These things have I spoke unto you, that in my ye might have peace. In the world
ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
(St. John xvi. 33)
Today we find ourselves on the Fifth and final Sunday of the Easter Season. Today is called Rogation Sunday because our English word is derived from the Latin word rogare, and it means to petiton, ask, or supplicate. The tradition of Rogation Sunday hails from the 4th century and was standardized in the Latin Church by Pope Gregory in the 6th century. It was originally a Roman festival called Robigalia, which comes from robigo –meaning wheat rust, a grain disease, against which pious pagans petitioned the gods by sacrificing a dog to protect their fields. To this day, in England, on Rogation Sunday clergymen and their flocks process around the parish boundaries to bless the crops and pray for fruitful harvest.
But the original purpose of Rogation Sunday goes back to Jesus’ opening words in today’s Gospel: Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you. (St. John xvi.) Jesus’ words follow the prophesy of His eventual Ascension back to the Father, where He says, In that day, ye shall ask me nothing. (Ibid, 23) Jesus was preparing His Disciples for that new risen life that He would win for them. But its possession, as we learned last week, would depend upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus teaches us today then is that we must ask the Father in or through His Name for the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Word made flesh through whom we pray and supplicate the Father. This is why we end every prayer with, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (Ibid, 24)
Notice how Jesus concludes His exhortation about asking the Father with an intended effect –that your joy may be full. (Idem) Eastertide is all about learning to ask for what shall fulfill our heart’s deepest desire –the fullness of joy. For what else is Eastertide about than the resurrection from sin, death, and Satan and the pursuit of the joy that God has in store for us? But to become living members of Christ’s Risen Body we must set our sights on those things which are above and not things of the earth. (Col. iii. 2) We do so with the firmest faith in the perfectly salvific and redeeming life of Jesus Christ. The custom of asking God’s blessing upon the agricultural harvest is a recognition that God’s blessing alone ensures that our bodies are fed. But at the end of the day, our Rogation prayers really ought to have more to do with asking the Father’s blessing on the plantation, fertilization, and cultivation of spiritual seeds in our souls. We must pray that His Holy Spirit will grow these spiritual embryonic beginnings into roots that anchor us in the life of the Risen Christ.
But if we are to ask God for those things that will ensure our salvation, first we must be prepared to have a personal relationship with Him. God our Heavenly Father is the origin and source of eternal joy, and so we should not expect to find His joy in the end if we have not become accustomed to His presence habitually beginning here and now. So what we must endeavor to establish is a regular routine of solitary and contemplative prayer that brings us into constant communication with our Father. Bishop K.E. Kirk has this to say about it:
Contemplation, or the Prayer of Simplicity or Quiet, is the highest interior activity of the spiritual life – indeed, it aims not at being an activity at all, but at reducing the soul to a purely passive condition in which it may listen, unimpeded by thoughts of self or the cares of the world, to the voice of God alone. ‘As rest is the end of motion so contemplation is the end of all other…internal and external exercises; for to this end, by long discourse and much practice of affection, the soul inquires and tends to a worthy object that she may quietly contemplate it and…repose with contentment in it.’ (Some Principles of Moral Theology, p. 163)
Thus, stillness and quiet are necessary preconditions for the relationship that Jesus desires for us to have with our Heavenly Father. For, if in stillness and quiet we become passively open to God’s presence alone, His will and way will become evident to us. Jesus says today, The time is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in parables, but I will tell you plainly of the Father. (Ibid, 25) In stillness and quiet God will show us plainly the reason for which His Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ. I came forth from the Father, Jesus says. St. Thomas tells us that this was for three reasons: (1) That He might manifest the Father in the world: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the Only Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.’ (St. John i. 18) (2) To declare His Father’s will to us: ‘All things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.’ (St. John xv. 15) (3) That He might show the Father’s love towards us: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him….’ (St. John iii. 16) [Easter Homilies: XII] Jesus is the manifestation to men of God the Father’s will to save all men through His love. In stillness and quiet, if we ask, God will show us also that His love was at work not only in Christ’s coming but also in His necessary departure. Christ must leave us, according to St. Thomas, because by His leaving He gives us an example. ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.’ (1 St. John ii. 15) ‘Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.’ (S. John xv. 19) He must leave us and ascend to the Father so (1) That he might intercede with Him for us: ‘I will pray the Father.’ (St. John xiv. 16) (2) That He might give to us the Holy Spirit: ‘If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’ (St. John xvi. 7) (3) That He might prepare for us a place with the Father: ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ (St. John xiv. 2) To which place may He lead us. (Idem) We can be sanctified and saved only when we seek those things which are above, through Jesus’ unending intercession for us, through the coming of His Spirit into our souls, as His desire and power congeal to carry us to the place He is preparing for us. Then, in the midst of any or all tribulation, we can be of good cheer, because we live in and through His victory –His overcoming of the world. (Ibid, 33)
Of course, we must also ask the Father to enable us to see to what extent we reflect Jesus Christ, His Word made flesh, in every step of our spiritual journey. God’s Word has been spoken through Jesus Christ in order that we might not only hear it, but obey it and live by it (St. James i. 22), as St. James says this morning. In the Word of God we should see ourselves. We must come to see what we are not by reason of sin. We must come to see what we can become if God’s Word is spoken into our lives and we are obedient to Him. St. James says that we must be willing to spend enough time –a lifetime in fact, with God’s Word, Jesus Christ, so that the teaching that He embodies leaves a stamp on our souls. Monsignor Knox tells us that St. James’ example about a being a hearer of God’s Word and not a doer –the man who looks in the mirror and forgets what manner of man he is, is much like someone who listens carefully to a reading of Thomas a Kempis’ ‘Imitation of Christ’. He understands it and thinks that the book is really about Christians like himself –he finds a reflection of himself in it. [But] it is only if he will give a good long look at our Lord’s teaching that this self-satisfied person will see the real picture which it conveys, very different indeed from the ‘self-portrait’ that he first found in it! (Epistles and Gospels: Know, p. 138) If God’s Word is heard but not obeyed, then the Christian deludes himself into thinking that he can be faithful to Christ the Word without the transformative and redemptive operations of the Holy Spirit within his soul. The man who looks conscientiously into the Word is called to find in it the perfect law of liberty, and [to continue] therein, he not being a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work that the Word commands, [so that] he [might] be blessed. (Ibid, 25)
In this morning’s Collect we acknowledge that all good things come from God. So we pray, Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same, and again, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Collect Rogation Sunday) First we ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us to think about God’s goodness. Second, we pray for His Grace to perfect the same in our lives, being not only hearers of the Word but also doers of the [His] work. So real religion calls us to be still and silent, hearing and receiving the Word of God that longs to change our lives through His Holy Spirit. In humility we remember that If any man among [us] seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. The Holy Spirit helps us to remember that, Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world. (Ibid, 26, 27)
In closing, on this Rogation Sunday, our Asking and Praying Sunday, let us listen to the wisdom of Mother Teresa, whose silent waiting upon Christ the Word moved her to overcome the world through His Risen love.
In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself [–with His Holy Spirit.] Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.