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The Joy of Easter Prayer

In the year 2000 the church crossed the threshold into the third millennium and celebrated the Great Jubilee 2000. We find ourselves again as pilgrims, pilgrims of hope, marching towards another Jubilee Year, the Jubilee 2025. 2024 is a preparatory year and very much focused on renewing our prayer life. Cardinal Vincent Nichols leads us in a reflection on the joy of Easter prayer.

Our focus during Lent was the perfect prayer, the Our Father. Our focus during Eastertide is our call to be prayerful Pilgrims of Hope. Eastertide invites us to renew our relationship with the Holy Spirit, our greatest gift, the Counsellor, the Lord and the giver of life. Just as no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ without the Holy Spirit, so too no one can pray ‘For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever’ without the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit teaches us to fix our hope on God and pray as the Psalmist prayed: ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined to me and heard my cry’ (Psalm 40:1). And as St Paul prayed, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope’ (Romans 15:13). The Holy Spirit helps us to believe and to celebrate and live our faith in a vital and personal relationship with the living God. This relationship has love as its source and is expressed in prayer.

How beautifully the Curé d’Ars puts this: ‘I love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely lovable
God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally…. My God, if my tongue cannot say in
every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath’.
Prayer is a big adventure in which we discover the depths of God’s love and grow in faith and hope. And hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And so we dare to make our Eastertide prayer: ‘Christ is Risen indeed’, ‘Alleluia!’ and ‘Come, Holy Spirit, Come.’

Christ is Risen indeed. Alleluia!’ This ancient refrain echoes the greeting of the angel: ‘He is not here; for he has risen, as he said’ (Matthew 28:6).
The Scriptures foresaw Jesus’ resurrection. ‘For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.’ (Songs of Songs 8:6). In prayer we receive many of the blessings of faith: joy, rejoicing and delight in the Lord. Again, we say, rejoice and delight in the Lord! ‘For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on earth; the time of the singing of birds is come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land’ (Song of Songs 2:11-12).

The final doxology proclaims: ‘For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever’ is the joyful prayer of our hearts, for we are the Easter People. Through his resurrection Jesus restores the
glory of the Father’s hallowed name and creates within us the desire to pray for the coming of his
kingdom and for the Father’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus is Lord, he is Victor;
he wears the Crown. We are blessed because while this is the faith by which we live, not by sight. We
do not see yet we believe. Open wide your eyes of faith and let the light of the resurrection radiate and illuminate your life and fill you with joy.
Eastertide is a journey from the Empty Tomb to the Upper Room. The Resurrection and Pentecost are the crowning jewels of faith. On Pentecost morning, people made fun of the disciples thinking they were drunk. Peter explained they weren’t drunk, it was only 9am in the morning! (Acts 2:15). They weren’t inebriated, but they were intoxicated – intoxicated by the Holy Spirit, overflowing with the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, brimming with joy and filled with hope in the kingdom of God.
Peter saw in Jesus the promises of God fulfilled; the Holy One would not see decay (Psalm 16:8-11) and the Spirit would be poured out (Joel 2:28-32).
What is prayer? Prayer is many things but most of all it is a surge of the heart, a simple look towards heaven, the raising of one’s heart and mind to God and the requesting of good things from our heavenly Father. At the heart of prayer is thirst. How beautifully the Psalmist expressed it: ‘My soul thirsts for thee in a dry and weary land’ (Psalm 63:1). The wonder of prayer is that God first seeks us and asks for a drink.

Jesus’ thirst arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst, who thirsts for us that we may thirst for him.

Jesus said to the woman at the well: ‘You would have asked him and he would have given you living water’ (John 4:10). The living God pleads with us to turn to him for the living water which alone can quench our thirst. How beautifully the prophet Jeremiah expressed this: ‘They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water’ (Jeremiah 2:13). Many things distract us from prayer: busyness, hobbies and indifference. God doesn’t compel us but rather softens and warms our hearts to freely respond to the promises of his grace and blessing.

Where does prayer come from? Prayer comes from the heart, and according to the Scriptures the heart is the very centre of our being. The heart is our hidden centre, the place to which we withdraw and only the Spirit of God can fathom and know our deepest thoughts. The heart is the place of covenant between us and God. The heart is our spiritual centre, where we encounter and commune with the Living God. The heart is the place of prayer. Prayer invites us into a covenant relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We give praise to the Father, we thank the Son and we rejoice in the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit helps us to be attentive to God. Be still and know that God is God. Know too that God’s thoughts are not ours; his ways not our ways. The late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI captured this perfectly: ‘We see once more the grandeur of something which we take too much for granted in our daily lives: the fact that God speaks, that God answers our questions; the fact that, with human words, he speaks to us personally.’ If our hearts are alert and our interior ears are open, we can learn to listen and hear God’s word. Be attentive with all your heart, and God will speak to you a personal, practical and authentic word.

No one can comprehend God’s mind except the Spirit of God (1Corinthians 2:11). We bow before this mystery.

We are lifted up by it. God has poured out his Holy Spirit so that we can comprehend his thoughts and know his ways. The Holy Spirit is the key to this holy season of Eastertide. The Holy Spirit is the power, and the breath of God. He is the way we enter into the mystery of God and the One through whom we learn to call God ‘Abba’, ‘Father’.

‘Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the kingdom of heaven and adopted as children, given confidence to call God “Father” and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory’ (St Basil).

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