15 April 2009

Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good, for His Mercy Endures Forever

A Reflection on Acts 3:1-10

Peter and John are headed towards the temple area for the ninth hour of prayer. The ninth hour, based on the ancient world’s way of telling time, is three o’clock in the afternoon. This is a significant hour because the ninth hour is when our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross. In the Church’s public prayer, the day or “little” hours are divided as such: Prime, the first hour or 6 a.m.; Terce, the third hour or 9 a.m.; Sext, the sixth hour or noon; and None, the ninth hour or 3 p.m. In today’s Liturgy of the Hours Prime has been suppressed and the remaining “little hours” are generally identified by modern English terminology: Midmorning Prayer, Midday Prayer and Mid-afternoon Prayer respectively.

We also know from Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska’s diary that three o’clock is the hour of mercy: “At three o’clock implore My mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy for the whole world. I will allow you to enter into My mortal sorrow. In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion” (1320).

Our Lord encouraged Saint Faustina at the hour of mercy to make the Stations of the Cross whenever her duties allowed it; but Jesus went on to tell her that she could even step into the chapel for a brief moment to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Three o’clock in the afternoon in this day and age is not a convenient time to pray for most folks. But our Lord understands that and will meet us wherever we are at three o’clock even if for a brief moment to beg for His mercy with something like the Jesus Prayer, for example. But any prayer from the heart imploring our Lord’s mercy is favorably received by our Savior.

Certainly, a great act of mercy was performed by our Lord through Peter and John as a crippled man from birth was healed. Unfortunately, the highly secularized culture we live in today has crippled many with sin. But “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). Jesus told Saint Faustina, “the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy” (1182).

Notice the boldness of Peter’s prayer: “In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” This boldness of prayer requires a bold faith. One gets the sense that Peter had no doubt that this poor handicapped man would get up and walk. This boldness of faith cannot be faked, for it comes from the heart and the Lord knows what’s in the human heart. Remember that our Lord said through Saint Faustina to particularly immerse ourselves in His abandonment. Our Redeemer looks for that same abandonment from us: to give up everything that doesn’t belong in our hearts and allow our Lord to fully occupy it. When we can do that, then faith will be stronger than death and we’ll be thanking our Lord for answering our prayer even before we’ve asked for anything.

Peter is a comforting figure to walk with in the Scriptures. His faith is very bold here but it was a long road for him to get there. The road is indeed long and narrow, but with eyes fixed on Jesus all things are possible (cf. Luke 1:37). As our Blessed Lady said, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). But we’re not going to hear Him if we’re not listening. Even the busiest among us with all those daily commitments and responsibilities should see to it that one of those daily duties is time spent with our Lord. It’s hard to have a serious relationship without dialogue. And this holy dialogue has the potential to grow into a supernatural understanding, an exchange of loving gazes, a mystical rest on the Breast of Jesus.

Saint Luke makes a point in adding that the man who was healed by our Lord through Peter and John walked into the temple with them. He undoubtedly entered the temple to offer his gratitude. Catholics receive a great miracle every Sunday, or even daily – the miracle of the Eucharist. But how quick we are to exit the church building when Mass is over – and sadly, sometimes even before Mass has ended.

Recall the Gospel story of when Jesus healed ten lepers but only one of the ten returned falling on his face before the Feet of Jesus to offer thanks. Jesus said: “Were not ten made clean? Where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God but this stranger” (Luke 17:17-18).

Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical, Mediator Dei, wrote: “When the Mass, which is subject to special rules of the liturgy, is over, the person who has received Holy Communion is not thereby freed from his duty of thanksgiving; rather, it is most becoming that, when the Mass is finished, the person who has received the Eucharist should recollect himself, and in intimate union with the divine Master hold loving and fruitful converse with Him. Hence they have departed from the straight way of truth, who, adhering to the letter rather than the sense, assert and teach that, when Mass has ended, no such thanksgiving should be added, not only because the Mass is itself a thanksgiving, but also because this pertains to a private and personal act of piety and not to the good of the community.”

There are countless stories of the saints and their practices of remaining after Mass to offer thanksgiving. Some would remain for hours. Their examples are placed before us as models to follow.

Walking with Jesus is not easy and all the distractions of daily life likely give most of us an ongoing road to Emmaus experience; Jesus walks with us but we fail to recognize Him (cf. Luke 24:15-16). The rewards of this life are attractive but they will cease with the final breath and last beat of the human heart. The riches that Jesus offers are eternal, always new and always fresh.