Catechumens' Prayer
Tuesday of Epiphany 5
6 February 2018
The ancient church prepared seriously the initiates into the mysteries of the church. Long after persecution was a thing of the past, she still restricted access to the sacramental rites of the church to those who had been catechized and received into the eucharistic fellowship. During the persecutions under the Roman empire, the church had a strong bias toward community security, to avoid infiltration by the secret police or those who intended to work mischief on the Christians by betraying them to government officials. The best way to identify the members of a hidden church was to slip into the worshipping community. The church forestalled this infiltration by intensive catechesis and specific confessional statements that entailed rejecting the absolute lordship of the Caesars.
After the conversion of Constantine to the church in the early fourth century, when the church was able to emerge from the protective shadows of secrecy, she still maintained the careful catechetical regime that had grown up in the days of persecution. There was a security more important than the physical security of the church that drove that. First, it was the desire to see to it that every new member confessed the faith fully and completely. Catechesis was not the "once over lightly" that many churches today employ. We want our catechumens to be well established in a secure teaching and faith. Second, the church desired unity of confession. Therefore, she intensively catechized the converts who desired entrance to the church's sacramental mysteries. There might have been a great deal of pressure to change these methods, since now Christianity had not only become a tolerated religion but even the religion of the emperor, whose policy it was to support the church. She had every reason to turn herself into a culture religion, where those who desired entrance would be brought into the communion with very little fuss and ado. This she declined to do on principle.
The church of the twenty-first century must learn the lesson of the early church. At a time when the culture is increasingly hostile to the church's gospel, we ought to be all the more meticulous about the security of the souls of those who enter the church's communion. They are carrying with them the culturally-mediated baggage of the hedonistic religion of our society, characterized as it is by self-love, overindulgence, and moral and religious relativism. We cannot merely baptize our culture, so as to become American-Christian, African-Christian, German-Christian, or what ever else with which we would hyphenate the name of Christ, our Lord. A hyphenated faith and church becomes beholden to culture and diminishes the worship of Christ. A religion committed to a hyphenated Jesus decisively fails to render unto God the things that are God's.
While the challenges in catechizing people today are enormous, there is an open door for those willing to proclaim without apology the radical Christian truth, rooted as it is in Christ, the Son of God. In my experience catechizing adults today, I have found an exciting openness to the Christian gospel, especially when I can put a fine point on the differences between Christianity and the prevailing culture religion. When I draw them into the great mysteries they are charmed by God's willingness to condescend to their need through the gospel of righteousness. He opens their eyes to the something that is always missing in their earthbound lives. Christ wants us to know and believe that there are mysteries beyond what is promised by the politicians, professors, pundits that pervade the public square with their divine pretensions. Inevitably, they desire to enforce their tyranny on us. The God of the church, only comes to serve poor sinners in the life of Christ. What a huge difference. This is what we teach the catechumens and this is what we pray the Lord will confer on them, by sowing the seed and opening their eyes.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"The Deacon prays, 'That the all-pitying and merciful God would listen to our prayers.' So you may not say, 'What shall I pray? Catechumens are outside the fellowship, not yet united to the body. How can I constrain the regard of God? How can I prevail with Him to impart unto them mercy and forgiveness?' That you are not perplexed with such questions, he unravels your perplexity by praying to 'the all-pitying and merciful God.' Listen: 'All-pitying God.' Be perplexed no more. For the All-pitying pities all, both sinners and friends. Then do not say, 'How shall I approach Him on behalf of the Catechumens?' He Himself will listen to the prayers of the Catechumens. What can the Catechumens' prayer be but that they may not remain Catechumens?
"Next, they offer the petition of the prayer. 'That He would open the ears of their hearts;' for they are as yet shut and stopped up. 'Ears,' he says, not those which are outward, but those of the understanding, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined.' (1Co 2:9; Is 54:4). For they have not heard the untold mysteries, but they stand somewhere at a distance and far off from them. Even if they should hear, they do not grasp what is said. For those mysteries need much understanding, and not just hearing. Inward ears they do not yet have. Therefore also He next invokes for them a prophet's gift, for the prophet spoke this way: 'God gives me the tongue of instruction, that I should know how to speak a word in season; for He opened my mouth. Early in the morning he granted me a hearing ear' (Is 1:4 LXX). For as the prophets heard differently than the crowd, so also the faithful hear differently than the Catechumens. We conclude that the Catechumen also is taught not to listen to the things of men, for he says, Call no man master upon the earth, but from above, from heaven, because 'All your children shall be taught by the LORD' (Is 54:13).
"Therefore the Deacon prays, 'And instill into them the word of truth,' so that it may be inwardly learned; for as yet they know not the word of truth as they ought to know. 'That He would sow His fear in them.' But this is not enough; for 'some fell by the wayside, and some upon the rock' (Lk 8:6). As the plough opens furrows in rich soil, so we pray it may be here also, that having the fallow ground of their mind cut deeply, they may receive what is dropped upon them and accurately retain everything they have heard. He adds, 'And confirm His faith in their minds;' that is, that it may not lie on the surface, but spread its roots deep down. 'That He would unveil to them the gospel of righteousness.' He shows that the veil is double, partly that the eyes of their understanding were shut, partly that the gospel was hidden from them. So he said a little above, 'that He would open the ears of their hearts,' and 'that he would unveil unto them the gospel of righteousness;' that is, both that He would render them wise and prepared for receiving seed, and that He would teach them and drop the seed into them. For although they should be prepared, yet if God reveals nothing, it profits nothing; and if God should reveal, but they do not receive the revelation, this would be equally unprofitable. Therefore, we ask both that He would open their hearts and unveil the gospel. For if a king's jewels remain covered by a veil, it will not profit the eyes to look at them, and when the jewels are uncovered, if the eyes are not opened, it will likewise be of no benefit."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on 2 Corinthians, 2.7
Psalm 116

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!" Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. I believed, even when I spoke, "I am greatly afflicted"; I said in my alarm, "All mankind are liars." What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!(ESV)
All-pitying and merciful God, listen to our prayers, which we offer on behalf of those who are being instructed in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. Instill in them Your Word of truth. Sow Your fear in them. Open the ears of their hearts, so they hear what no ear has heard. Give sight to the eyes that have not seen, that the Spirit would open them to the riches of Your grace. Plow up their hearts with Your law that the hearts that could never have imagined the depth of Your mercy might have the seed of Your gospel sown in them. Unveil the gospel of Your righteousness, that they might confess You in the community of the faithful, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For catechumens, that they would know and experience the pity of God for sinners
For Pastor Murray, that his time at meetings with the Council of Presidents of the LCMS would be fruitful
For Michael Koutsodontis, that the Lord would grant Him strength according to His gracious will
Art: DAVID, Gerard  Triptych of Jean Des Trompes (1505)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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