Acts 1:15-17, 20-26/ Psalm 103/1John 4:11-16/ John 17:11-19
Theme: United We Stand, Divided We Fall
The period of Novena is a reminder to all of us that the Holy Spirit is a person and personhood presupposes a relationship. If we fail to relate to the Holy Spirit, our Christian journey will be fruitless. What is to become of Jesus´ followers when he returns to his Father? What can they expect? Should they withdraw from the world? Should they disband and disperse? And if not, what spirit should animate them? In the wake of the Ascension, these are vital questions – questions, in the last analysis, about the Church that today’s liturgy addresses.
As we approach the great feast of Pentecost, Mother Church reminds us that united we stand, divided we fall. In his prayer to the Father the night before his death, it is clear that in Jesus´mind and intention, his disciples are to remain together. Further still, they are to be so closely united as to be one, “as I and the Father are one”. That the apostles understood this is witnessed not merely by the fact that after the Ascension they all gathered together in the Upper Room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit, as he had commanded them, but that they immediately set about choosing a successor for Judas (First Reading).
Jesus, in fact, chose twelve, and as “the Twelve” they were known in early Christian tradition. The number is specifically related to the twelve tribes of Israel, the fullness of God’s people (see Luke 22:29-30; Matthew 19:28). Becoming one, they are to call together all their people in one “gathering” (qahal, Hebrew, or ekklesia, Greek), which in English we call the Church. Jesus´ Church is not to hide itself away. In fact, Jesus has “sent them into the world”, precisely so that through them others can come to believe (John 17:20). However, they are to be different (“not of the world”), animated by a different spirit: “consecrated (i.e., set apart)… by means of the truth”. The world, in greater or lesser measure in different epochs will value expediency, or fame, or pleasure, or popularity, or power, or wealth; but what sets his followers apart is their dedication (consecration) to teaching the world the truth about God, about man, about life and death.
In the gospel reading of today, Jesus exercises his priestly character distinctly by interceding for his disciples. As a priestly people, our role as intercessors cannot be under-estimated. The emphasis in this section is on the safety of the believer; God keeps His own (John 17:11-12). Our safety depends on the nature of God, not our own character or conduct. When he was on earth, Jesus kept his disciples and they could depend on him. “I kept them in my name” (John 17:12), says Jesus. If the limited saviour in his humanity could keep them while he was on earth, should he not be able to keep them now that he is glorified in heaven? He and the Father, together with the Holy Spirit are surely able to guard and secure God’s people.
We also have the fellowship of the Church: “That they may be one, as we are” (John 17:11). The New Testament knows nothing of isolated believers; wherever you find saints, you find them in fellowship. Why? Because God’s people need each other. Jesus opened his upper room message by washing the disciple’s feet and teaching them to minister to one another. No wonder the disciples discovered how weak they were and how they needed each other. The believer, then, is secure in Christ for many reasons: the very nature of God, the nature of salvation, the glory of God and the intercessory ministry of Christ.
A very ancient tradition about the apostle John –essentially transmitted to us in the entire letter from which today´s second reading is taken – tells that when the apostle was very old, his disciples used to carry him into the liturgical gatherings of the Christians at Ephesus, and ask him to speak, and that every time he would repeat the same few words: “My little children, love one another,” over and over again. It was deeply ingrained in John´s memory that this was Jesus´ last will and the distinguishing mark he had willed for his Church: “by this all will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). The various “names and images” applied to the Church in Sacred Scripture (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 751-752) offer a mosaic that fills out our understanding of this mystery, of which we – in our local church – are a concrete realization. The Church was prepared for and instituted by Christ himself (CCC 763-766), in continuity with the Father’s plan of salvation (CCC 759-762).
That he gathers around the “college” of the Twelve, and their constant ongoing replacements, the bishops, is part of Jesus’ plan. The Church is not hierarchical by accident of history, but in its essence (CCC 874-887). (In the impossibility of dealing with all of these in any depth, they could form part of an overview, or some elements left for another occasion). The oneness that Jesus willed for his Church should manifest itself at different levels namely unity of faith with the Holy Father. With our bishop: among the very earliest post-Testament writers, St Ignatius of Antioch insists on nothing with greater frequency or urgency than the unity of all the members of each local church with their bishop. Unity in the celebration of the Church’s liturgy in our parish, setting aside personal preferences is what the Church stands for from its etymology ecclesia. Unity with other Christians in the spirit of ecumenism especially in this age and time of the proliferation of Churches cannot be overemphasized.
In conclusion, the Word of God which Jesus gives us today brings us joy, love and power to live a holy life. It also gives us what we need to serve Him as witnesses in this world. Jesus’ prayer that the Father should sanctify us is not for the purpose of selfish enjoyment or boasting; it is that we might represent Christ in this world and win others to Him. We are reminded that as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, ours is not to become proud or adopt a holier than thou attitude. Instead, we are called to witness and we had better obey. How can we be overcomed by the world when we have the Word of God to enlighten us, enable us and encourage us? Our call to remain faithful to the truth are nourished, brought forward and sustained by living fraternal charity.