One of my favorite books on prayer is entitled Teach us to Pray, by Louis Evely. As he begins his book, the author writes: “Too many Christians regard God as pilots regard their parachute, namely, good if needed, but better if they can get along without it.” In our very busy world, and our culture of self-sufficiency, many of us find that we pray only when we’re faced with a situation that’s beyond our control. And yet, regular, ongoing prayer is so important. It unites us to God, who is the source of our life and who leads us to the fullness of life in heaven – if only we unite ourselves to him! As we see in today’s first reading and Gospel, Jesus and his disciples understood that very well!
This morning’s gospel passage records Jesus in prayer. You might wonder why Jesus would need to pray. After all, aren’t he and the Father one? Yes, Jesus is truly God and is one with the Father. But, he is also truly man and, as man, needed to spend time in communion with the Father – just as we do. So he, like any of us, needed to take time aside for prayer to unite himself with the Father. And, as we learn from the gospels, he was brought up in a prayerful household. We read about him joining Mary and Joseph in going up to Jerusalem for Passover to pray and offer sacrifice to God. And, you will recall that, on one occasion, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem after the Passover to talk with the Jewish teachers. They were astounded by his understanding of their faith. He had probably learned a great deal about it at home.
Before he began his public ministry, Jesus went out into the desert to pray. Throughout his public ministry, we read that Jesus went to the synagogue to join his fellow Jews in prayer. He also would get up early in the morning or stay up all night in prayer, going up a mountain or out into the wilderness to be one with his heavenly Father. It was on one of these occasions – when the disciples saw Jesus in prayer – that they asked him how to pray. And he gave them – and us – the perfect model of prayer in the Our Father. There is no doubt that prayer played a major role in Jesus’ life.
When Jesus died, the apostles were like sheep without a shepherd. And they had learned something very uncomfortable things about themselves during Jesus’ passion and death. Before it, they had thought that they were brave, strong and generous. As our Lord went to trial, was scourged and crucified, however, they discovered that they were cowardly, weak and selfish. They had learned how much they depended on Jesus to give them strength. They needed the strength that Jesus promised them through the Spirit.
During the days between the Ascension – which we just celebrated this past Thursday – and Pentecost – which we will celebrate next Sunday – the apostles, with Mary and some other women in their midst, assembled in the Upper Room in prayer to prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised it – as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel passage and the first reading we heard on Thursday – and had told them to pray for its coming. They probably had no idea what that meant, but they prayed for it.
As we will celebrate next Sunday, however, the Holy Spirit gave them the strength to begin the work of the Church: to proclaim the good news of our salvation to a world that needed it so much. They needed that good news then and our world still needs it today, doesn’t it?
Let us make these last days of the Easter season special days of prayer. As we hear in today’s Gospel, Jesus prayed for those he would leave behind – that includes us! Each Pentecost reminds us of the gift of the Holy Spirit active in the Church universal and in each of our lives. Let us join with the apostles and Mary – aware of our absolute dependence on God – in eager prayer for the gift of the Spirit to renew us so that we, like Jesus and his first disciples, will have the strength, courage and conviction to do the will of the Father as they did! “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”