Sunday, June 05, 2011

Waiting Well

(Seventh Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on June 5, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, RI, by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Acts 1: 12-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventh Sunday of Easter 2011]

We do it at traffic lights.
We do it at restaurants.
We do it at airports.
We do it at checkout counters.
We do it at sporting events.
We do it at gas stations.

You even do it here at church—especially in the middle of my homilies.
And what, exactly, is “it”?


By the way, I’m not postponing the answer—that IS the answer! “Waiting” is what we do at traffic lights and restaurants and airports and checkout counters and sporting events and gas stations—and just about every place else!

And yes, you even wait here in church, especially during my homilies.

(And sometimes it’s a really long wait, isn’t it?)

Today’s homily is on how to “wait well”. Since we do it so often, it’s important for us to know how to do it well—especially when it comes to matters of great importance: when you’re waiting, for example, for an answer to a specific prayer, or for a physical, emotional or spiritual healing (from cancer or heart disease or some other serious illness); or when you’re waiting for an insight from God as to what you’re supposed to do with your life, or an insight on some other important decision you need to make in the not-too-distant future.

Now it’s important for me to begin by saying that on this particular issue I am definitely a work-in-progress. I am not someone, in other words, who waits well, generally speaking. I’m sure it’s hard for some of you to believe, but—trust me—I am not the most patient guy on the planet! I do not like to wait—for anything!

But, with the help of God, I’m trying to get better.

So these tips on “waiting well” that I’ll share with you this morning are tips that I also need to work at putting into practice in the future.

They’re not just for you; they’re for all of us.

And they come to us, courtesy of our Blessed Mother and the 12 apostles and the others who were with them in the upper room during the time between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday. In this regard, today’s first reading, from Acts 1, follows the first reading we heard a few days ago on Ascension Thursday (you did remember that we had a holy day of obligation this past week, right?). Anyway, in that other reading, St. Luke says this: “[Jesus] presented himself alive to [his apostles] by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to WAIT for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”

Today’s text picks up where Thursday’s left off. In part it reads as follows: “After Jesus had been taken up to heaven the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying . . . All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

In short, they went there to wait: to wait on the Lord; to wait for the special gift that Jesus had promised he would send them sometime after his ascension. Now they probably did not understand what (or Who) this gift was; but they did know they were supposed to wait for it. And so they obeyed.

Which brings us to the first tip on how to wait well: Obey! If the apostles and Mary and the others had not followed Jesus’ instructions and remained in Jerusalem after the ascension, they would not have been ready to receive the Spirit when he finally came! By the same token, if we’re waiting for direction or for guidance or for special help from the Lord in our lives, we need to be making every effort to live in obedience to him.

If we’re not—if we’re’ living in disobedience—we probably won’t hear him when he speaks to us, nor will we be open to whatever blessings he wants to give us.

So all our waiting will be in vain.

Something else we learn from this story—another tip on how to wait well—Pray! (Hopefully that doesn’t surprise anyone!) But don’t just pray alone; also get others to pray for you and even with you! When Mary and the apostles and the others were waiting in the upper room, it says (and here I quote): “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” “Devoted” is a pretty strong word; it signifies intensity: THEY WERE REALLY PRAYING!

And might we presume that part of their daily prayer included Mass? I think that’s a reasonable presumption, given the fact that Jesus told the apostles at the Last Supper (in that very same Upper Room): “Do this in memory of me.”

So if you’re waiting for direction or for a special favor from God you might try going to Mass during the week as well as on the weekend.

It can’t hurt!

Notice, too, that when they were waiting they surrounded themselves with believers who gave them support and encouragement. That’s also important to do if we want to wait well. As I wait for a cure or a healing from Parkinson’s Disease, it means so much to get cards and emails and words of support from faithful people in this parish and many other places. For example, when I wrote to my shoulder surgeon in Boston to tell him the diagnosis just after Christmas, he sent back an email that read, “This is a tough time to receive news of this diagnosis but your faith and the many prayers that are being said in your name will make you well.”

Words like those help a lot.

They help you to trust and to persevere in your waiting—which is the last tip I want to focus on today. Remember, there were nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday. That’s a relatively long time to be sitting around in a large room waiting for a gift from heaven that you don’t fully understand. I can imagine that some of those who were present got a bit impatient in the midst of all that nervous expectation.

Perhaps even Peter did (he was known, after all, for being impatient at times!). I can imagine Mary saying to him, “Now Peter, calm down. The gift will come. My Son said it would—and my Son always tells the truth. In fact, my Son IS the truth!”

When we’re waiting for direction or for a favor from Lord—and we wait a long time—it’s hard to trust and persevere: it’s hard to trust that God is in control; it’s hard to trust that he will give us what we need, even if it’s not what we want.

And it’s really hard to trust that if he keeps us waiting for something indefinitely, it’s because he wants to give us something better—like greater inner strength and holiness.

There’s a line from an old prayer group song that comes to mind—based on a text from Isaiah 40: “I delight in the Lord with all my mind, with all my heart and my soul. And as I wait upon the Lord I GROW STRONGER every day.”

As I wait upon the Lord I grow stronger.

There is always a blessing that comes from “waiting well” upon the Lord, even if it’s only the blessing—the very important and necessary blessing—of growing stronger in our faith.

And now to those of you who have been waiting patiently throughout this homily—the Lord says, “Rejoice! Your prayers have been answered! Your waiting has come to an end! Fr. Ray is finally finished—at least for today!”