8 Pentecost

Gen. 29:15-28 [I Kings 3:5-12]
Ps. 105:1-11, 45b or Ps. 128 [Ps. 119:129-136]
Rom. 8:26-39
Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).

Even if words are used in prayer, the Spirit intercedes with groans and sighs more profound than words. In prayer, we cry, and groan, and sigh in the Spirit. “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16). “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23). Because we have “the first fruits of the Spirit,” our prayer is not only labor pain, but also the joy of a New Humanity about to emerge. Prayer is not what we think or say or feel, but the Spirit’s work in us and interceding for us.

In a treatise on the psalms, St. Ambrose reflects on the mixture of words and music and their combined power. What he says is illuminating for all prayer in the Spirit. The Spirit who intercedes is the Spirit of the Risen Lord, and so the whole mystery of Christ is at work in prayer. “In the psalms, then, not only is Jesus Christ born for us, he also undergoes his saving passion in his body, he lies in death, he rises again, he ascends into heaven, he sits at the right hand of the Father.” In a sense, this is prayer, the life of Christ in us by the power of the Spirit.

Ambrose continues, “A psalm is a blessing on the lips of the people, a hymn in praise of God, the assembly’s homage, a general acclamation, a word that speaks to all, the voice of the Church, a confession of faith in song. It is the voice of complete ascent, the joy of freedom, a cry of happiness, the echo of gladness. It soothes the temper, distracts from care, lightens the burden of sorrow. It is a source of security at night, a lesson in wisdom by day. It is a shield when we are afraid, a celebration of holiness, a vision of serenity, a promise of peace and harmony. It is like a lyre, evoking harmony from a blend of notes. Day begins to the music of a psalm. The day closes to the echo of a psalm” (Explanation of the Psalms; Ps. 1, 9-12). The Spirit does all this work in us, bringing us to divine depths beyond mere words.

My day begins with the recitation of psalms, though typically prefaced with a hymn appropriate to the early morning. Again and again, I have seen these words:

Nostros piis cum canticis

With our pious songs

Fletus benigne suspice,

kindly receive our tears

Quo corde puro sordibus

That, having purified our hearts from sin

Te perfruamur largius.

We may enjoy you more fully.

Prayer is much more than words. Prayer in the Spirit is the sighing, groaning, and weeping of our not-yet fully redeemed humanity. Prayer in the Spirit is also a cry of happiness, an echo of gladness, the joy of freedom, security, and wisdom. We do not know how to pray as we ought, but we have the Spirit who searches all things, even the depths of God, and prays in us and for us.

Look It Up:  Read Romans 8:26-27.

Think About It: Prayer is a gift.