“And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.” These words of Jesus, taken from his prayer to the Father at the Last Supper, bring back to mind the great event we celebrated last Thursday, Jesus’ Ascension to the Father. His Ascension brought to fulfillment his words, “I will no longer be in the world.” And the “great commission” that he gave us, to go into the whole world and make disciples of all nations, is echoed in his words “they are in the world, while I am coming to you.” “They” refers to the disciples whom the Father has given to the Son – first of all the eleven men gathered with Jesus on Holy Thursday night, but now including each one of us who reads these words today. We are in the world, and Jesus is speaking about us when he says, “the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them.”
Our mission of making disciples of all nations depends upon our accepting and keeping the word we have received. It also depends on the divine power that has been given to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit. During these days between Ascension and Pentecost, a period sometimes referred to as “Ascensiontide,” in a sense we return to the Upper Room where the Apostles gathered together and awaited the coming of the Spirit. The liturgy invites us to do now what the Church was doing then.
Today’s first reading summarizes what took place during those ten days: the Apostles “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” At the center of the Cenacle is Mary. She is described here as “the mother of Jesus,” but we can see that she is now also serving in the new role Jesus gave her from the Cross: she is Mother of the Church. In these days, then, we are to be united with the Church, to pray constantly, and to remain in the presence of Mary our Mother. Unity, prayer, and Mary are three key elements of our spiritual preparation as with one voice we cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit!”
As we observe this season of prayer in union with the whole Church, the Gospel reminds us of another essential element of prayer: the prayer of Jesus himself. In deep communion with his Father, he prays for the Church; he prays for us. How consoling it is to know that Jesus is praying for us at the right hand of the Father! “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours.”
When Jesus says he is not praying for the world, it does not mean he has no concern for the world. His answer to the desperate needs of the world is to send us! That is why he prays for us, that we may be filled with his own Spirit. Just as Jesus glorifies the Father by finishing the work the Father gave him to do, so we are to glorify him by fulfilling the mission he has entrusted to us. This mission, to continue the work of Jesus in the world, would certainly be unrealistic and overwhelming if we ever thought it depended on us. The prayer of Jesus gives us confidence that we can fulfill our mission, because we know we have the power of his Spirit at work in us.
In the second reading, St. Peter, speaking from his own personal experience as a Spirit-filled Apostle in the world, reveals to us another aspect of the work of glorifying God, that is, our share in the sufferings of Christ. Part of our preparation for the coming of the Spirit is to open our hearts to this work as well. We know all too well how reluctant we are to suffer, or even to see any value in suffering. How much we need the strength of the Holy Spirit! Peter reminds us that a Christian is not ashamed to suffer with Christ; rather it is a cause of rejoicing. “Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” As we prepare for Pentecost, let us rely more and more on the Spirit, so that the Father’s plan can come to completion in us and through us.
As I prepare for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, am I praying constantly and remaining in the presence of Mary, my Mother? In what ways do I depend upon the Spirit in my daily life? As a Christian, am I ashamed to suffer with Christ or do I rejoice in sharing in his sufferings?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.