Sunday, May 24, 2020

Living Eternal Life Now

Many people, when they are at their last moments of life, leave some message. Everyone remembers the words of a father and mother, or sibling, or spouse. Keeping these words are like keeping the person. It is a form of respect and affection.
   The words of many famous people have been recorded and have been handed down to us. They range from serious to humorous, here are a few. Leonardo da Vinci, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” I guess the Mona Lisa was not good enough.
   Walter Mizner, a playwright, on his deathbed said this to a priest who was standing nearby, “I’m sure you want to talk to me.” Mizner said, “Why should I talk to you? I’ve just been talking to your boss.”
   Alfred Hitchcock said as he was dying, “One never knows the ending. One has to die to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes.”
   Jesus’ last recorded words have come to be called “The Seven Last Words of Christ”, spoken from the cross. Actually, they are brief sayings found in the Passion narratives. What we hear today in chapter 17 of the Gospel of John are not his “last words” but his last encounter with his disciples. It is the last Testament of Jesus in the form of a prayer, also known as the Priestly Prayer (Jn 17:1-26). This chapter is the end of a long reflection by Jesus begun in chapter 15 and we will hear it continued in the gospels throughout the week.
In this chapter are expressed the sentiments and concerns that Jesus had at that moment when he was leaving the world and going to the Father. Jesus now finds himself before his Father, interceding for us.
   Chapter 17 is a diverse text because it is part prayer and part exhortation. To grasp the whole meaning, it is not sufficient to reflect with the head, with reason alone. This text must be meditated upon and accepted in the heart as well. It requires a whole life of pondering, reflection, and rumination. Its richness makes it hard to select the points that are the most important, but several stand out.
   “Father, the hour has come!” (Jn 17:1-3) It is the long-awaited hour. The moment of the glorification which will take place through the Passion, death, and Resurrection. Jesus has come to the end of his mission. In this prayer he expresses the most intimate sentiment of his heart, the presence of the Father in his life.
   “Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you” (Jn 17:1). Jesus glorified God on earth by finishing the work God gave him to do (17:4). In a basic sense this means he honored God through his obedience to God’s commands in his teaching, healings, and other works that God wanted him to perform. Jesus glorified God by revealing His power.
   A second element in Jesus’ prayer concerns the glory he will resume in heaven once his ministry on earth is over. A glory that the Son of God enjoyed before the world existed. It was out of love that the Father gave the Son such glory before the foundation of the world, so that sharing in God’s glory means sharing in His love. Jesus concludes his prayer by asking that those whom God has given him may one day be with him in God’s presence, to see the fullness of the glory that God gave to him in love (17:24).
   This prayer, like the rest of John’s gospel, connects glory to the crucifixion itself. When Jesus enters Jerusalem at the end of his ministry he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” and he compares himself to a seed that must fall into the earth and die (12:23-24). When Judas leaves the Last Supper to carry out the betrayal, Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in Him” (13:31). The crucifixion completed Jesus’ work of glorifying God on earth, for by laying down his life he gives himself completely so that the world may know of Jesus’ love for God and His love for the world (Jn 3:16, 14:31).
   By his resurrection and ascension Jesus returns to the heavenly glory that God prepared for him in love, and Jesus prays that we his followers will one day join him in the Father’s house to share in this glory and love (17:5, 24-26). That is our hope.
   Commenting on this gospel in a general audience (2012) Pope Benedict XVI said that, “Jesus’ priestly prayer can guide us in our conversation with the Lord, that it may teach us to pray. Then we, too, in our prayer may ask God to help us enter more fully into the plan that He has for each one of us. Let us ask Him to grant that we may be “consecrated” to Him, that we may increasingly belong to Him, so that we may love others more and more. . . always able to open our prayer to the dimensions of the world, and not closing it in to the request for help for our own problems . . . but learning the beauty of interceding for others.”
   “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3) To know God and Jesus Christ is eternal life, and it begins here and now, in faith, and not only in the next life. If Jesus gives glory to God by willingly laying down his life and taking it up again, then we should ask ourselves the questions: how am I laying down my life for others? How am I living my eternal life right now? When we live the cross in our own life, we participate in the love between the Father and the Son. This is true glory.
Sunday's homily and a photograph, both by Father Emmanuel.