In some dioceses the Ascension is celebrated today. For a
reflection on the Ascension go to our webpage:
and then to
"First Impressions," where you will find a link to the
"Ascension of the Lord."
This is the last Sunday of the Easter season – a reminder again
how fast time flies! On these Sundays since Easter we have been
hearing accounts of the resurrected Jesus’ appearances to his
disciples. We just celebrated his Ascension and now we await the
coming of his promise, the Paraclete. We, like those disciples, Mary
and the women in the upper room are praying and waiting for the
Spirit who will renew us once again and send us on mission.
Today though, we are at table in John’s account of the Last
Supper. With the disciples, we overhear Jesus’ prayer to his Father
for them, his followers. In the Synoptic Gospels there are frequent
mentions of Jesus praying, but here in John we are given the content
of a long prayer. In the other Gospels, at this point in the Last
Supper, Jesus and the eleven leave and go to the Mount of Olives.
Jesus had already predicted the desertion by the disciples. But in
John, at the same point in the meal, Jesus prays.
While the others will desert him, Jesus’ prayer reveals that he
is not alone, because he has special communion with God. Even though
the disciples have deserted Jesus, their desertion is not permanent,
they will return and then, gifted with the Spirit, the community
will give witness to him. Jesus does not see his death as the end of
his life’s work, or as a disaster for his disciples. He says, "I
will no longer be in the world" – he is going to the Father – still,
he will be with those he left in the world in a new way.
John says, "Jesus raised his eyes to heaven…." This could convey
that the Father is on high and far off. Instead, the image signals
to us that Jesus has entered into intimate conversation with his
Father and we are being given the privilege of listening in. What we
overhear is the truth of Jesus’ identity, and how we will
participate with him in fulfilling God’s plan.
The prayer we hear today is called the "High Priestly Prayer," or
the "Prayer of Consecration." In it Jesus offers his priestly prayer
for his disciples and consecrates himself and them to the sacrifice
that was going to be required of him and them. What makes the prayer
significant is the intimacy it expresses between the Father and the
Note, for a moment, the similarities between this prayer in
chapter 17 and the "Lord’s Prayer in the other Gospels. The prayer
begins "Father" – it echoes the "Our Father." Both reveal a special
relationship Jesus has with the Father. The Lord’s Prayer "hallows"
God’s name; in John Jesus prays, "I glorify you on earth." The
Lord’s Prayer has "thy kingdom come"– in John, Jesus prays, "Glorify
your son." In the Lord’s Prayer, "give us this day our daily bread"
– in John, Jesus is the "bread of life." [There are more parallels
between the Lord’s Prayer and John’s High Priestly Prayer – but that
would take us beyond today’s passage. For more see John Marsh’s,
"The Gospel of St. John." Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1977.]
To Jesus’ contemporaries his life was a failure and viciously cut
short. He would have known at this point that people did not accept
his message. Yet, there is no distress in Jesus’ prayer. He is
finishing the work God gave him to do and therefore he has given
glory to God. People often die with the regret that they didn’t
finish in life what they hoped, "If only I had…" Or, "I wish I
hadn’t…." But Jesus has done what God sent him to do and now he is
ready to die. "I glorify you on earth by accomplishing the work you
gave me to do." On the cross he will say, "It is finished." It is
not just that his life is about to end, but that his work is
For the most part we humans do not die so resigned and with such
a sense of accomplishment. Death is often untimely, sudden, or comes
slowly with pain. We do not know how much time we will be given and
when the time comes there will be much left undone. But rather than
measure our lives by the world’s rules of success, Jesus’s prayer
that night suggests we can ask ourselves: how well did we accomplish
the mission he gave us, to love others the way God has loved us? How
did we reveal the face of God to others; the face Jesus has revealed
to us? "I revealed your name to those you gave me out of the world."
Everything is about to collapse for Jesus and his disciples. They
will go off to the garden (18: 1ff) where Jesus will pray, Judas
betray him, his disciples flee and Peter deny knowing him. Still,
before his death, Jesus’ prayer reveals trust in God and,
incredibly, trust in his disciples. They are a weak and discouraging
group, but Jesus’ prayer reveals they truly belong to the Father.
He trusts that his work will continue. But on their own, these
disciples are not going to be able to further Jesus’ work in the
world. But they will not be on their own. Nor are we. Next week we
celebrate Pentecost, the fulfillment of Jesus’ promised gift to us,
the Spirit. The fulfillment of that promise will make all the
difference for us, charged with living and spreading the message of
Jesus by our words and actions.
The reading from Acts shows the disciples, Mary and other women
gathered in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension. They are praying
together and one presumes, waiting for Jesus to fulfill his promise
to send them the Spirit. The reading shows signs of the budding
vitality of the community. Together they returned to Jerusalem and
gathered in the upper room, "These devoted themselves with one
accord to prayer…."
The letter from Peter gives witness to experiences the early
church had after they received the Spirit. They seem to be
undergoing severe testing. Peter encourages believers to rejoice
that they share in the sufferings of Christ and he reassures them
that though they are insulted for their beliefs they are blessed by
God. How is that possible: to rejoice even when suffering; to be
blessed even though insulted? It is possible because of the gift
Jesus gives them: the same Spirit he had which enabled him to give
glory to God, not only in his life, but in his suffering and death
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
The message of the Bible
is...that into the confusion of man’s [sic] world, with
its divisions and hatred, has come a message of
transforming power and those who believe it will
experience in themselves the love that makes for
reconciliation and peace on earth.
Thomas Merton, "Opening the Bible," 1981
That I may
gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple.
This scripture passage appears to bear a very vertical view
between the psalmist and God. However, we have been taught that
Jesus, the revelation of God, can be found in the broken, the
hungry, and the imprisoned. To contemplate Jesus means to encounter
him in the poor. To encounter Jesus, we are called to accompany
others who may have lives very different from ours. In other words,
to gaze on the loveliness of the Lord is a much more horizontal
Pope Francis speaks of the importance of encountering the poor:
"We cannot become starched Christians, those over-educated
Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their
tea. No! We must become courageous Christians and go in search of
the people who are the very flesh of Christ, those who are the flesh
of Christ!" (5/18/13)
At another time, Pope Francis states that Jesus "launches the
fundamental message of the Gospel which is to serve others out of
love for God" (8/28/16). We have only to look out to find Jesus.
According to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "Do you not know that your
body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from
God?" means, that in order to contemplate the Lord’s temple requires
us to take an inward action. As Pope Francis states, "Today, Jesus
gives voice to those who are voiceless, and to each one of us he
addresses an urgent appeal to open our hearts and to make our own
the sufferings and anxieties of the poor, the hungry, the
marginalized, the refugees, those who are defeated by life, those
who are rejected by society and by the arrogance of the strong"
(8/28/16). Our heart/temple doors must be wide open.
As we close out May, the month of mothers, let us pray with Pope
Francis, his words:
Lord you left your Mother in our midst that she might accompany
us. May she take care of us and protect us on our journey, in our
hearts, in our faith. May she make us disciples like herself,
missionaries like herself. May she teach us to go out onto the
May she teach us to step outside ourselves. . .
May she, by her meekness, by her peace, show us the way.
Coordinator of Social
Justice Ministries, Sacred Heart Cathedral -- Raleigh, N.C.
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
now I am no longer in the world,
they are in the world, while I am coming to you.
On our own we disciples are not going to be able to further
Jesus’ work in the world. But we are not be on our own. Next week we
celebrate Pentecost, Jesus’ promised gift to us of the Spirit. The
fulfillment of that promise will make all the difference for us,
charged and sent by Jesus to spread the gospel by our words and
So we ask ourselves:
- Where in my life do I need a renewal by the Holy Spirit?
- To prepare for Pentecost shall I begin praying for that
DEATH ROW INMATES
"The use of the death penalty cannot really be
mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Guy T. Le Grande #0238344 (On death row since 4/26/96)
- Jamie L. Smith #0376917 (5/10/96)
- Robbie D. Locklear #0246186 (5/14/96)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
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St. Albert Priory
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