7th Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 1: 15-17, 20a, 20c-26
Responsorial: Psalm 103
Second Reading: 1 John 4:11-16
Gospel: John 17:11b-19
According to John’s Gospel, at the end of the Last Supper, just before Jesus and His disciples crossed the Kedron Valley into Gethsemani, He prayed at length, offering Himself to His Father and interceding for the little flock He had gathered about Him and for all who would come after them.
Our Gospel this Sunday is a portion of that prayer, a careful reading of which indicates at once how dearly Jesus wished for unity among His disciples and how clearly He saw the perils they’d face when, in His visible presence, He was taken from them.
“Holy Father, keep them in Your name ... so that they may be one just as We are one ... When I was with them I protected them in Your name ... But now I am coming to You ... Consecrate them in truth ... I consecrated Myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”
How it must break the heart of Jesus to see how little unity exists among God’s children on earth: conflict among nations, races, and religions; within Christianity itself, so many divisions; families splintered or dissolved. Here in our Gospel is the God-man praying for the oneness of His flock, a oneness to match that of the Holy Trinity, but where is it to be found?
One of the reasons I converted to Catholicism when I was in college was that it seemed inconceivable to me that Jesus could have willed the chaos of hundreds of Christian denominations, each claiming to represent better than any of the others His Person and teaching through a more inspired interpretation of Scripture. It became clear to me, and it’s clear still, that, as Blessed John Henry Newman put it, if there be no present, infallible guide to what revelation means, then no revelation is given; and only the Catholic Church, by reason of its longevity and continuity, can claim to have been given such authority by Christ Himself.
Within the Catholic Church, there are the pope and bishops with the promise that, in matters of faith and morals, the Holy Spirit will not permit them to lead us astray. Outside the Catholic Church, you have private individuals interpreting sacred texts and traditions according to their own lights, no one individual or group within the larger body really able to speak for the entire body.
And this is not true only of Christianity. There are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews, some having little to do with the others. There are many varieties of Muslims, each interpreting the Quran differently, the differences sometimes leading to horrifying consequences. It’s fine for some Muslims to say that others have distorted the Quran, but whose interpretation is authoritative? Who speaks for all Muslims? No one. That’s the problem.
It’s no accident that Jesus laid such emphasis on His disciples’ being consecrated in truth, no accident either that in order to preserve the essential truth and unity of His Church He placed at its head Peter with the apostles and their successors. As Newman said, “a book ... cannot make a stand against the wild living intellect of man.” That the apostolicity of the Church was important from the beginning is manifest in the choosing of Matthias to replace Judas, about which we’re told in this week’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
Of course there is another source of unity in the Church and among peoples, and that is love. “God is love,” writes John, “and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” But we can never be reminded often enough that the love of which John writes and which defines God and must define us, if we are to be one with God, is Christ-love. We have to know the truth about love and aspire to that truth if love is not to be just another ephemeral emotion or errant inclination.
Truth and love are meant to be the great unifying factors in the Church and beyond, but given “the wild living intellect of man,” his wayward will and unruly passions, unity in its wholesome variety is a rare thing in this world. It’s within the Church, guided by Christ through the voice of His Vicar and the bishops that we are most likely to experience the unity Jesus so ardently prayed for just before He gave His life for us.
THIS WEEK'S READINGS
Mon., May. 21— Reading I: Acts 19:1-8; Responsorial: Ps 68:2-3ab, 4-5acd, 6-7ab; Gospel: Jn 16:29-33
Tues., May. 22 — Reading I: Acts 20:17-27; Responsorial: Ps 68:10-11, 20-21; Gospel: Jn 17:1-11a
Wed., May. 23 — Reading I: Acts 20:28-38; Responsorial: Ps 68:29-30, 33-35a, 35bc-36ab; Gospel: Jn 17:11b-19
Thurs., May. 24 — Reading I: Acts 22:30; 23:6-11; Responsorial: Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; Gospel: Jn 17:20-26
Fri., May. 25 — Reading I: Acts 25:13b-21; Responsorial: Ps 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20ab; Gospel: Jn 21:15-19
Sat., May. 26 — (Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest) Reading I: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31; Responsorial: Ps 11:4, 5 and 7; Gospel: Jn 21:20-25