When Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, […] but a body you have prepared for me;
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will.’”
–Hebrews 10. 5,7
The incarnate life of Christ on earth begins with these words, borrowed from the psalms and realized as Jesus took flesh in the womb of the Virgin. From the Incarnation to the Resurrection every action of the Son of God was a fulfillment of the will of the Father: a fleshly obedience in which He and the Father were one (cf. John 17.21). There was one purpose for Christ’s coming in the flesh, and all His earthly life was ordered to fulfilling it.
By contrast, we live lives of varied purpose. Content with mediocre satisfactions, we seek temporary fulfillment. We ask for too little and often settle for even less: to do well on an exam, to find a good job, a way to make a living. Even greater things: the health of one’s family, clarity to choose a vocation over another — the greatest decisions and petitions of our lives — ultimately, even in these we ask for too little. We are concerned with the here and now, and rightly so. After all, the day-to-day realities of our lives matter. We seek good things, and through them, a temporal happiness. Like the Martha of the Gospels we have much at hand to occupy us, but little clarity on what it is for. The reality remains that however occupied, the human heart will not be content with created goods of finite satisfaction. Everything that is, good as it is, ultimately ends. The very good of our own earthly lives is a finite good. As we confront human finitude, we slowly realize that what we are made to desire and to seek transcends even the greatest created goods. The soul aspires for infinite goods and eternal happiness even as in our bodies we pray for a long and fulfilling life. We progressively become like Mary at the feet of Christ, and as we rest there, we begin to choose the better part.
There seems, then, to be a severance between the will of God and our will, His purpose and ours: His life and our lives. And, indeed, there is. Humanity and divinity are distinct. For a long time we wallowed in brokenness, and wandering outside of Eden, lived in expectation of a return. Yet, in Jesus, the distance between God and us was destroyed
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.
–1 John 4. 9-10
The gates of Eden are reopened. The ransom is paid. Anew, we live in God – through Him – here and now. We share in the life of grace, in God’s own life, here and now. Human dependency is elevated, sustained, here and now: it is given a purpose and helped to achieve it. We desire and proceed to attain a great and ultimate goal: union with God in the beatific life, already, here and now.
“A body you have prepared for me.” Christ paved the way to paradise by walking on earth in a human body. His whole earthly life demonstrates this for us. It is because of this that our prayer should seek one thing: to mirror Christ’s life, and not just to mirror it, but to enflesh it. Only when our praying desires communion with the Word Made Flesh will it begin to reveal to us our own capacity to participate in the mystery of Christ’s incarnate life, and to live out the grandeur of His infinite love. We must express with heartfelt longing the desire of the ages: that the Savior visit us anew, that He make of us sharers in the covenant of love and life: that He make us “live through Him”.
And so it is that when the Apostles asked Jesus to teach them how to pray it was not because they were lacking words with which to express themselves. After all, they possessed the ageless prayers of prophets and kings before them. The law of God had been written on their hearts, and inscribed in their minds (cf. Hebrews 10.16). When they asked Jesus to teach them to pray, they were expressing the deepest human need: to know the will of the Father, to learn to live in accord with it, to use human speech to express the desire of the union between God and man that was before then in Christ who had called them to himself.
In response, Christ does not give the Twelve general guidelines, nor does he instruct them on how to ask for things they might have individually needed. Rather, He says, “Here then is how you are to pray” (Matthew 6. 9-13). He begins with two specific words: “Our Father” – His Father, and theirs – our Father. With these two words, Christ gave them access to His own life, allowing them entry into a new prayer: a prayer He offers with His body, as one who is like us in the flesh, yet powerful in His divinity.
In Him, human needs are subsumed in the lavish abundance of divine love. Human love is transformed into reverence for the Father. Sacrifices and oblations are no longer a matter of animal offerings – bulls, and goats, and heifers’ blood – but the matter of fleshly union, effected in the body the Father had prepared: Christ’s body, a body he chose to share with us, and finally offered for us. It makes sense that He would lead the Apostles to pray in this way, giving them, and us access to the union He possesses. Only through the Flesh of Christ can we begin to do the will of the Father, can we seek an incarnate union of wills and lives; enfleshing in this life the oneness with the Father He perfectly lived.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”. Christ is the first to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. In His body, heaven and earth are united, and we are given the hope of living in the communion of love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
–1 John 3.1
The children of the Father inherit the kingdom: they inherit God himself. “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19.14) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5.3) We who have received life in the body come even as Christ did in the poverty and frailty of the flesh to do the will of the Father, praying that on earth, his will and ours would be one. We incarnate in our bodies the covenant once made for eternity. We become a holy sacrifice, a spotless offering. Only in this way does the Communion we call holy make sense. God wishes to dwell in each human soul. “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25.34) He wishes already that we possess the joy of beatitude – in the flesh, as His Son did as He walked this earth with us, for us.
“Give us this day our daily bread”: not the bread that passes away, but the Bread of Life – His life in our flesh, His flesh as our daily bread.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
– John 6. 53-56
The human condition yearns for divinity, aches for a love that exceeds the limits of our finitude. We are made to transcend ourselves. We are made to abide in Him. And it is because of this that each prayer we offer reveals that we have already been loved, not just into life here, but already here for life eternal.
What then can God love in man if not God himself who is to be born man so as to make man divine?
–Dominique Barthélemy, O.P. | God and His Image
This, then, is what it means to have life – what it means to live. The ransom is paid and the union is restored. In a world of severed purposes, where the drive to survive and the temptation to thrive on little often prevails only to exhaust the human heart, we are reminded that He prepared a body even for us, that we may do in our own bodies the will of the Father which Christ accomplished in our flesh and blood. He prepared a body even for us, that we might love Him with every fiber of our being, becoming one with Him.
The purpose of the Incarnation is the redemption of man. One thing matters: that we enflesh this truth. The better part is poured out. Dignity is restored to our brokenness. Human desire aches aright and knows fulfillment. Loves long frail are made new. We have been made for the ecstasy of hope and communion of eternal life with the Father. Our hearts will be restless lest the rest in Him.
Christ taught us to pray, to show us how to live.
Dare we say “Our Father?”
Dare we ask for the Incarnation?
You may reach Maria Grizzetti at IncarnationandModernity@gmail.com