Easter Sunday VII
16 May 2021
1 Jn 4:11-16
On his way to the Father, Jesus prays. As He lifts up his eyes to heaven, His heart and His whole being are raised up to the Father.
Certainly, there is no distance between the Son and the Father. They are one. They abide in one another. “God is love”. He is this mutual abiding in one another of the divine Persons which we adore in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
However, the Word, by becoming flesh, has taken on Himself the distance between our human nature and God. This is why it can be said that as a man He prayed to the Father, and also that He ascended to the Father and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. His human heart turned to the Father in prayer. His human body was lifted up to the Father in His Ascension.
Once at the right hand of the Father, Jesus does not cease to pray. He “always lives to make intercession for” sinners, says the Letter to the Hebrews (7:25). And the First Letter of John declares that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:1-2). Today’s gospel gives us a glimpse of this prayer: “Keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me […] keep them from the evil one. […] Sanctify them in the truth.” Unsurprisingly, His prayer corresponds with the prayer He Himself taught us: it is concerned with the Name of the Father being revealed to us as the truth, and to be hallowed in God and in the disciples; and about our need to be delivered from evil.
Our prayer joins with His. It is not enough to say that we pray on earth and that Jesus prays for us in heaven. In fact, these are not two prayers, even connected, but only one. We pray through Jesus and in Jesus, and He prays in us. He sends us His Spirit who “helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words” (Rom 8:26). In the Spirit of Jesus, our prayer reaches the Father.
With Him and after Him, we lift up our hearts, our minds and our voices to the Father. Prayer has been defined as: ‘The raising of one’s mind and heart to God’ (St John Damascene, CCC 2559). Prayer is an ‘ascension’. St Thérèse of Lisieux declared: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy.’ (CCC 2558). This raising of the mind, this surge of the heart are expressed in the very first Introit of the liturgical year, on the first Sunday of Advent, with words taken from Psalm 24: Ad te levavi animam meam, Deus meus. I have lifted up my soul to you, O my God. Our chant is a musical ascension, an act which symbolises that we turn totally towards our Father in heaven.
You are heard. Christian prayer – personal prayer or liturgical prayer – can take all sorts of forms, but basically it consists in an encounter in faith with the living God. We pray to the Father of Jesus Christ, who is our Father, and in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, whom He sent us from the Father. We join, as it were, in the divine conversation, and we can do so because we are members of the family, sons and daughters of God.
The Abbot of the Solesmes community at the time when this monastery and this church were built asked the monks who visited him to enter his office without knocking at the door. It was an invitation to overcome one’s natural shyness and to trust the welcoming heart of the Abbot. When someone did not do it, he would say: “Who is this person? He does not belong to the family.” Obviously, this could work only with much freedom and much trust on both sides.
It is the same with prayer. When we turn to God, we have to overcome our timidity, our sense of shame, guilt, or inadequacy, so as to enter courageously and freely the place where God welcomes us as our Father. We have to trust His love and His mercy. We have to be convinced that the Father always welcomes the prodigal child. Prayer is not an examination by a frightening boss, but an encounter in love with our Father in heaven. Reverence and sacred fear have their place in it, but also simplicity and freedom; humility is welcome, but it does not impede audacity; confession of our sins is fitting, but it must lead to praising God’s infinite mercy and gratuitous love. For all our sense of the infinite distance between God and us, weak creatures and sinners, our faith in Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father and interceding for us must be stronger. Prayer is indeed extremely simple: you just say “Our Father” and here your are: you have touched the Father’s heart. You have met Him.
“He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right of the Father” and His Ascension raises our hope and our trust. It gives our prayer fortitude and joy. United with our High Priest, we pray to the Father as we ask the gift of gifts:
In the name of Jesus, give us, O Father, your common Spirit of Truth and Love, that He may dwell in us as He dwelt in Mary, fill us as He filled your Church, and sanctify us in the Truth.
Abbot Xavier Perrin