Sunday Sermon for June 5, 2011, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A
Readings: Acts 1:12-14; 1Pt 4:13-16; Jn 17:1-11a
We may be surprised to read about suffering in today’s readings, especially considering the context of the Ascension of our Lord a few days ago and preparation for Pentecost next week. But these are precisely the reasons why we are hearing about suffering. First of all, while the Apostles must have been at peace knowing that our Lord was truly risen and finally understanding the Scriptures in light of the Passion and resurrection, we can also assume that they may have felt somewhat at a loss because our Lord had gone to the glory of Heaven and the Holy Spirit had not yet filled the hearts of the disciples.
We learn from them, however, what we are to do in the midst of our loneliness and pain: they gathered together and devoted themselves to prayer. This is the only way that we can deal with the suffering in our lives because through prayer we can unite our sufferings with those of Jesus thereby giving value and purpose to our agony. If we have a reason to suffer then it becomes bearable; without a purpose, suffering is useless and something to be avoided.
We have all heard these things so many times that we cannot count them, but still, very few of us actually put these ideas into practice. This is where the preparation for Pentecost comes in. St. Peter, in the second reading, tells us that if we suffer for Name of Jesus, then we are blessed and the Spirit of glory and of God has come to rest upon us. How interesting, just when we are tempted to feel abandoned by God (like the Apostles may have after our Lord left them), St. Peter tells us that it is then that the Holy Spirit is at work.
When we can understand things this way, we can apply the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus to our own situations. Our Lord prayed that the Father would glorify Him. His glory on earth was upon the Cross because that is the supreme act of love for God and for us. Nothing gave God more glory than our Lord’s suffering and death. However, we have to take note of what He did throughout the time of His Passion: He prayed. For the most part the Apostles did not pray at that time. Consequently, they abandoned Him, denied Him, and hid themselves due to fear. Their focus was on themselves, therefore, they did not turn to God in the time of their need.
Now things were different. They had learned some important lessons from their failures during the Passion. Now our Lord had left them and they came to our Lady and she taught them to pray. This prayer became their priority as we hear a bit further in the Acts of the Apostles, when the Apostles said that they could not give up prayer for the sake of waiting on tables. This may sound a bit trite to us, but it extended far beyond the daily distribution of goods to the widows in the community. Prayer became so much a part of their lives that they not only wrote about suffering from a theoretical perspective, but they embraced it themselves, something that cannot be done apart from prayer. They embraced much suffering throughout the rest of their lives, but when it came time for God to glorify them and for them to glorify God, they accepted painful and shameful deaths, rejoicing that they could share in our Lord’s work and in His glory.
Ideas such as these tend to fill us with a great deal of fear, just like the Apostles prior to the resurrection. However, after they have received the Holy Spirit, there was not any fear because they were no longer concerned with themselves. As we prepare for Pentecost next week, we need to pray for an outpouring of graces from the Holy Spirit or, perhaps even better, pray for the grace to be able to cooperate with the Holy Sprit. Jesus mentioned in the Gospel that we are God’s gift to Him. If this is the case, we can ask ourselves whether or not we have been a gift that is pleasing to Him.
If we want to share in the glory of our Lord in Heaven, we need also to share in the glory that was His on earth. The earthly glory was revealed when He was on the Cross and He rejoiced to bear it for His Father and for us. We too can rejoice if we share in our Lord’s suffering, not simply because we are suffering or because we feel abandoned, but because we are giving glory to God, we are being glorified by God, and the Spirit of glory and of God has then come to rest upon us.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.