June 5, 2011 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
Editor’s Note: While most Catholic dioceses in the United States celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord on June 5, some dioceses still observe it on its proper date (June 2), and will observe June 5 as the Seventh Sunday of Easter. To serve all followers of this blog, TCS has prepared an additional stewardship reflection for those who will observe the Seventh Sunday of Easter on June 5.
We take time-outs for a variety of reasons. Officially they’re used by coaches for a moment’s conference with their sports team without having to give up any game time. But parents also use a “time-out” with an out-of-control child, so he can calm down and resume proper behavior. Sometimes we want to give ourselves a time-out, in order to regroup and refresh ourselves after a period of stress or extreme exertion.
That’s the sort of time-out we hear about in today’s reading from Acts. Jesus’ Ascension had left the apostles with a sense that he was gone for good, at least in the way they had experienced him up to now. So they returned to Jerusalem to… well, to do what? They weren’t sure. All they knew was he had told them “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49), whatever he could have meant by that.
But they needed some time to rest and reflect. They had just been through a period at once exhilarating and exhausting, heart-wrenching and joyous, but almost always intense. They had spent three years with Jesus, traveling through Galilee along with trips to and from Jerusalem. They had shared in his Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday and agonized when he was crucified on Good Friday. Their despair had turned into a bewildered joy when they heard on Easter Sunday that he had risen from the dead, followed by his appearances to them after his Resurrection. And finally they saw him ascend, once he had told them they’d have to begin at Jerusalem but then go “to the ends of the earth” to spread the Gospel. No wonder they needed a time-out!
So the apostles returned to the Upper Room, traditionally the site of the Last Supper and their base of operations in Jerusalem. Others were with them there, including the Blessed Virgin Mary. And what did they do? “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:14).
Some people argue that time offered to God in prayer is wasted. For the apostles there were so many things that needed to be done! So many tasks still ahead of them! Why did they head back to the Upper Room for 10 whole days, from the Ascension until Pentecost? Didn’t they realize they’d better get going if they were going to be witnesses to Jesus “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”?
It’s hard for a Christian, though, to argue with Jesus. The Gospel reading from John 17 contains a portion of Jesus’ prayer just before his arrest and crucifixion. He prayed for the completion of his own ministry and for his disciples who would remain. In his view, the greatest thing he could do for them before his arrest was to pray for them. That should set the pattern for his followers.
Likewise, the period the apostles spent in prayer was not wasted. Undoubtedly they studied the Old Testament scriptures as well; St. Peter showed how Christ fulfilled the prophets in his sermon on Pentecost. They took steps to select someone to take Judas Iscariot’s place. They were prepared to act when the Holy Spirit empowered them.
For us also, our time in prayer is well spent. We also experience guidance from God. We find that we too receive strength to serve him. When we’re in contact with God, we find new dimensions, a greater richness, in our spiritual life.
There is one aspect we may overlook at first. Individual prayer is important. Nevertheless, we miss an opportunity for a deeper experience if we neglect group prayer. The first band of disciples devoted themselves to prayer “with one accord.” Whether it’s with members of our family, or in a parish prayer group, or even by sharing in corporate worship at Mass, prayer with others is a valuable way to offer our time to God.