6th Sunday of Easter (A) – May 14, 2023
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
Graduation: The Fruit of Dedication
This time of the year is graduation time. I just got back from my sister’s graduation from Benedictine College, and here today we commemorate our graduates from high school. For the past 12, 13, 14 and even 15 years (if you were in three year old pre-school), you have been attending school for 186 days a year. Kansas law. 186 days each year, you were dedicated to school—we’re actually the state with the most days of school required each year (bet they never told you that, huh?). Why? Why do they make you go to school so much? Lot of reasons. But at the core, it’s because they know that if you’re going to learn, if you’re going to grow and mature and develop intellectually, it’s going to take dedication. And since they know you’re not going to voluntarily show up for school, they made it a law. Dedication: hours a day, day after day, week after week, year after year—all to get you where you are today. (I once had some eighth graders trying to tell me how stupid school is. So I asked them, “Do you read better now than you did as a second grader?” And they were like, “Well yeah!” Ok, exactly. It paid off.) Dedication.
If you play sports, we know that it takes dedication. You can’t just show up to play a game. You’ll lose. It takes practice every day, training every day. And if you slack off, you lose.
Going to the gym to lose weight or gain muscle. Yeah, you need to go to the gym. But that means going to the gym three to six times a week, actually training while you’re there. It also means eating properly and sleeping properly—daily. Dedication.
If you play a musical instrument (I’m a nerd, I play cello)—you can’t just pick it up and expect to be any good. It takes practice every day, lessons every week, orchestra rehearsal every week. On and on! Dedication.
Dedication, constancy, day after day. If you’re going to do something, make your life about something, be great and grow and develop—it takes dedication, constancy, attention to it every day. And you know that. We all know that. Anyone disagree? Anyone? Last chance.
Acts 2:42: They Were Dedicated to Something
Ok. Here’s the thing. People have known this for a while. When something is important, when something is central to your life, you dedicate yourself to it. Maybe school wasn’t your thing, but people much wiser than you and who care about you and want what is best for you decided that your education was so important that it is worth 186 days of your life—every year, for the last 14 years. When something is that important, you dedicate yourself to it.
The apostles had a very similar experience. They experienced something life-changing, an event that actually changed everything. When Jesus rose from the dead—it wasn’t just a magic trick, and then you went on with your day, no! Jesus’ resurrection from the dead meant that everything, everything was different! Nothing could be the same. The way you looked around at the world was different. The way you made decision was different. Everything was different! And they knew they had to live differently. They knew they had to do concrete things to let this change them. (Again, it’s one thing to know school is important. But you only learn if you went to school. One thing to know that training and diet and sleep will get you in shape. But you have to do it!) Same here! The apostles and the disciples knew they had to be dedicated to a new way of life. And that’s what they did.
We’re told that they dedicated themselves to four things: to the breaking of the bread, to the teaching of the Apostles, to the communal life (the koinonia), and to the prayers. Acts 2 goes on to say, “Every day they continued to meet in the Temple courts and their homes.” Every day! They were dedicated to this every day. We’ve been talking about these four things the past several weeks: breaking of the bread, teaching of the apostles, communal life. And so today I want to touch on the last one. The prayers.
Like I mentioned several weeks ago, notice: they were dedicated to the prayers. Plural. Not just to praying—yes, to praying. But specifically, to “the prayers.” If you ever go to a very Jewish part of the world, or if you fly on a plane with some orthodox Jews, everything stops for prayer. On a plane, they will literally stand up and start doing their prayers. In Israel and Palestine, when I was there on pilgrimage, one of the striking things you hear is the Muslim call to prayer—five times a day. This practice of daily, set times for prayer is not “new.” It’s ancient. And the earliest Christians continued this practice: praying at set times throughout the day. Why? Because this is how they kept their attention fixed on Christ. Life was distracting then, life is distracting now. Prayer, dedication to the prayers—this was the way they kept their attention fixed on Christ, his resurrection, and the fact that their lives were now different.
When I say, “Pink Elephant…”
But here’s the thing: When I say, “Pink elephant,” what do you think of? When I say, “Like a good neighbor…”? (…State Farm is there.”) Ok. What happens when I say, “Prayers” or “Praying”? We immediately jump to just “saying prayers.” We think we need to say more words. And no! Jesus said himself, “When you pray, do not babble like the pagans do.” In other words, don’t think that God just wants more words thrown his way, no.
Prayer—prayer is about fixing our attention on God, on Christ, on this event that has changed our lives, changed how we see the world around us, changed everything. Prayer is paying attention to that ache within us for something more, that longing we have for something more. As one author put it, “It is the heart that prays.” We heard in our second reading from Peter, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts / In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.” Here’s what I’m getting at: prayer isn’t about the words we say, it’s about turning our heart back to God, turning our attention back to the most important thing, the fundamental and essential part of our life. Words can help! Jesus gave us words—called the Our Father. But its deeper.
When we hear that the Apostles were dedicated to the prayers, it means that they were dedicated to prayer every day, throughout the day—in order to keep their attention, their lives, their real lives, centered on Christ.
A Life Centered on Prayer Is a Life Centered on God
I was very blessed to have a family that taught me this. Life in my family growing up was centered on prayer. We didn’t have to talk about God all the time—our daily life showed us that our life was centered on God. Daily Mass, prayer before meals, family Rosary every night, prayers before bed; Sunday Mass every Sunday; spending an hour in adoration frequently. My dad would be up around 4am every morning—and he would read and pray before we all woke up. He was the leader of prayer in the home. He made sure we were up for Mass every day; he led us in prayer before meals; on and on. My mom has a beautiful prayer life, and it wasn’t uncommon to find her taking time in the afternoon to pray. But there it was: our lives were structured around prayer, our day was broken up by what we were praying. And because of that, our lives were centered on God, our daily lives always called our attention back to God. Like the earliest Christians, our family was dedicated to the prayers: to taking time, specific time each day to pray, to call our attention back to Christ, to entrust ourselves to him.
Practicals: Choose Something, Be Consistent, Speak from Your Heart
If you want to be serious about your faith, you want to be serious about your prayer. Mother Theresa was fond of saying, “Anyone who is too busy to pray is too busy. No matter who you are, you cannot allow yourself to become too busy to pray.” And she would use the example of the prophet Daniel. How Daniel was the Prime minister, and yet, “he felt that he was not too busy to pray three times a day. If you think you are too busy to pray, then you are deceiving yourself.”
So this is my challenge to you. Three levels. I want you to choose three times a day to pray. Three. Get your phone, set an alarm to remind you, and pray three times a day. And pick a level.
Level 1 is to pray the Our Father three times a day. I’ve talked about this one before. But don’t just rattle it off, no! Alarm goes off, put your phone down, quiet your mind, quiet your heart, breathe—give your full attention to Christ and the Father, and then pray the Our Father slowly and deliberately.
Level 2 is to pray the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and spend ten minutes reading the Bible (start with a Gospel if you need a place to start). Set your alarm to remind you. And then pray. Don’t just rattle off the words! This is the time you are giving to prayer. “Don’t babble like the pagans.” Give this time to Christ. Turn your attention back to him.
Level 3—this is some next level stuff. But level three is to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is the official prayer of the Church: Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer. If you want to do this, let me know and there is a subscription to a little book you can get, or even a free app on your phone. I pray these prayers every day—have for the past twelve years, every day. It combines the Psalms, readings from scripture, the Our Father, petitions, and more—all into a prayer that takes about 8 minutes to say. It’s powerful. Again, send me an email; I’ll hook you up.
But this is the point: if you want to be serious about your faith, you have to be serious about your prayer. And to begin, it’s as easy as three steps: 1) Choose a level (or take the ideas I gave you and create your own); 2) Be consistent; and 3) don’t just say the words, put your heart into it.
Again, why? Dedication, constancy, day after day. If you’re going to do something, make your life about something, be great and grow and develop—it takes dedication, constancy, attention to it every day. You agreed to that, you said that’s true. And we do it with everything else in our life: school, sports, fitness, music, on and on. Our faith, Christ—he must take the number one spot. Because at the end of the day it’s Christ, or nothingness—literally. This is the event that has changed the world, changed life, changed your life. Let it begin to change you.