Who is praying for you? Listen!
Roy W. Howard
Ascension Sunday June 1, 2014
The other day while running along the C&O Canal on a glorious day, I came upon a sight that is common this time of year. Little goslings, as cute as can be, were waddling along the path. [SLIDE 1] It looked as if they were testing their little legs, like toddlers do. [SLIDE 2] And alongside them all the way were the parents; large Canada geese waddling with much more confidence and swagger. [SLIDE 3] They were hovering next to them, with one, (I’m guessing the mom,) quickly wobbling toward runners like me coming closer to the little goslings. With it’s long neck fully stretched out, the large Canada Goose began shouting as she ran to me, protecting her little ones. [SLIDE 4] I slowed to a gentle jog, then a careful gingerly tip toe as I pondered whether I could pass them by on the trail. Then, I walked every so lowly – with my hands up! – I thought she might chase me into the water to protect her little ones. But she left me go by, at a very respectable distance from her goslings. [SLIDE 5]
She was living out her genetic vocation for the sake of life. [SLIDE 6] All creatures do this for their young. And here is what occurred to me.
The Church has a great deal in common with birds and creatures of the earth with whom we share the creation. We guard, protect, shape our young ones until they fly out of that nest. In fact, I believe the Church that follows the way of Jesus has exactly the same vocation.
It’s the our responsibility to pray for our young ones, to nurture them, to protect them, to guard them, and to shape them around the stories of the faith. We do this so that when they reach the time, a time like today when several are honored on their graduation, they can fly out of that nest as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, knowing always there is a home for them. This is our vocation: to be as loving and as fierce as Mother Goose. [SLIDE 7]
If the Church fails in the vocation to pray for our young ones, to nurture them, to guard them and protect them from predators then we fail the most basic of all Jesus’ teachings: to love the children. We want to be certain that they are able to be enter into adulthood with resiliant faith and a moral compass. If we are tempted to ignore or neglect this most basic role it’s probably better to remember the saying of Jesus, “Woe unto those who would harm one of my little ones it would be better that they would tie a millstone around their neck and be thrown into the river.”
When the sad saga unfolded of Elliot Rodger’s killing spree at UC Santa Barbara, Ann Hornady the film critic of the Washington Post wrote a sobbering essay about what shaped that young man’s life, without excusing his behavior because of this obvious mental illness. The line that sticks to me is this one: “We are shaped by the stories we tell one another.” [SLIDE 8]
That too is the vocation of the Church: to tell the stories that will shape us in the way of Jesus so we are prepared to walk in his way in a very violent world.
Before he departed this life, Jesus prayed for his disciples. We get to listen in on that prayer as if we were in the same room with him in this intimate moment with the Father. He describes something similar to the vocation of all creatures everywhere, including you and me. He says “I guarded them, I protected them and my prayer for them is that they would be filled with joy.” So if you want to know what Jesus is doing now that he has ascended into heaven, consider this he is now present everywhere at all times and in all places. He is like the noonday sun shining on all. And especially he is guarding, protecting and most astonishing, praying for you. Echoing John, St. Paul says that Christ prays for us. Think about that and savor it. I know that’s a hard concept to grasp, but I’m asking you to take a leap of faith to live into this promise that Jesus’ vocation is to pray for you. But there’s another part of this; how does he practice his eternal vocation? He does that through his Spirit abiding in the Church.
What difference does that make in your life if you’re able to embrace at some deep level that God, known to us in Jesus Christ, is praying for you? I hope you’ll hear it as good news particularly in those moments when you’re not sure that anyone is praying for you, and that you’re not quite able to pray for yourself. Always there is one praying for you and his name is Jesus Christ. It would be irreverent to refer to him as Mother Goose; but in truth he is like that fierce Goose I met along the trail who was not about to leave her goslings.
Whatever darkness you walk into, he is praying for you. And so is the Church that walks in his way.