Gospel reflections – Seventh Sunday of Easter
24 May 2020
Seven weeks! It has been a long while since the church was filled for the Sunday Masses. We recall that it was in the middle of the season of Lent when the MCO set in. This means the church has remained – for most of the season of Lent, the Triduum, and now literally, the whole liturgical season of Easter – in an “empty” manner. The penitential spirit of Lent seems to have lingered on – the church remains empty, the yearning of spiritual life for the nourishment of the Word and the Eucharist remain unsatisfied, while anxiety, stress, and serious worries deepen in a much uncertain future of the society and economy.
Prayers for the uplifting of the pandemic and the gloom that it brought with it are raised to heaven. Pleads for God’s intervention are made. In the drudgery of prayer, we place our hope in God that the light of hope and assurance once again be seen in our lives. Yet, darkness strangely lingers on!
In the looming darkness of his death, Christ prayed to God the Father. Christ Jesus has always prayed to the Father. But this prayer, in John’s Gospel reading for today, is different as it was set as Jesus neared his death. With the sense of death closely approaching, Jesus laid it all out in his prayer. There will be no other prayer – this will be his last prayer! All his concerns are now poured out in a prayer. The prayer of Jesus consists of a series of petitions to the Father. These petitions concern two things, the glorification of God and Jesus’ own prayer intentions.
In the first petition, Jesus tells the Father that he has accomplished the task given him by the Father. Jesus has revealed God the Father in and through his words and actions. This is all accomplished. Now Jesus asks the Father to glorify him by restoring him to the Father’s presence with the glory that was his before the world began. This restoration will only happen when Jesus is lifted up on the cross and dies. His death will lead to his resurrection and his ascension. The lifting up of Jesus is therefore Jesus’ hour of glory. When Christ is glorified, God the Father is glorified too. As this is all going to happen to him, Jesus prays to the Father.
In the second petition, having prayed for himself, Jesus now turns his prayer to his disciples. He tells God the Father that the disciples have reached a maturity in faith and knowledge of God through him. They have accepted Jesus as the One sent by the Father. They are now the model of a believer. His petition for the disciples is that he prays to the Father for them to be holy as they will be sent to the world.
In the prayer of Jesus, we see a certain structure. The structure is very simple – describing to God what has been done followed by a petition. With this structure in mind, we see in the prayer of Jesus he first tells the Father what has been done by himself, “I have glorified you”. For the disciples, he said, “they have kept your word”, “they know that all you have given me comes indeed from you” and “they have truly accepted this (the teachings of Jesus)”. It is a remembering. Then having described to the Father what had been done, he petitions the Father for what he needs or for what the disciples need.
This simple structure of prayer is maintained in our liturgical prayers. For example, the Opening Prayer for today’s Mass described what had happened at the Ascension of the Lord. It says, “graciously hear our supplications, O Lord, so that we, who believe that the Saviour of the human race is with you in your glory”. Then the petitions, “may experience, as he promised, until the end of the world, his abiding presence among us”.
Besides liturgical prayer, we often say our own private prayers. In our personal prayers, we often ask God for this and that. We describe to him all we have done, or experienced, or we recall our life stories to him. It is our remembering. Today, as the church marks World Communications Day (WCD), Pope Francis, in his Message, stressed a point which will be helpful in our recalling our lives to God. The Holy Father said, “Telling God our story is never useless: even if the record of events remains the same, the meaning and perspective are always changing. To tell our story to the Lord is to enter into his gaze of compassionate love for us and for others.” In our own personal prayer, following Jesus’ example of prayer, we too shall tell the Father our stories and we too shall petition him for our needs.
Prayer is important in our Christian life. It is a form of communication with God. It is also our way “of remembering who and what we are in God’s eyes, bearing witness to what the Spirit writes in our hearts and revealing to everyone that his or her story contains marvelous things” (WCD Message). In the absence of the structured and official prayers of the church, we should not be afraid of our own style of prayer or be confused by which prayer is the correct prayer to say. We shall pray with faith, courage and hope. Following the prayer style of Jesus, the best prayer is the prayer from the heart. Let today’s beautiful Responsorial Psalm (Ps 26: 7-8) be our prayer today – it says, “O Lord, hear my voice when I call; have mercy and answer. Of you my heart has spoken; ‘Seek his face’.”
Fr Patrick Heng
Blessed Sacrament Church, BDC, Kuching
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS FOR THE 54th WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY