Brief synopsis of the readings: Today we have the choice to read from either the Ascension of the Lord or the Seventh Sunday of Easter. I’ve chosen the Seventh Sunday of Easter. In our first reading we begin directly after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. Here Peter announced the need to replace Judas and they chose Matthias. In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus praying aloud to God. He acknowledged that God had given him those gathered and he watched over them except “the one who chose to be lost.” Those who followed him were hated by the world and he asked that they be removed from the world. Jesus asked that they be consecrated in the truth.
From my earliest days in ministry I’ve been asked to pray aloud. And frankly, at the beginning of my career this was a tough ask. As a child I was taught many prayers: Our Father, Holy Mary, Glory Be. Later I learned the Rosary and even the Angelus. But to pray from my heart in front of another person? To be that creative, that imaginative, and frankly that vulnerable challenged me. If you weren’t Catholic, please be patient with us.
But when we pray spontaneously with another person it calls us to an intimacy that matters to us as Christians. Because when we do this we show others that we understand their fears, their desires, their needs, and our place in their Salvation History.
In our first reading Peter “stood up to speak to the brothers” he did so at a difficult time. While Jesus appeared to the apostles several times after he rose from the dead, when he ascended to Heaven his apostles recognized that they were largely on their own. And while we may look on this event as Jesus entrusting them (and us) with the building of the Church we now recognize, I can only imagine how frightening this must have been for those gathered. On Good Friday they experienced a world without Jesus and it shocked them to the core. But when they saw the Resurrected Jesus their wildest hopes paled into comparison to what they observed. I’m confident in my belief that they wanted him to stay with them permanently.
And even though Jesus told them he was “going ahead of them” it still mush have been painful to see him leave.
When we look at Peter in the Gospels he often does not come off well. I’ve often described him as “more gas pedal than steering wheel” but here I give Peter props for “taking the microphone” and pointing the way forward.
And I suggest that when we are asked to pray in public we are doing the same thing, taking the microphone and pointing the way forward.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is clearly praying to God, but he could have done it in silence. That’s what he did in the Garden of Gethsemane. But in today’s reading he is praying aloud not only so that God can hear what he says but also those gathered. Jesus wanted them to understand that God tasked Jesus to care for them.
As we all know, John’s Gospel was written decades after these events. And those decades were not easy. If anyone believed that all Jews would understand that Jesus was the Messiah they all awaited, they soon recognized that it wasn’t going to be that easy. John’s Gospel was written at a time of great division between Jews who believed in Jesus and those that didn’t
Part of what wasn’t going to be easy was how they were to proclaim Jesus’ truth, and part of that was teaching each other to pray. In the earliest days my time in the seminary we were told that if we weren’t willing to learn how to pray in public we would never be good priests. It called us not only to be people of prayer, but also to be people of public prayer.
In the decades since I’ve learned that public prayer can be both silly and game changing. And part of the reason many of us feel uncomfortable praying publicly is that we’ve seen it done so poorly. Whenever I meet a patient I ask if he or she wants me to pray at the end of the visit. Most say yes, but some say no. Some tell me that when they pray it’s their time with God and I don’t belong. But others hearken back to the Pharisees who often prayed to to make themselves look important or smart. I had one patient say to me: “No offense chaplain, but after about five words you guys are just showing off.”
But listen to the words of Jesus as he prayed, both to God and to us. He gave thanks that God entrusted him to lead us all to eternal life.
We are called to the same thing. We are called to pray for each other, both silently and in words. And we are called to pray in so many ways. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for praying in ways that gave glory to themselves. Their prayers were often beautiful, intellectual, and self congratulatory. And that’s an easy trap to fall into.
When someone asks for our prayers, or when we offer to pray for someone, we aren’t called to be articulate or clever. We aren’t called to be original or groundbreaking.
We are called to be loving and generous. We are called to recognize not only God’s love for others but also our place in their salvation. Prayer unites us with God in a way that only God fully understands. We when pray with another we are practicing perhaps the most intimate act we can with another person. When Jesus promised to be in our midst whenever two or more of us are gathered in his name he was speaking to this reality.
When we pray we don’t pray from our brain but from our heart. To pray with another, be it in thanksgiving, as a petition, or even in anger at an injustice, we are joining ourselves together in God’s sight. I’m not suggesting that we pray brilliantly, or cleverly, or even articulately, but that we pray sincerely.
And me? I have the best job in the world: I get paid to pray.