Last Sunday, I was having a cup of coffee and winding down a bit after the Masses. I picked up my phone and started scrolling through my news feed. There among reports on the war in Ukraine, stalled debt ceiling negotiations, and gun violence was a heartwarming Mother’s Day story.
It was about a genealogist who is an executive of one of the online research companies. It told how he often looks through eBay and other flea market-type websites for items on sale that might interest him. One day he came across a Mother’s Day letter written in 1919 by a World War I veteran. It was written less than six months after the signing of the armistice ending that war, and the soldier and his unit were still in France awaiting orders to come home.
The soldier began the letter by telling his mother he had a weekend pass and planned to visit a friend in another regiment. His friend’s unit was headed back to the USA in the middle of May, and he wanted to see him before he left. He tells her he is happy for his friend and is anxious to get home too.
As the letter continues, he notes that it is almost Mother’s Day, and he wishes he were home to celebrate with her. He tells her how much he misses her and that an hour doesn’t go by that she isn’t in his thoughts. He recognizes how concerned about him she must be and that he believes his unit will be heading home by the end of May.
The letter so touched the genealogist he felt it should be owned by a descendent of the soldier and not sold to a memorabilia collector. So, he bought the letter and set about trying to find a member of the soldier’s family. He searched through census and vital records, located a granddaughter, and gave her the letter. She was overjoyed to receive it because she never knew her grandfather. He died of tuberculosis in the 1930s while still a young man before she was born. She felt the short letter revealed a great deal about him and added to her knowledge of him. It showed his happiness and best wishes for his friend heading home and his love and affection for his mother. Despite being a short note, she felt she knew him much better now.
We don’t know a great deal about Jesus. Yes, we have the four gospels telling of His life and ministry. We have the letters of Paul and some other apostles that speak of what Jesus was like and how they reacted to His preaching. That is more than we have about most other people from antiquity, but it isn’t that much compared to what we know of more recent historical persons.
We can learn much about Jesus from even short passages like today’s gospel reading from the Gospel of John. It comes from what Biblical scholars call His Farewell Discourse. It was given to the Apostles at the Last Supper the night before he died on the cross. In the few sentences of that discourse, Jesus sums up who He is and why He came to the earth. Jesus tells His followers He came so that we might have Eternal Life. Eternal Life isn’t pie in the sky when we die; it isn’t living the worldly life we live here on earth forever. Eternal Life is living in a loving relationship with God the Father and Jesus in this life on Earth today.
Embracing Eternal Life is patterning our own lives after the example of Jesus. Jesus lived out a relationship of obedience to the will of God. He was able to heal, forgive, and preach God’s love because He was always open to doing the will of God, even if it meant experiencing misunderstanding from the scribes, Pharisees, and other religious authorities and His eventual death on the cross. Jesus told His Apostles the night before He died that He wanted them to experience the joy of a similar relationship with Him and God the Father. Jesus wants us to have the same friendship with God and Him.
After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to the disciples. He told them He and God the Father would send the Holy Spirit to encourage them to develop a living relationship with God. In today’s relatively short passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how the Apostles and a few others carried that out. It simply says they returned to the Upper Room and prayed. They joined in mutual prayer to ask God to help them unite as apostles of Jesus. They stuck together to discern their future roles as Jesus’ disciples. They realized they needed unity to have the strength to face the future and any possible suffering they might endure for being faithful to Jesus.
During the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost, they most likely used scripture as a foundation for prayer. Listening to God speak in scripture was a significant part of their prayer. They probably recited or sang the Psalms and recalled passages they knew from the writings of the prophets. Since few apostles were educated people, and actual copies of the scriptures were expensive and rare, they probably recited the scriptures from memory.
Their prayer time probably wasn’t just sitting around in quiet contemplation and singing Psalms twenty-four-seven. They likely also used works of charity as part of their prayer, and some of them may have even practiced their skills and crafts as part of their prayer. The Apostles used every aspect of their lives to grow their relationship with Jesus.
Scripture and daily prayer must be a big part of our efforts to grow our relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son. We need to take time every day to pray to grow closer to Jesus. If you don’t pray daily, I encourage you to begin. Start with as few as ten minutes during the day when you can go to a physically and spiritually quiet place to listen to God. Try not to talk to God. Try not to bring some concern or problem but listen. You might hear God in the birds’ tweeting, the waves breaking, or the sound of the wind. The voice of God might come to you in the gobble of turkeys, the tumble of the dryer, or the whine of a landscaper’s leaf blower. God can use even our distractions to help us grow our relationship with Him.
As Catholics, we don’t have a great tradition of memorizing scripture passages, but maybe use that as part of your prayer. If you find scripture verses that especially touch your soul, commit them to memory. If you do, they will come to mind during the day when you need support in your faith or feel tempted.
The Diocese of Fall River is currently conducting our annual Catholic Appeal. Our donations to the Appeal can be an act of prayer, and our sacrificial gift enriches our relationship with Jesus and helps the needy see Christ present to them too. Carrying out our occupation or volunteer work if we are retired can be prayer if we do it out of love for God.
We don’t need to hear much from God to learn more about God and grow our relationship. Just like that soldier’s short letter to his mother helped his granddaughter discover a deeper relationship with her grandfather, a little prayer will help our relationship with Jesus and God the Father.
It is important to recall that an essential part of the Apostle’s prayer life was to come together in prayer. They recognized that if they were going to be faithful to Jesus, they needed the support and strength of the others in their community. If one Apostle was wavering in faith, they wanted the others to challenge and help them get back on track. That is why in addition to obedience to the Third Commandment, we must attend Mass every weekend and Holy Day of Obligation to support and encourage each other.
Last week I mentioned in my homily that I’d be working with a group of parishioners over the summer to implement a parish program to help everyone strengthen and develop their relationship with God. I want to have the program as a catalyst to encourage the formation of small groups of six to eight parishioners who will meet weekly to study their faith, pray together, and encourage each other. It will be an opportunity for our big church to get smaller. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will prompt you to join this program.
Jesus wants to have a relationship with us. All we need to do to have that happen is open our hearts to Jesus even a little bit, and the power of the Holy Spirit will give us the gift of Eternal life.