19th Week OT (Fri): John 17.20-26
Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert’s Priory, Irving
What does Jesus pray for in this priestly prayer? First, he prays for the disciples gathered around him then and there. Then he prays for all of us who have come to him through the preaching and teaching of those disciples. Then he prays that all of us here and now will be one in him, united in his Word, and he prays that as a united body, we will be one with the disciples who taught us and the diciples who taught them and the disciples who taught them and so on.
This unity in the body of Christ is not the kind of unity that comes out of cultural homogenity or racial identity or gender/sexual politics. Our Christian unity is not about political convenience, good P.R., or power. The unity of heart and mind that Christ prays for is an imitation of the relationship that Christ has with His Father. Jesus prays that we will be one together in him in the same way that he and his Father are one. And why could this unity matter at all? Is this is a quaint sentimental moment where Jesus creates a CareBear poem for his buddies, or a moment of weakness where he opens his heart and shares his feelings? No. The unity of the Body of Christ that imitates the unity of the Father and the Son in the Trinity is the heart of the evangelical project given to us at our baptism. Jesus prays that this unity may be given to us by the Father so “that the world may believe that [the Father] sent me.” Our unity in Christ as believers is proof to the world that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. Our divisions, then, can only be arguments against this revelation, proofs that deny—despite our words to the contrary—proofs that deny Jesus is Lord. What is it that we must look to to maintain an authentic unity?
After praying for our unity, our witness, our perfection, and his love for us, Jesus says the most incredible thing: “Father, they are your gift to me.” They—the disciples, us, those in the world who will bear witness, those who will see the witness and come to know and be with Christ. They—all of us—are gifts from the Father to Christ. How extraordinary! How extraordinary that Jesus would call us gifts from the Father, freely given creatures, treasured beyond price, loved as the Father loves His Son, freely given to be given freedom.
It’s not all that unusual for us to think of Jesus as God’s gift to us. We say so at every Mass. He is a gift that we gladly receive, bless, give back to the Father in sacrifice, and receive again as food for holiness. But do you often think of yourself as a gift from God to Jesus? How would your interior life change, the pursuit of holiness you are called to be different, if you began each day by praying, “Thank you, Father, for giving me as a gift to Jesus, your Son.”
Jesus’ priestly prayer offers us up to the Father as holy sacrifices, blessed gifts once given to him by the Father. He prays from his sacred heart for our unity in him, for our constant love for one another, and for our growing perfection. Jesus, the High Priest, has told us about the Father, about his love for us, and offered to the Father his prayer that we will love Him as He loves us. Jesus prays for us in this way b/c he knew then that our witness to his life, his teachings, his sufferings, his death, all of it will die if we fail to live in the unity that is the love of the Father for His Son.