“Bridging the Gap”
By Bishop David A. Zubik
It was a grand slam home run! This past Sunday, tens of thousands of people lined up outside of Heinz Field, not for a Steelers game but for an opportunity to come together with Jesus.
For the better part of a year, some Christian leaders in southwest Pennsylvania had planned this opportunity for people from many Christian traditions to unite in worship, prayer and praise. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. Our headlines have been filled with ugly stories of people proverbially at each other’s throats. I daresay many of us have had enough. This hunger for good news and an anchor of hope is what inspired Pittsburgh Prays.
For nearly three hours, those of us in attendance had the opportunity to express our love for the Lord in song, and to have that love deepened by reflections from others who share a love for Jesus.
When the seed for this event was planted, I was privileged to be a part of the effort. I alerted all of our parishes about this forthcoming moment of grace. It was such a beautiful sight to see so many people come, especially from our own diocese.
For people of faith, connection with God is an absolute as we try to deal with the ups and the downs of life. Our coming together this past weekend prompted me to reflect on the rich treasure of prayer.
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Jesus was speaking to His disciples then—and to all of us now—when He said: “When you pray, this is what you should say: Our Father, who art in heaven…” From His own personal experience of connecting many times each day with His Father, Jesus invites us to follow His example. He invites us to do so by imaging Who God is for all of us. God is not only our Creator—the one who has made us in His image and likeness—but He is most especially our Father. Knowing that the image of our heavenly Dad may be dimmed by not-so-positive experiences with our own dads, Jesus points us to the perfect Father. Whenever Jesus addressed His Father in heaven, He called Him Abba—nicely translated from the Greek as “Daddy.”
When we think of our Father in heaven as “Daddy,” and as we think about our opportunities to speak to Him, there is nothing that we should hold back from saying to Him.
And what does that mean? Connecting with God in prayer.
And how? Through four types of prayer: (1) petition; (2) contrition; (3) thanksgiving; and (4) awe.
I suspect that many of us first experienced prayer from the perspective of “the ask”—asking God to help us in multiple ways. Perhaps it’s a matter of asking God to help us through some tough times. Maybe it’s a situation where we’re asking that someone whom we love be healed of an illness. There’s a good chance we might be asking God to help us move successfully to the next chapter of our lives. The possibilities of the “ask” are endless. But they are not unlike the requests made to our own parents.
Next, there is a particular art known as gratitude. One of the most important lessons my mom and dad taught me was to never lose sight of saying “thank you.” Prayers of thanksgiving are at the heart of what it means to be Church. Every time that we celebrate the Holy Mass, when we celebrate the Eucharist, we are engaging in the most perfect prayer of thanks given to us by Jesus Himself. That’s what the word “Eucharist” means. In Greek, “Ευχαρίστειν” simply means “to give thanks.” Could we be losing the art of giving thanks? The number of people who choose not to come to Mass may very well signal that we are forgetting how to say thanks. The many favors that we ask from God deserve to be followed up by showing up to say “thank you.”
As I look in the mirror every day, I see the image of a man who is hardly perfect. There are so many times in the course of a week when I say a word that should never have come out of my mouth or I miss an opportunity to do good. We all know the experience of failure. We are all sinners. It should be our practice at the end of each day to do a sincere “examen” in which we take stock of our words, deeds, intentions and omissions and ask God for the forgiveness won by the cross of Jesus.
In the 1970s a very popular movie infected our culture with the false notion that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Most of us know from experience that the exact opposite is true. Love means being able to say those words and mean them: “I am sorry.” If contrition isn’t already a regular part of our conversations with God, it should be.
Several weeks ago, we witnessed an unusual phenomenon in southwestern Pennsylvania. The formation of clouds known as “mammatus” both caught our attention and captured the beauty and power of our God as the Creator. Many of us were prompted to stand in awe of that natural event, rare as it is. Awe comes also with holding a newborn babe in our arms. Awe is real as we look into the eyes of someone whom we love. Awe happens with an unexpected surprise. There is a particular song of praise that begins “Our God is an awesome God…” How true! Our response to God in prayer should also be one of awe as well.
Last week’s Pittsburgh Prays event began with an invitation by the mayor of the City of Pittsburgh, Ed Gainey. It closed with a blessing given by Yours Truly. Now I will share with you the blessing I offered that day. It is offered in sincere belief that prayer not only draws us closer to God; it is a time when we also draw others closer to God. That was certainly what was in my heart when I spoke these words:
“My sisters and brothers, as we prepare to depart from this sacred place, our minds go to another departure in the Gospel of Matthew, in the Gospel of Mark and the beginning of Luke’s second Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, where Jesus stood before people just like ourselves, and He commissioned them to go forth. And so now the Lord Jesus says to us:
- Go forth beloved daughters and sons of my Father;
- Go forth dedicated and faith-filled disciples of mine;
- Go forth as a people empowered by the Holy Spirit;
- Go forth as a people of faith, hope and love;
- Go forth as a people of encouragement and trust;
- Go forth and make disciples of all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN!”
Yep, it truly was a grand slam home run!