The Apostles were gathered with the Holy Mother, “devot[ing] themselves with one accord to prayer” (Ac 1:14). That is to say, they expressed with unity and fervor their desire to respond to the wise and loving Creator whose initiative always anticipates our own. Together they formed the heart of the infant Church who awaited the promised Holy Spirit, the seal of adoption as God’s Beloved Sons. Having received Our Lord’s call to unity, holiness, and mission, most notably at the very mountain of His Ascension (cf. Mt 28:20), the Apostles hunkered down for their first novena, imploring the divine empowerment needed to bring the Church to term. This grace God promises in abundant measure not only to the Apostles and their successors the Bishops, but to all who seek Him earnestly; and this great legacy of teaching, liturgy, morality, and prayer is found most reliably in the Holy Catholic Church (cf. CCC 1-3).
I’d bet that the Apostles’ novena included as much silence as speech. Like any conversation, prayer ideally includes both elements. The philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once attributed all the world’s problems to people not being able to sit quietly by themselves in an empty room. For this malaise we must thank the untamed ego that asserts itself “every which way but loose,” fruitlessly seeking to fill the God-sized hole in our hearts.
In St. Peter’s first epistle we are warned of the difference between suffering for noble causes such as our faith, and suffering as a result of evils we have committed. Now it is true that the sins of our past may cause us hardship, but even this can purify and strengthen us as we daily commend ourselves to the Lord. Peter is speaking here about those who are not at first inclined to repent of their evils. Note the categories he mentions: “a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer” (1Pe 4:13).
That last one, translated “intriguer,” is curious: ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος is a person who watches over another person’s business—a meddler, a mischief-maker. Placed in the same category as a murderer! We are not talking about someone who is merely impolite, or who lacks clear boundaries. The intentional stirring-up of jealousies, confusion, irritation, gossip, criticism, and discord is a sin! Suddenly it isn’t so strange to think that Pope Francis has preached so often and vehemently about these matters in his daily homilies and weekly addresses, and this without ignoring other infractions of the Ten Commandments.
The tender prayer of Jesus to His Father precedes His paschal “hour” of suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. In it He offers to the Father you, and me, and every human person who has ever lived or who will ever live. Jesus’ prayer further reveals His clear focus on doing His Father’s will steadfastly and serenely, despite the drama that surrounded His earthly life, from the intrigue of infancy to the commotion of Calvary. Wouldn’t you like to live with such quiet strength, come what may? So would I. Let’s sit quietly in a room for a little while, and see what happens.