Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, during the sixth week of Easter, we celebrate his ascension. This Sunday’s readings address how Jesus’ departure from earth and the severing of his physical connection to his followers can be understood. As many people still have limited physical contact with their communities, today’s readings remind us of the power of prayer to help us cope and connect at a distance.
All these [apostles] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary. (Acts 1:14)
How can your time alone nurture your prayer life?
What can you do to foster community at a distance?
How can you serve people who most in need?
The Gospel reading from John depicts Jesus praying to his Father in heaven before the crucifixion. In his prayer, Jesus confesses that his hour has come, affirming that his death was imminent and would lead to eternal life. He says that his work on earth has been meant to glorify the Father. Importantly, Jesus prays for his followers, recognizing that his departure would greatly affect them. Jesus proclaims that he would still remain with his followers even when he is physically gone. Jesus’ prayer is timely, both within the Gospel narrative and today. It demonstrates the importance of speaking feelings aloud, making requests of God and praying for others, especially in times of need.
The first reading from Acts reveals the importance of prayer for sustaining a community in crisis. At the beginning of Acts, Jesus’ followers, both named and unnamed, pray together after his ascension. Luke does not reveal their emotional reaction to the ascension, but it is likely they felt an extreme loss. The disciples had already experienced the turmoil of Jesus’ death followed by the confusion and joy of the resurrection. Again, this community contends with another abrupt loss as Jesus ascends into heaven. As a reaction to this loss, they unite together in prayer. As so many people are feeling the loss of physical contact and interaction, this reading offers prayer as a way to cope and connect.
Just as Jesus’ followers had to adjust to life without his physical presence, Covid-19 has required us to adjust how we interact with one another. Fortunately, we have saints whose lives and teachings are examples especially during moments of crisis. St. Jane Frances de Chantal comes to mind as a model for care and advocate for prayer.
St. Jane Frances endured many personal losses, including the death of her mother when she was only 18 months old, and in adulthood the deaths of her husband, three of her children and her spiritual director, St. Francis de Sales. She lived in France during a severe plague in the 17th century. Inspired to serve her community, St. Jane Frances co-founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. She advocated for care of the sick and vulnerable, making her convent’s resources available to those most in need.
Because of her life, she is a patron saint to people who are forgotten, widows, people suffering from loss of parents and people separated from their children. On the importance of prayer, St. Jane Frances is credited with saying, “Enter into your prayer by faith, remain in it in hope and do not abandon it except for that charity which serves and endures.” As we endure personal and collective struggles, we can look to Scripture and examples like St. Jane Frances to help us remain prayerful and hopeful during times of uncertainty.
Many dioceses transfer the Feast of the Ascension from Thursday to this Sunday; an essay for those readings is available at www.americamagazine.org/sections/word.