When we reflect upon our current situation, we may be inclined to think that, humanly speaking, we are simply standing in one spot. Judging by human standards, we may think that things have not moved from where they were a while ago or that the struggles we face are getting tougher because we are Christians. Today’s readings remind us of the fact that we must continue in our daily struggles by having total confidence in God. This can best be expressed in a life of constant prayer since it is how we participate in the life of Jesus Christ.
The first reading tells us what the disciples did right after the ascension of Jesus. They went back to the upper room to engage in intense prayer as they awaited the coming of the Advocate. As Christians, this is a very special time for us too as we gather in prayer to expect the coming of the Holy Spirit. That is why we started the Novena to the Holy Spirit last Friday to prepare ourselves for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
If we look at the word of God, we find examples of people who prayed at all times. The book of Genesis contains many instances in which Abraham prayed regularly and he was reckoned as a friend of God. In Jugdes 16:28 after Samson had been humiliated by the Philistines, he prayed to God for strength. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Amos among others were able to receive messages from God because they were always in prayer. Jesus prayed and taught his disciples how to pray in Matt 6:9-13. The members of the Early Church prayed as we are told in today’s first reading.
Like the disciples, our response to every special event in our lives must be marked by prayer for this is how we communicate with God. Whenever we are happy, let us pray; when we are sad, we must also pray. When we are worried, we must remember to pray and when we are in doubt, we must pray for guidance. Every moment of our lives must become a prayer point to the Lord. We tell him all that is happening to us and listen to His response by setting aside a moment of silent reflection.
We are also given the example of the Church at prayer with Mary our mother. She was present during these prayer sessions and it gives us a clear message that we too must pray with her to enjoy her powerful intercession at all times. We must pray our rosaries and take part in Marian devotions. We cannot afford to stop even after May is over thinking that it is time to return to business as usual. We must continue our daily exercise of prayer because it is part of our identity as Christians.
We may be inclined to ask: even while praying, why do Christians who try to live according to the example of Christ suffer persecution? The truth, dear friends in Christ, is that the closer you are to Christ, the tougher the challenges. When the devil sees that you are making an effort to succeed in your Christian way of life, he would try everything possible to pull you down because he is not happy when people move closer to God. Whenever this happens remember that “tough times do not last; only tough people do”.
As the second reading tells us, the challenges we face as Christians are how we grow as Christians. St Peter tells us that we must be ready to bear suffering for the sake of Christ. We must remember that as Christians we follow in the Way of Our Lord who told us to take up our cross daily and follow him. When we suffer persecution, we are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. If we think that our experience is new, we only need to reflect on the words of St. Paul in Acts 20:18-19:
‘You know what my way of life has been ever since the first day I set foot among you in Asia, how I have served the Lord in all humility, with all the sorrows and trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.’ St Paul, one of the greatest missionaries of our faith, was persecuted by his people.
We cannot afford to allow our daily challenges to stop us from coming closer to God. They should draw us closer by making us more experienced Christians for as the book of Sirach 34:10 says:
Someone who has never had his trials knows little, but the travelled man is the master of every situation.
James 1:2-4 also tells us: My brothers, consider it a great joy when trials of many kinds come upon you, for you well know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must complete its work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way.
Our suffering for the sake of Christ is a means of growth. When we work, we acquire experience. These may be good or bad but they help us to understand how best to approach our work. In the same way, when we follow the way of Jesus, the tough knocks that we receive on the way only make us wiser and more determined to succeed in our journey of faith.
We must remember too that these challenges are not more than we can endure. St Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13-14:
None of the trials which have come upon you is more than a human being can stand. You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it. For that reason, my dear friends, have nothing to do with the worship of false gods.
The warning of St Paul here is clear. We must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the temptation that “others are doing it so I must join them to succeed.” They will pay for their numerous evil deeds and so will you if you choose to join them.
Instead, it is better to take consolation in the words of James 1:12
Blessed is anyone who perseveres when trials come. Such a person is of proven worth and will win the prize of life, the crown that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Jesus suffered insults on the cross. He was persecuted, falsely accused, and killed yet he rose from the dead. We shall face similar situations and like him, we will triumph over evil if we persevere.
We must know that suffering for Jesus does not include imprisonment or suffering due to the crimes or sins that we may have committed. We face trials for the sake of Christ only when we encounter difficulties when we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
We must therefore take consolation in today’s Gospel for Jesus not only prays for us, he gives us hope that after glorifying God with our good works here on earth, we will receive the reward of salvation. As he tells his disciples in Luke 22:28-30:
‘You are the men who have stood by me faithfully in my trials: 29 and now I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father conferred one on me: 30 you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
To gain eternal life, Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that we must know God. We can only know God when we know the Son and we can know the Son when we listen to his Word as he speaks to us in the Scriptures. Our Bibles contain the Word and need to be opened daily so that the Son can show us the Way to the Father. If we want to know more about God, we must read our Bible daily.
The word of God will also teach us how to pray and address our conditions according to his will. Our daily prayerful study of the Bible will enable us to see the hand of God guiding us through our everyday experiences. We will also find plenty of support in the words of the Psalms. Today’s Psalm (26) gives us a reason to have confidence because God is our source of strength.
No trial or obstacle is beyond the power of God. Let us always have confidence and pray to him for help.