confronted by the stench of our sins,
bound in bands of our vices,
shrouded in our self-absorption,
and faced with the inexorable reality of death,
may be consoled and liberated by His prayer
and make His prayer our own
in this, the valley of the shadow of death,

Brothers and sisters,
this first week of Passiontide
as the Catholic tradition calls it,
and the following week called Great and Holy
will be for you and for me
a progressive entrance
into the prayer of Christ to the Father.

Christ will pray in us
and we in Him
at every stage of His bitter Passion,
in the seven last words from the Cross,
in the stillness of Holy Saturday,
and then in the glory of the resurrection
when the Son, waking from the sleep of death,
will open His eyes to see the Father bent over the tomb
as a father bends over the cradle of his first-born.

Open your hearts then
to the prayer of Christ.
Receive it, distilled by the liturgy of His Bride the Church,
and having received it
let it become in you ceaseless and uninterrupted
the pulse of your life in God,
your heartbeat, your life's breath.

It is time to go the altar.
The Master is here and calleth for us.
Let us go to meet Him:
our Victim and our Priest.

3 Comments

Thank you Father Mark. A profound and deeply moving meditation.

Thank you for the beautiful meditation Father Mark. So much in there I will print out and meditate on that further.

Dearest Father, Thank you for Father Kirby and all of your priests!

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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