7th Sunday of Easter, Year A.
Acts 1:12-14 – 1Peter 4:13-16 – John 17:1-11.
Dear Friends in Christ, three days ago we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord into heaven. This glorious event inspired the disciples literally and metaphorically to raise their eyes from earthly things and focus their gaze upwards on heavenly things. This ‘gazing upwards’ or ‘lifting up’ is a posture of prayer: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains; where is my help to come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps 121). We are making every effort to ‘lift our eyes’ in prayer in order to prepare ourselves for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. We are making a point of praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us. Why are we concentrating so hard on doing this? Because prayer is the key to opening the doors of heaven and drawing down the power of God to the world!
According to today’s First Reading, after the event of the Ascension of the Lord, the apostles went back to the upper room where they were staying. It was the same upper room where the Lord had superseded the Old Covenant with the New and Everlasting Covenant at the Last Supper. There, in the upper room, the apostles were joined by Our Lady and by various men and women in the offering of continuous prayer. Each of these witnesses had experienced the Lord personally after the resurrection through to the Ascension. Today, we ally ourselves with these people because, through our celebration of the Paschal mystery (His Passion, death, resurrection, and Ascension), we too have been with Jesus, we too have experienced Him personally. Now, just as the disciples of Jesus immersed themselves in prayer, we too are called to immerse ourselves in prayer. The outcome is certain; by the end of this period of prayer, “I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living” (Ps 26:13).
We ought to pray without ceasing (Lk 18:1)! In the gospel reading, we heard Jesus praying for His disciples. In fact, the entire gospel passage today, and indeed the whole chapter of John 17, was His priestly prayer for His disciples. The focus is on prayer, both back then and in the present. As Jesus prayed for His disciples back then, He prays for you now, that in Him you too will be glorified; that you too may know what it means to have eternal life and to pursue it (Jn 17:3); that you too may be rich in the knowledge of heavenly things; and that you too may survive the onslaught, the attacks of the world, that will certainly come in our own life experience.
From Jesus we learnt how to utilize different opportunities for prayer. We can pray as a worshipping community; we can pray in small groups, and we can pray privately (Mt 6:6). Many a Sabbath, Jesus prayed with Jewish communities in their local synagogues. Jesus prayed with his own hand-picked group of disciples: He and they included songs of praises when prayed together (Mt 26:30), and from time to time Jesus would take Peter, James and John, the three disciples in His inner-circle, aside to pray with Him. Jesus also prayed on His own. We learned from Jesus the importance – indeed, the necessity – of community prayer and worship, of family prayer and of individual prayer.
How we are to say our prayers? Our community prayers might follow a familiar pattern, such as we have in the liturgical prayers of the Church. That was how Jesus prayed with the Jews in the synagogues, following a pattern of prayer accompanied by one or more readings from the Scriptures. Prayer is not, however, restricted to set prayers, an example of which is the prayer that Jesus Himself taught us (the Lord’s Prayer). What the purpose of prayer boils down to is communication with God, with making contact with the numinous, with loving Him, with adoring Him, with spending time in His company. In the gospel reading, Jesus prayed to the Father in His own words. When we remember that prayer involves our direct contact with God our Father, including speaking and listening, it makes things easier for us. We don’t need to think up or use a set of words (unless it helps), but we are free to focus on the words that come straight from our hearts. Knowing that God is your Father who loves you, you can speak freely from the depths of your heart, as did Jesus in today’s gospel reading.
Anthony de Mello developed an exercise in his book ‘Sadhana’ for people who want to communicate with God in their own words but find it hard to do so. He called it the “empty chair” exercise. He developed it from a story he heard about someone who had been sick and bedridden for many years. This sick person found it hard to pray to God. One day, he confided to a friend his inability to pray. The friend asked for an empty chair to be brought into the room. He told the sick person to visualise Jesus sitting in that chair whenever it was time to pray; in so doing, it would be easy to start speaking. It is sometimes difficult for us to begin speaking, whether out loud or as an internal conversation, because we do not sense the presence of God around us. Sometimes we might be tempted to think that God in His greatness is beyond us, but of course He is ever present, whether we speak to Him individually or communally. So, when you pray, always visualise the presence of God in the Blessed Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of all the saints, and of all the inhabitants of heaven. As-and-when you do this, it will be easier for you to hear God and to express yourself freely in prayer.
We are in a time of preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Our prayer life is something of which we should never be ashamed. We should pray both in season and out of season. As Jesus prayed to the Father today for Himself, His disciples and for the whole of humanity (Jn 17), we too have a lot of people for whom we pray or need to pray. Think about them, bring them and their needs to mind, and say something on their behalf to God. It’s vital that you pray too for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all the Christian faithful worldwide, that the face of the earth be renewed. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Amen. God bless you.