Thursday, May 25, 2017

Prayer is Waiting

Seventh Sunday of Easter Year A

Many of you are familiar with the Novena Prayer to the Mother of Perpetual Succour which is prayed in many parishes before Saturday’s anticipated mass. Since, it seems to be a weekly occurrence, most people fail to recognise that “novena” actually refers to nine days of prayers (The word novena comes from the Latin word, “novem,” which means nine). The prototype of the novena is the Novena to the Holy Spirit and it comes from the Acts of the Apostles, when Mary, the Apostles and all of those in the upper room prayed for nine days while waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. Although a novena is a private and sometimes public devotion, few realise that this is the only devotion instituted by Our Lord. The heart of any Novena is the same as the first one. “He had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised.” On the tenth day, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them and the Church was born.

What would have happened if they had given up and left? We can only speculate. If they had left, they would never have been present to experience the Pentecost. And without the Pentecost, the gospel would not have been carried to the ends of the earth. In fact, the entire New Testament may never have been written and the Church would not exist today. Imagine that!  But, the persistence of Christ’s followers and His mother to wait for the promise, ended in fulfilment. On the Feast of Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared on each of their heads declaring the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Church was born.

The lesson learnt from the first novena instituted by the Lord is that sometimes prayer is about waiting. Prayer requires faith; faith requires patience; and patience requires waiting upon the Lord. To wait patiently for God is to trust in God’s unfailing love for us. To wait patiently is to pray with hope that we are not abandoned or forgotten by God. To wait upon the Lord is to recognise that He is our Lord and Master. How God does His will is up to Him. We cannot control God or tell Him how to accomplish His plan. He will do His will in His way. If only we could plunge into the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? (Rom. 11:33–34).

But waiting on God can be the most difficult, and perhaps the most confusing part of the prayer process. We live in a world of instant everything. We value speed. This is true not only in our culture at large, but in our spirituality and prayer. We rush through our prayers because we have other more urgent matters to attend to. We look for shortest masses. The quicker, the better. Many rush off immediately after communion or before the final blessing and announcements. Yes, waiting in prayer is not an easy kind of prayer to practice. When we pray, we want to see results; and we want to see them now!  And if that answer doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, we begin to wonder if God has abandoned us or if He really cares about us at all. We fail to recognise that when you treat prayer as if you have the right to tell God how to do His work, you will be disappointed. God does not take instructions. We wait, He doesn’t. But when you realise that God’s ways are not your ways, that His ways are superior to your ways, you will not be thrown off balance when circumstances seem to be leading you away from God’s will rather than toward it.

Something happens to us in this kind of waiting. There is purpose in waiting. Waiting on God forces us to look to Him. We are brought to attention. The prayer of waiting draws us into a place of stillness and quietness before God where we open our hearts to listen and receive the good gifts of guidance, wisdom and blessing. Waiting in prayer expands our hearts to accept God’s will instead of pushing for our own agenda. A deeper container is carved in our souls–a container that will be able to receive more of God’s life, more of God’s love and grace. When we wait with hope it is like sitting in the dark of night before the first rays of dawn appear. We know that dawn will come, yet we cannot hurry it. We can watch and wait with hope to receive the first lights with joy.

It is during the waiting time that many people drop out of the school of prayer. When not receiving their answers as they expected, many conclude that prayer doesn’t work—at least not for them. While the waiting time is the most difficult part of the process, it is also the most important. Waiting gives God the opportunity to redefine our desires and align our purposes and vision with His. What appears from the earth-perspective to be a delay on God’s part is really the time when God is working behind the scene, beyond our senses. During the waiting time, we are operating by faith.   Trials cause us to persevere by deepening our knowledge of God and relying on Him more intentionally. That is why in the midst of our daily frenzied activities, our Christian life needs to include times of contemplation and prayer to simply be with God in the stillness and to wait upon Him in loving anticipation of what He would do with us.

Waiting as an essential element of prayer helps us not to treat novenas and other special prayers as quick fixes. As Jesus told His disciples, we must pray constantly and never give up (Luke 18:1). It’s important to remember that just because we say a novena for nine days, it doesn’t mean our prayers will be answered on the tenth day, or the twentieth or hundredth day. Like any prayer, a novena is a spiritual exercise and a way for us to draw closer to God, not a bartering system. Sometimes we have to pray for a long period before we see any results. Why? We don’t know. As much as we grow impatient, we need to recognise that His timing is an astounding thing. What we do know is that Jesus always has our back and He knows what’s best. We mustn’t become disheartened or give up saying novenas because we don’t immediately see the fruits of our labour. The Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles obeyed the Lord’s instruction to wait and pray and scripture tells us that their fidelity and vigilance finally paid off.

So, let us continue our novena to the Holy Spirit, to Pentecost. Next month, we will be having our Novena of masses in preparation of our Parish Feast. These nine days are dedicated time to prayerfully wait in the “in-between’ times, between seeking and finding, between chaos and calm, between fear and courage, between endings and beginnings, between sunset and sunrise, between hopelessness and thanksgiving. In that waiting, let us choose to align ourselves with the love of God – our God who sometimes sneaks quietly in through the cracks of this world and sometimes shouts brazenly from the mountain top. May our waiting and our praying make us more open to receiving the Holy Spirit and more capable of showing the grace of God in all that we are and all that we do.

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