“After Jesus had been taken up to heaven the apostles returned to Jerusalem.” There, “they went to the upper room” (first reading for this 7th Sunday of Easter) The upper room is where they had gathered with Jesus after his Resurrection. It is a familiar place. Just before He ascended Jesus had told his disciples to “wait for the promise of the Father.” They were to wait for the Holy Spirit who would come at Pentecost.
What did they do for the ten days until Pentecost? They “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” Now, there will be other times after Pentecost when we hear of the disciples coming together in prayer. Communal prayer was a regular part of their lives. Think of how we come together every week for Mass.
While prayer was a regular part of their lives, I see this time between Jesus’ Ascension and Pentecost as a special time of prayer as they prepared themselves for the coming of the Holy Spirit. I see it as a time of retreat for them.
Those of us who are baptized have already received the Holy Spirit. In Confirmation we are sealed with the same Holy Spirit. As we sit between Ascension and Pentecost, perhaps it is a good time for us to spend some time reflecting on what gifts we have been given by God and how well we are using them.
It can also be a time for us to reflect on what it means to pray. Our gospel reading for this 7th Sunday of Easter begins with Jesus raising his eyes to Heaven. He is praying. Why is He praying at this particular moment? Because his “hour has come.”
What are we trying to accomplish in prayer?
It is not simply to give God our lists of needs. We pray to “dwell in the house of the LORD.” We pray that we may “gaze of the loveliness of the LORD.” Jesus says, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God.” Ultimately, prayer should be an encounter with God, a time to simply sit in his presence, to contemplate his presence. Contemplate does not require words. In fact, to contemplate the Lord requires silence.
In prayer we ask God to help us in our needs. In prayer we ask God to help us accept any suffering that comes us as Christians and bear them well, We ask God for the gaze to bear them well so that we may glorify him. This is not easy. When I find myself in distress, I wonder if I am bringing the suffering upon myself or is it part of my calling as a disciple of Christ. If the former, I ask God to help me let go of the suffering. If the latter, I ask for the grace that my suffering may bear fruit in leading others to Christ.
It is not easy to know the difference. When I pray about the distinction, I often use the Serenity Prayer. When I do not have the written words of the Serenity Prayer in front of me, I use the first four lines of the Serenity Prayer that are known to many (and I have memorized). When I can, I use the full length version to help me realize that the world is not as God would like it and trust “that He will make all things right.” It’s not easy but, remember, nothing is impossible for God.
Prayer is important. God wants us to come to him with our needs. More than that, God wants us to come to him in conversation. For it to be a conversation, we can’t and shouldn’t do all the talking. Don’t control the conversation. After laying your needs before the Lord, let God be in charge of what is said. At times, prayer should be silent with neither God or us speaking. At this moment, it is about being present to God and aware that He is present with us. Don’t you ever spend time with people you are close to whether nobody is talking? You are just happy to be together.
Jesus prayed. Numerous times in the gospels that He went off to pray. All 26 verses of chapter 17 of John’s Gospel are one prayer. The hour of his Passion was beginning. What did He pray for? In that prayer, He says, “I pray for them.”
Who is the “them”?
We are. Jesus is praying for us as those who believe in him.
So, take some time to pray in silence. Trust that Jesus is with us always.