A Reflection by Fr. Peter for 7th Sunday of Easter (Year B).
Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 – 1 John 4:11-16 – John 17:11-19.
Fiona lost her only son. She was absolutely heart-broken, gutted by his death, and she felt so low that it seemed to her that her own life was no longer worth living. In her despair, she turned against God and accused Him of depriving her of her son and abandoning her. Totally disorientated, no longer knowing what she was doing or where she was going, she closed the front door behind her and set off into the hills. Hours later, footsore and exhausted, she stumbled upon a bothy where a holy hermit lived. Seeing her distress, the holy hermit invited her in, sat her down, gave her some water and an oatcake, and listened attentively while she vented her sorrow and anger, blaming God for her pain and grief. The holy hermit waited until she finally ran out of words. “God isn’t guilty of depriving you of your son, Fiona” he assured her calmly. “Rather, He is the One who is suffering alongside you in your loss. He’s there for you. He has personal experience of the anguish you are enduring. There was a time when He lost His own Son too, remember? You are mistaken in projecting the blame for your loss on God. God is Love, and He loves you, and He loves your son, and He loves everyone He has created.”
He was a wise old holy hermit. He set Fiona the task of bringing back to him a souvenir “from the home that has never been visited by sorrow or death”. In due course, Fiona set off in search of that thaumaturgical souvenir. First of all, she knocked at the door of a wealthy family. “Good Morning. I am looking for the home that has never known sorrow or death”, she said politely. “Is it yours, please?” The family was aghast. ‘No”, they sighed, “Not ours. You’ve come to the wrong place’. Tears welled up as they shared with her the bare bones of a recent tragedy that had befallen them. Fiona found her eyes misting up too, because their grief was clearly as acute as hers and they felt as deeply wounded as she did. ‘How can I help these poor people, who are so rich in other ways?’ she mused. There and then, she resolved to do her utmost to comfort this family enduring such pain. She promised them that she cared about them, gave them the gift of her time, listened while they unburdened themselves of the sorrow that afflicted them, and guided them towards making peace with the situation.
Fiona continued her quest for the elusive souvenir. No matter whether she knocked on the doors of the ‘haves’ or the ‘have-nots’, she met with tale after tale of pain, insuperable challenges and misery. In every instance, she gave of herself willingly to bring people such comfort as she could. Her involvement in trying to minister to the neediness of others in their grief brought her own grief into perspective. When at last she returned to the holy hermit, he asked her gravely, “Well, have you brought me the souvenir from the home that has never been visited by sorrow or death, Fiona? ‘No, I haven’t’ she replied, ‘I couldn’t find it. But let me tell you, I found something infinitely better… I found a way of coping with my own sorrow. I found that God had been with me all along in my grief, and that he is always there for me. I have been able to help others to find that He is with them all along too.” The holy hermit smiled an inscrutable smile, raised his eyes to heaven, and offered up a silent prayer of thanks.
In the Gospel Reading today, situated in the context of the Last Supper and the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father for His disciples, and by extension, He prayed for us. His prayer gives us insight into the very heart of our Lord Jesus. Reflect, if you will, upon what He was praying for. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three Persons in one substance, each Person having the wholeness of the ‘Godness’; so, when Our Lord prayed May they be one, as you and I are one (v.11) He was wanting us to reflect the divine relationship in being one with one another in our humanity. We human beings, created and sustained by God, are beautiful, gifted, complicated … and sinful. Whenever we try to relate to one another, we stumble over each others’ sinfulness. Getting on with each other can prove to be challenging without the invocation of the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can transform us and make us one. In the Holy Spirit we are given the power to love one another (2nd Reading v.11). We Christians do well to adopt the motto of the Three Musketeers: “All for one, and one for all!” and to work as a team for Him. Only by inviting the gracious Holy Spirit into our lives can we be true followers of Jesus. United, we become more powerful and more useful to Him than when we act as individuals. “United we stand, divided we fall” (cf. Mk 3:25).
Jesus knew that life for His followers would not be a bed of roses, any more than it was for Him. He prayed for our fidelity: keep those whom you have given me true to your Name (v.11). The consequence of fidelity to God is that God lives in him, and he in God (2nd Reading v.15). In choosing a replacement for Judas in order to retain the authority of The Twelve (the bishops who would become the shepherds of the Church throughout the world), the early Church looked for someone of proven fidelity to Our Lord – someone who was there from the start – and with the integrity of heart to bear witness to Who He was-and-is. Just as Matthias was called, each of us is called to become a faithful witness to our Lord through thick and thin this side of eternity. Jesus prayed for our preservation in the truth: May they be consecrated in the truth (v.17) and for our victory over evil: I do not ask you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the evil one (v.15).
In a nutshell, Jesus’ priestly prayer was for His followers’ fidelity to God, for unity among ourselves, for our adherence to the truth, and for our victory over evil. With this prayer, Jesus consecrated His followers to live out the Christian life in all its fullness. He didn’t pray that we might be immunised against trials and suffering; rather, He prayed that, as we endure all these, we will remain faithful to God. God is the Holy One to whom we should turn continually for strength, patience and help in our troubles. He never disappoints. The Holy Spirit injects us with the vaccine of unity, truth and fidelity to God to help us face the challenges that come with our Christian vocation. Amen. God bless you.