ACTS 1:15-17.20A.20C-26, 1JOHN 4:11-16, JOHN 17:11-19
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Fr. Paul Oredipe
Unity and Prayerfulness in our mission of the Church
Last Thursday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension of Christ into heaven. Just as it was said then, Jesus is no more physically present with us but He is still with us spiritually – in the Church, the Word of God, the Sacraments and in our neighbours. His departure from the world has not left us orphans and that is what the readings of today assure us of clearly.
In today’s gospel reading (John 17:11-19), we reflect on the priestly prayer of Jesus Christ offered before His passion and death. This prayer strengthens us at this moment of His physical absence and assures us of the abiding grace of God around us. To this end, let us take a closer look at some parts of this prayer.
“Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” After having consecrated the bread and the wine into His Body and Blood, Christ prays that all His disciples, the members of His Mystical Body, might be one in the Trinity, and thus in the Holy Spirit.
In the gospel, we heard Jesus praying to His Father. In that prayer, Jesus said He had watched over those who were His. And then Jesus said this in His prayer: Father, I am not asking You to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the evil one.
Jesus knew what was going to befall Him and how the faith of His Apostles would be shaken. To keep His apostles on the safer side, He prayed for them, asking His Father to keep them true to His name.
So Jesus is telling us that God will protect us. It is a promise made with a prayer. In this world, there will be trouble. Wicked people will do evil things to us. Being a disciple of Jesus in this world is like being sent to the battlefront. Yet Jesus promises us and guarantees us God’s protection. On our part, we have to believe in that promise, we have to pray on it, and we have to act on it. We must believe that God will protect us, simply because He loves us. It is a protective love. We have to let God’s protective love reinforce and strengthen our faith.
Jesus does not leave us to work alone. He is always with us through His Spirit. It is only because of His presence and power at work within us that we are able to achieve anything for Him. He wants us to have the fullness of joy and life, and He has made this possible for us by His death and resurrection.
In our moments of danger, temptation, vocation or business crises, have we prayed for God’s grace to abide in us or do we relax presuming God’s grace since He knows all things and is equally a loving Father ?
In His priestly prayer, Jesus was not asking God to remove His Apostles from this evil world but to protect them from the evil one. This has got more to say about the difficulties and challenges we encounter in life. We live in an evil world where man is wolf to man but instead of running away like cowards, let us strive to make the world a better place by our way of life.
We can make the world a better place by living in love with one another just as the second reading (1 John 4:11-16) urges us. Love is the only weapon to conquer the evil in the world. When we live in love, there is freedom, peace, joy and tranquility of mind and body. When this is achieved, then Christ’s prayer that we may be one like Him and the Father might be actualized.
The first half of the statement: “For their sake I sanctify myself,” underlines the fact that concern for others is at the very heart of the Christian gospel.
“I sanctify myself.” The second part of the statement, on the other hand, underlines the fact that personal sanctification is an essential element in the whole business of being a Christian. It counterbalances the first.
Jesus was always there for other people, yet He did not forget to sanctify Himself. People who are so involved in helping others that they forget their own inner life with God see only one side of the coin. How can one be doing the work of the Lord and forget the Lord of the work? People who are actively involved in efforts to help other people must also cultivate an interior relationship with the Lord for their personal sanctification, lest they get lost in activism. The social gospel, rightly understood, therefore, presumes the personal gospel of intimacy with the Lord.
The mission of Christ is destined to spread throughout the Church. There are not two missions: that of Christ and that of the Church. There is but one mission: that of Christ in His Church and for His Church. Each of the members of the Mystical Body of Christ is called to participate in Christ’s mission: each of them is called to spread the Truth that is Christ himself.
This is why the Lord says to His Father: “Sanctify them in the truth.” If Christ underwent the trial of the Cross to bear witness to the Truth that He Himself is, the Church must also go through this same trial, or rather, the Church must participate in the unique redeeming Sacrifice of Christ. For the Holy Spirit is Himself the Spirit of Truth (cf. Jn. 16:13), and He will not come into the Church unless she testifies to the truth; and He will continue to come as long as the Church continues to profess and to demonstrate ever more ardently her attachment to the truth.
Jesus went on to say in today’s Gospel, speaking to His heavenly Father, “consecrate them by means of truth.” Just how are we consecrated? We are consecrated by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has a whole variety of gifts to give us, including true knowledge and understanding.
The Lord Jesus consecrated Himself to God His Father on Calvary in order that all His disciples, until the end of time, might also have the strength and the power to consecrate themselves to God by bearing witness to the Truth, by openly professing their attachment to Him as the Son of God.
But Jesus does not promise us an easy life in this world. He wants to strengthen us to continue His work in the world, and this means a struggle against the forces of evil. He does not pray for us to be taken out of this world, even though our home is with Him in heaven.
There is a real sense in which we should be in the world but not of it. We must be detached from worldly desires and values, but we should be much involved in the world around us. Wherever we are, whatever sphere we live and work in, we are called to stand up for Christian values, to preach the gospel and to work for justice and peace. There is always a danger that Christians can become a sort of holy club who see themselves not as concerned with this world; but Jesus calls us rather to imitate Him in standing up for the poor and oppressed and speaking God’s word in the secular society in which we live.
Jesus also prayed that the Father consecrates us in the truth and that truth is the Word of God. At baptism, we were consecrated and immersed in the truth of God’s word. But unfortunately, so many of us have abandoned the truth for reasons best known to us. Abandoning the truth could mean abandoning the Church, the Word of God, the Sacraments, etc. and this makes us prone to fall in the face of temptation. That was the situation Judas found himself. He abandoned Jesus who is the Truth, the Way and the Life by betraying Him and in the first reading (Acts 1:15-17, 20-26), we see how his place among the Apostles was given to Matthias who cherished and persevered in the Truth.
Therefore beloved friends, do not be afraid of this evil world, Jesus is there for us. All we need to do is to live in love and unity and remain consecrated in the Truth so that on the last day we shall reap the fruits of our labour and not have our place in heaven given to someone else because we have not loved.
Let us take the words of our Lord to heart that we have heard in the Gospel. Let us pray for the unity that is the will of God as expressed in John’s Gospel. Let us also pray to God so that the Father and the Son will send us the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of true knowledge and understanding.
Finally, let us be good examples and witnesses to others. Let us remember the great words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “protect them with Your name which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are One.”
May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the first of all the faithful, and their model in Christ, help us all to worthily receive the Eucharist today. Let us all have our hearts set on participating in the Passion of the Lord in order that the presence of the Holy Spirit might always grow in the Church.
We ask God to give us the courage and love to preach His word and do His work in the world through Christ our Lord.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
The Prayer of Jesus Christ
The gospel John 17 contains the prayer of Jesus Christ; prayer for himself; prayer for his disciples and prayer for all believers. The part we read in the Gospel today contains the second prayer, that is, Jesus’ prayer for his disciples (John 17:11-19). Jesus is the Son of God yet he prays. Who then can do without prayer? Therefore, we are called to pray. Prayer is the meeting point between the human and the Divine. If we do not pray we cannot access the mind of the Father. In prayer we establish our communion with the Divine. Jesus says “the Father and I are one”. It is good for us to pray. Scripture has said so much about prayer let us respond by praying. Time spent in prayer is never wasted; it is an investment in eternity. Prayer is man’s greatest power. Christians cease to be active when they don’t pray. Jesus prayed, the disciples prayed, the saints prayed, today’s Christians must pray. But in today’s gospel we are told the petitions Jesus made at prayer. Jesus prayed for preservation and unity, sanctity, triumph and deliverance from evil one. Let us look at them briefly.
Jesus prayed saying: “Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as we are” (John 17:11). This prayer has two parts: Jesus prayed for our keeping. and for our unity. The keeping for which Jesus prayed involves physical and eternal security. Beloved, we shall find security not in government and politics but in the Lord. Thus Jesus says keep them in thy name. This is a prayer for preservation and the best form of preservation is eternal preservation. Therefore, we must learn to trust in his name for keeping. Ps.20:7 say “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They shall collapse and fall we shall hold and stand firm.” Beloved, our security is in God’s name not in charms and warriors. Security in God’s name also assures of eternity precisely, because of this Jesus prayed that no one should be lost.
Again, Jesus prayed that we may be united. He prayed for the unity of the Church. The early Church demonstrated unity, love, and singleness of purpose. Jesus knew that growth shall take place when that is preserved. So he prayed that they may be united just as he is united with the Father. Today, believers are divided, there is no singleness of purpose, we have no single spiritual agenda, every church seem to pursue what suits her believers not what is in the heart of the Father since the foundations of the world. We may not come under the same Church but we can have a single purpose. In the first reading believers demonstrated this singleness of purpose when over 120 believers came together to pray for the Divine election of Matthias. Early Christians had things in common. Present day Christians are after individual gain and satisfaction of personal appetite. The Divine goal and purpose is neglected. Let us be united even in our differences – unity in diversity.
Jesus prayed that they may be kept from the evil one. Jesus recognizes the danger of the evil one. The evil one is the thieve that comes to kill, to steal and to destroy. He is the enemy that prowls round looking for who to devour. Anybody that is also waiting for your downfall is an evil person. Anyone that seeks to destroy you is an evil person. Anyone who steal, kills and destroy is an evil person. Beloved, Jesus has offered this petition on our behalf; therefore, we must not drag ourselves to the territory of the evil one. We must put aside evil deeds and love another. We must be steadfast in faith to walk in dominion.
Jesus prayed saying “we are not of the world, though in the world.” Beloved, this prayer shows that Jesus wants us to be triumphant. Though we live in the world, we are not ruled by the yearnings of the flesh, the lost of the eyes and the pride of life. A man that has overcome the flesh has overcome the world. A Christian who can love without lust has overcome the system of fornication in the world; a Christian who can forgive hurt has overcome the world and as the second reading noted, one who abides in love abides in God and such has overcome the world. Though in the world but they have become triumphant. One who loves his neighbour has overcome the world. Beloved, if we do not declare our freedom from this world’s gifts, we shall not find a place in eternity.
Lastly, Jesus prayed that they may be sanctified in the truth. What is Sanctification? The word sanctification has to do with holiness and to sanctify something is to set it apart for special use. To sanctify someone, is to make them ‘holy’. Therefore, we are set apart to communicate the truth to the world. Sanctification can be positional, progressive and complete. Positional when it sets us apart, progressive when we strive to remain holy, complete when we are glorified. Therefore, as people set apart let us strive to be united, let us strive to overcome the world, let us strive to abstain from evil so that we can be glorified.
Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA
ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGES OF PERSECUTION FROM WITHOUT AND DISUNITY FROM WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
The Ascension of Christ (celebrated on Thursday or this Sunday in some parts of the world) is an event that marks the end of Christ’s 40 days post-resurrection appearances and the beginning of his new presence with his disciples in the Holy Spirit. This new presence (the Holy Spirit + the disciples) constitutes the Church, consecrated to bear witness to Christ throughout the world and throughout the ages.
The readings of this seventh and last Sunday of Easter bring to our attention persecution from without and disunity from within as challenges that the Christian community must be ready to confront in its task of witnessing to Christ.
The 1st Reading is from Acts 1:15-26. Immediately after witnessing the ascension of Christ into heaven, the disciples got together to confront the problem of the absence of Judas, who, by betraying the Lord, had torn himself apart from the body of Christ.
Making references to Scripture, Peter addressed the assembled disciples, calling for the replacement of Judas, having recounted his actions as one who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus, one who acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness and died by falling headlong and bursting open in the middle, with bowels gushing forth (Acts 1:16-18). In Matthew 27:5, we are in fact told that having thrown away the pieces of silver he received as his commission for betraying and handing over Jesus, Judas “departed and he went and hanged himself.”
Peter further backs his call for the replacement of Judas by scriptural references. He said: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it; let another take his position of overseer.’”
This reference is an application of the prayers against enemies in Psalm 69:26 where it is written: “May their encampments be desolate; may their tents stand empty,” and in Psalm 109:8 where it is written: “may his days be few; may another take over his position.” By applying prayers for enemies on Judas, Peter found the actions of Judas comparable to that of an enemy, an enemy from within, so to speak.
The disciples sought, for the replacement of Judas, a tested and proven disciple – one who had been with them during all the time that the Lord Jesus was among them, from the Lord’s baptism to his ascension (Acts 1:21-22). So, two candidates (Joseph and Matthias) were proposed and the disciples prayed and cast lots which fell on Matthias, a name which means “gift of God.”
In the Old Testament, prayer and casting of lots is a common practice employed to decipher the will of God. The principle is stated in Leviticus 16:8 and Proverbs 16:33. Its application can be seen in the distribution of the land among the tribes of Israel in Numbers 26:55-56; in the election of Israel’s first king in 1 Samuel 10:20-21; to know who had offended God as to invite his wrath in Jonah 1:7, etc.
In the 1st Reading, we are made to understand that the challenge to the unity of the body of Christ must be faced with prayerful discernment, especially in the choice of those to lead the body of Christ in witnessing to the Good News of the resurrection. Primacy of consideration is given to long-standing, tested and proven fidelity to Christ. As Peter expressed: “So, one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us- one of these ought to become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).
The Gospel Reading (John 17:11-19) is part of a long prayer of Jesus, which runs through the entire 26 verses of John 17. In the chronological order of the Gospel of John, this prayer is situated just before the handing over of Jesus by Judas and his arrest at the Kidron valley by the detachment of soldiers and police from the chief priests and the Pharisees (see also Luke 22:3-6.47-48). Therefore, it is the last discourse of Jesus prior to his arrest, passion and death.
The first part of the prayer (vv.1-11a) focuses on the glorification of Jesus by the Father. Having completed the work he came to do in the world, that is, giving eternal life by making known the only true God and his Son Jesus Christ, Jesus prayed, “I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (Jn 17:4-5).
The second part of the prayer (vv.11b-26) focuses on the safety and the unity of those who have received the message of Christ concerning the one true God and his Son Jesus Christ. As he was leaving the world, Jesus prayed for his followers saying: “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, those whom you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:11).
This prayer reveals persecution from without and lack of unity from within as two perennial threats to the Christian community. Regarding the first, Jesus had forewarned, “Indeed an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so, they are offering worship to God; I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you about them” (Jn 16:2.4). But he also comforted us, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage; I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).
Regarding the threat of disunity, Jesus points to how he kept the community together but also refers to this momentous instance of betrayal from within, during his lifetime. In Jn 17:12 we read, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, those whom you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the son of perdition, such that the writing was fulfilled.” This is understood as a reference to Judas who became a traitor from within (see Luke 22:3-6.47-48; Acts 1:16-20).
By betraying Christ and handing him over to be killed, Judah struck the shepherd that the sheep might scatter (cf. Mt 26:31; Zech 13:7), which points to the fact that the threat within of disunity among Christians is a far more dangerous threat than that of persecution from without, because it betrays Jesus and strikes the centre apart which all things fall apart. Lack of unity among Christians strikes at the heart of the essence and mission of Christ and of Christians who are consecrated in the truth of the Word of God (see Jn 17:17.19) which seeks to not only reconcile men with God, but also to bring together God’s scattered children, so that there might be “one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16).
In the 2nd Reading (1 John 4:11-16), we find an exhortation that addresses fundamentally the threat of disunity among us, namely, the exhortation to love one another with a love that is founded on God’s love for us. If we love one another as sincerely and unconditionally as God loves us, then we have nothing to worry about: no betrayal, no bitterness, no division because we abide in love, and since God is love, we abide in him and he abides in us.
This is the whole essence of the Christian community: creating communities of love and breaking every kind of barrier that separates us from one another, until we come to the full realization that we are all children of God, sons in the Son.
Lord Jesus, it is your will that your disciples be protected from the twin evils of persecution from without and division from within. Protect your children persecuted all over the world and heal the wounds of division that separate us from one another and that undermine our consecration to the truth of your healing and reconciling Word!