NB. Well, this one was a bust. Normally, my daily homilies are exactly three pages long. This one was three plus two lines on a fourth. When I printed them out, the third page slipped off the printer w/o me seeing it. Didn't notice until I got to the church. So. . .I had to ad lib the main part. Oh well.
7th Week of Easter (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Pius X Church, NOLA
After praying to his Father for our unity, our witness, our perfection, and expressing 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 His Son. 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, your pursuit of holiness 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 abundantly in the Holy Spirit, in the unity that is the love of the Father for His Son.
Unity in the body of Christ is not the kind of unity that rises out of cultural uniformity or racial/ethnic identity. 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 prays a Care Bear 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.
So, how do we begin to bring the unity Christ prays for into being? We look to the one thing we know—w/o a doubt—that we all share, all of us, that is, all human persons not just Christians: we are given to Christ as a gift from the Father. Obviously, non-Christians aren't going to think this way. If they did, they would be Christians! However, this is no reason for the followers of Christ to ignore this extraordinary revelation. In fact, that all of God's human children are gifts to His Son should be one of the foundation stones of the New Evangelization. Imagine living your life as a gift to Christ. If you are a gift to Christ, then everything you say and do is also a gift. What would it look like to live everyday knowing that everything you say and do is laid before the Son in heaven as a gift? With that kind of evidence, 1.2 billion Catholics could build a good case for following Christ in no time! Here's the good news and the bad news: as gifts given to the Son by the Father, everything we say and do is laid before the Christ in heaven. Do our words and deeds bear witness to God's mercy? Are our lives a credible testimony to the sacrifice Christ made for us?
We must be saints. Not extraordinary Christians. Just ordinary men and women who love Christ.