Prayer As Our Fundamental Option

After the great drama in the presence of His Disciples and Apostles on mount Olives in which Jesus ascended in to heaven and the promise of the Holy Spirit, the company of Jesus returned back to Jerusalem with some mixed feelings. I can imagine their ambivalence coming down the mountain with cold feet. They were just recuperating from the shock of Jesus’ death; now he departs from them. Nevertheless, they held to their faith in the power of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. The company of Jesus or the nascent church was still holding to the good traditions of the Jews and their new faith. Supposedly the event on mount Olives took place on a Sabbath day for some obvious reasons. Sabbath here isn’t the traditional Jewish Sabbath day but the first day of the week- Christian Sunday/day of worship. First, it was traditional after Jesus’ resurrection to meet with his disciples or the nascent church on days of worship/Sundays which they observe like the Sabbath. Secondly, the distance from mount Olives to Jerusalem was just about half a mile. Since it was a day of rest, all works are forbidden and a walk must not be more than half a mile or 2,000 cubits which was referred to a Sabbath day’s journey as in today’s first reading. Hence the disciples walked just about half a mile to Jerusalem in obedience to the Sabbath rule.
After Jesus’ Ascension his disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem where they had celebrated the Last Supper and gathered in prayer with Mary, the women, the apostles and many disciples numbering about 120 (Acts 1;15). They needed time apart after Jesus’ Ascension. It was like a time of retreat for them. Jesus had told them to stay in the city until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). Jesus had promised that he would send them a Comforter or Advocate, the Holy Spirit. So they spent these days on retreat praying for the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus would no longer be with them as he had been, he would continue to be with them as they celebrated the Eucharist and would be with them through his Spirit whom they would receive at Pentecost after this time of prayer together.
Remembering that the company of Jesus numbering about 120 gathered in prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit reminds us of the importance of prayer in our lives. While prayer is principally to make us more open to God, to help us respond better to God’s grace in our lives, we also believe that God’s love leads him to hear and answer our prayers of petition. In the parish here we hear testimonies of positive answers to parishioners’ prayers such that they come to book thanksgiving masses for such answers. This is a sign that God answers our prayers. People often ask priests and sisters to pray for their intentions and ask priests to offer Mass for their intentions; it is also good that each of us prays for ourselves. Jesus himself instructs us to “Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matt 7;7). For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him” (Luke 11:9-10). Remember, Jesus recommends persistence in prayer (Luke 11:5-8). We ought to pray in faith. Even though not all prayers are answered in the manner we desire them but in all prayers we receive grace upon grace which we probably would not have received without prayer. We therefore ought to pray with the disposition of accepting God’s will in our lives because God has more wonderful plans for us if we will allow them to be fulfilled.
Jesus while on earth lived a life of prayer. On several occasions took out time for prayers. When the time came for His depart from this world, he said his last prayer to God. This prayer is recorded in John’s Gospel. In the first part of the prayer Jesus recalls the obedient completion of his mission on earth. He said to God: “I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.” Here we have a new understanding of work. Traditionally, work was seen as a source of income. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, it was on the basis of wage that the laborers worked (Matthew 20:1-16). For Jesus, the purpose of work is not just to earn money, but to glorify God. Thus Jesus said he glorified God by completing his earthly work. In the second part of his prayer Jesus remembers his disciples. He says, “I pray for them. I do not prayer for the world but for the ones you have given me.” There is good reason for Jesus to pray for his followers. He would no longer be in the world, but they would be in the world. Back then, as today, the world was a dangerous place. Jesus knew this well. John the Baptist, his predecessor, was beheaded. Jesus himself was persecuted, and would be put to death by crucifixion. In such a dangerous world, his disciples needed a lot of prayers in his absence.
What Jesus prayed for is all important. He pleaded with God to keep his disciples from the evil one. Nevertheless, Christianity is not an escapist religion. We do not follow Jesus just to escape the troubles of life. Jesus himself did not flee from the cross. He accepted it, carried it, and died on it. To the two disciples on the way to Emmaus he said: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). For Jesus, discipleship is not about avoiding the anguish of life, but enduring the ordeal of living. However, there is one suffering we must all evade. It is suffering for wrongdoing. This is what Saint Peter explains in the second reading. He warns, “Let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.” To put it another way, if we suffer, let it not be for doing wrong. In contrast, according to Peter, “But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.” For Peter, the fundamental issue is not suffering itself, but why we suffer. Are we suffering for doing good, or for doing evil? May it be the former and not the latter!
In all, my dear brothers and sisters, Jesus and his company today show us the need for prayers. The nascent church spent days on retreat praying for the Holy Spirit; what then is the place of prayer in your life and family. It is shameful that when critical situations come our way and our faith is shaken to the marrows; we fall apart because we have not learnt how to live the life of prayer. May we live to accept God’s will in our lives even after our prayers. During this week before Pentecost may we pray like Mary, the women, the apostles and disciples for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church and on all of us. Remember the company of Jesus was just about 120 in number as at the time of His ascension and imagine the number of followers today- thanks to their prayers. Jesus today also teaches us that all or works must not be for a temporal earning but to the glory of God. Thus for him the purpose of work is not just to earn money but to glorify God. Pray that our celebration of Pentecost may renew and strengthen the Church. Please pray harder especially this time for our country Nigeria!
Join Sunday homily with Rev. Fr. Anacletus Ogbunkwu on www.anacletusogbunkwu.com

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