By: Ryan Birjoo ’11
“O Lord and Master of my life grant me not the spirit of sloth, despair, lust for power or idle talk. But grant on to me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. Yea, o Lord and King, grant me to see mine own fault and not to judge my brothers. For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages.”
In this final part of our series on St. Ephraim’s prayer we enter more fully into the mysterious nexus of prayer and almsgiving. Almsgiving is perhaps the most concrete form of charity that we can undertake. In today’s lexicon, charity is often used interchangeably with almsgiving to describe a frame of mind–a disposition–by which we give our possessions away. Moreover, it is a loving donation of self. More than mere self, charity is our self-emptying arising out of our participation in God’s loving activity.
Fr. Jean Corbon, a Melkite priest, describes the relations between the Trinity and humankind as kenosis. Kenosis is used by St. Paul to describe the self-emptying of Jesus Christ who, though of the same divine nature as the Father, became man and submitted himself to the cross (Phil. 2:6). Kenosis is inextricably linked to agape, the self-sacrificing love that seeks the good of the other in all things.
Our grace-elevated ability to love in this unselfish way, this way that manifests humility and patience, is fostered by the essential element of prayer. When we prayerfully elevate our minds and hearts to God, charity amounts to nothing less than a bubbling over of God’s love by which we are empowered to reach out to others. Psalm 105:41 recalls the miraculous moment during the forty year journey to the Promised Land when Moses, by the power of God, struck a rock in the desert and water gushed out to quench the thirsty children of Israel. In a spiritual sense the rock in the desert symbolizes hardened hearts, which have grown indifferent to the suffering of others and the action of God in the world. When we pray with this in mind, we plead for our hearts to be struck by the Lord. We ask that our hearts of stone may be transformed into hearts that are real.
St. Ephraim’s prayer reminds us that the Lenten journey is a microcosm of the entire Christian life. That is to say Lent symbolizes our life-long journey as prodigal children en route to the homeland–Heaven. In Charity we walk an evermore-fulsome embrace of our true identities as Christ-like children of the Father with arms outstretched to others. As a Carthusian monk in Philip Groning’s award-winning film “Into Great Silence” states, Christian life is merely about finding the Father whose name we have forgotten:the Father of charity, the Father of lights, the Father of Jesus Christ. Though our Lenten journey begins in the desert,a place of hardship where temptations sting like sandstorms and our trials can seem to be insurmountable massive sand dunes, the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving undertaken together by the power of God’s love amount to the sacred way that leads to Heaven.
Ryan Birjoo ’11 is an engineering major who is now a graduate student slated to graduate in June. He was confirmed at Aquinas House. He originally hails from Trinidad and Tobago.