May 9, 2024 at 7:00 a.m.

We are in a waiting room!

WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.

By Father Anthony Barratt | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. — John 17:18-19

On Thursday, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Interestingly, the Diocese of Albany (as part of the New York ecclesiastical province) is one of the few dioceses where the Ascension is still kept on the Thursday of the sixth week of Easter; that is 40 days after Easter Sunday. In most other dioceses, the Ascension has been transferred to the seventh Sunday of Easter; that is, this Sunday. So, we are some of the few people who ever get to hear the Scripture readings for the seventh Sunday of Easter and what wonderful readings they are!

We might additionally say that at the moment we are, in a sense, in a waiting room. We are in the in-between time of the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We are also eavesdropping again, as we hear in the Gospel another part of Jesus’ solemn prayer at the Last Supper (John 17: 11-19). Jesus’ prayer for his apostles and, of course, for us, may surprise us. Jesus does not pray that we are to be successful, or rich, or happy (although these things are important!). He actually prays for four specific things … let us explore these together.

First of all, he prays that we may be kept in God’s name. The word used for “keep” is an interesting one: “tereson.” The word is hard to translate, as it does mean “keep,” but it really means to guard, or keep in custody, and it is even used to mean to be engaged (as in being engaged to marry). We might say then that our Lord’s meaning, or at least part of it, is that we remain faithful. As we heard in the Gospel last week, we are to live or to abide in God’s love. God’s love and His word is always faithful and true: may our love and our word be the same. As Saint Teresa of Kolkata famously said, God asks us to be faithful rather than successful.

Jesus then prays that we may be “one.” Again, we need to look at the word used in the original language. It is not one as in the number one, or one as in a number of items (one of …). Rather, it is one as in being joined, or united, or integrated. Jesus prays that we may be of one mind, one heart, one soul with him and with each other. I think we would agree how necessary and much needed this is. We seem to live in an ever more divided and fractious world and, sadly, we might add a divided and fractious Church too. We live in an either/or culture, rather than a both/and one. Divisions so often distract us at best and, at worst, waste huge amounts of energy in violence, bitterness, arguments, strife or unhealthy competition. Instead, when we are one, so much good can be achieved. Think of four people, each with a rope, trying to pull a large object. If they each pull in different directions nothing happens, except, perhaps, some serious muscle strain and frustration. If they all pull together in the same direction, then the object can be moved.

The third thing Jesus prays for is that we be “consecrated in the truth.” Here we need to unpack not one but two words! The word for consecrated is “hagiason” and it really means made holy, or set apart, or dedicated for a specific purpose. Jesus prays that we may be set apart to love and serve him and our neighbor. It is a beautiful reminder of what the Second Vatican Council called, “the universal call to holiness.” Every person has been set apart by God or dedicated, to make a real difference, by loving and serving the Lord and others.

This all ties in closely with our second word, “truth” (aletheia). We can think of Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” It is a valid question, as we might say that there are diverse forms of truth, such as the laws of mathematics, or facts established in a courtroom trial. In the Bible though, we have a very particular meaning for truth. We might say it means something essential revealed by its appearance. Truth then is about what is essential and necessary for life and salvation. We are to be set apart or dedicated (consecrated) for this and to be truthful and true to the faith that we profess and to our relationship with God: something essentially true that is revealed by how we live.

Finally, Jesus prays that we may be victorious over evil. Our First Reading reminds us of the constant battle to avoid and to overcome evil. Both Judas and Peter had such a battle, but with very different results. Peter did triumph in the end, but it was because he returned to the Lord and received Jesus’ forgiveness and grace. Sadly, Judas turned in on himself and died by his own hand. Every day, we face choices between good and evil in various ways. Our victory over evil only comes with the prayer and grace of Jesus and our cooperation with his love.

How fortunate we are then to hear Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel this Sunday. He offers us four, very practical and very much-needed gifts. As we sit in the waiting room, ready for Pentecost, let us accept these gifts and, just as importantly, use them.


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