Today in our Gospel reading we have a section of St John’s Gospel known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. It takes place at the Last Supper and we hear Jesus praying to the Father.
Normally we don’t ever hear another person’s most intimate prayers. We tend to only hear the formal type of prayers, the Our Fathers and the Hail Marys as well as the kind of intercessions that are suitable for public prayer.
But the kind of prayers that a person says quietly to God are hidden from us except, of course, our own. But here it is as if we are overhearing Christ’s private and personal prayer to the Father. We are listening in to that most personal of all conversations.
And that is what it is a conversation, a private dialogue. A modern literary critic might say that it is written in the form known as Stream of Consciousness; one thought following on from another very much like the way we think.
In the opening section of this prayer he is praying that his disciples will be united. He is asking the Father if we can share in the same level of union, the same level of intimacy, that they share in the mystery of the Trinity.
It is as if Jesus knows that we are going to fall out with each other and that we need extra strength to stick together. But this unity is not for our sake but for the sake of the truth of the Gospel. It is for the integrity of the message of Jesus.
This has always been something very important to the Catholic Church, that we remain one. That we remain united around the deposit of faith, that we remain one in fidelity to the faith of the first Apostles.
Yes, through the centuries the Church has grown in its understanding of the Gospel teaching especially in the light of new developments but it is deeply concerned with remaining faithful to the truth, to the essentials of the faith.
This is the first role of the Pope. It is his special task to be the focus of that communion of faith, to guard against error and to keep the Church in united witness to Christ and his Gospel.
This is why disunity is regarded with real horror and why reestablishing unity among Christians is of such great importance.
Jesus asks the Father to consecrate us in the truth so that we can be effective witnesses to the Gospel. This involves a special reverence for the Word of God; as Christ says in that great prayer: Your Word is truth.
In the Church we have a deep respect for the Word of God revealed to us in Sacred Scripture; we take the words of Jesus quite literally and regard them as binding on us. This respect for the Word is deeply rooted in us and indeed here we can see that it is rooted in the prayer of Christ himself.
In these words, recorded in the Gospel of John, we get a glimpse of how Jesus prays. But perhaps the question we should be asking today is how should we pray? And I suppose we could do no better than to take his prayer as an example, as a model for our own prayer.
What Jesus is doing is expressing his own deepest wishes to the Father. He is revealing his inmost thoughts and asking the Father to act on them. Of course, he already knows that they are in accordance with the Father’s will but expresses them nevertheless so that in his prayer their two wills are united.
This means that the prayer itself is an example of the very unity for which Christ is praying.
Another thing worth noting is that Jesus tells the Father that his aim is to share his joy with us, as he says: ‘I say these things to share my joy with them to the full.’ Prayer is essentially about joy, about love which is where joy springs from. All true prayer should lead us to joy.
That sounds wonderful and we can all resonate with it. The only problem is most of us are not very good at prayer. We neglect it, we feel inadequate and this inhibits us and consequently we don’t find that deep sense of joy we know ought to be the fruit of our prayer.
I was reading a passage during the week from that great writer on prayer, the Benedictine, Dom John Chapman. He said: ‘The only way to pray - is to pray; and the way to pray well is to pray much. If one has not time for this, then one must at least pray regularly. But the less one prays, the worse it goes. And if circumstances do not permit even regularity, then one must put up with the fact that when one does try to pray, one can't pray - and our prayer will probably consist of telling this to God.’
Just telling God that we can’t pray is a very good start to prayer. It is after all, quite often, the simple truth. Just telling God that we can’t pray is, in fact, prayer. We are telling him where we are, we are telling him we want to pray better, we are telling him that what we desire is deeper communion with him. And we are asking his help to achieve this.
What we then find ourselves doing is expressing our deepest feelings to the Father just as Christ did in the prayer which is the text for today’s Gospel.
During the week we celebrated the feast of the Ascension and next Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost. At the Ascension Christ told the Disciples that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles and gave them the power and strength to carry out Christ’s command to proclaim the Gospel to everyone.
These are events that have, in a certain sense, also happened to us since we belong to the Church and have been Baptised and Confirmed as Christ’s Disciples.
So, in our prayer in this coming week let us open ourselves up to the Father, let the Holy Spirit pray in us, let Christ speak through us. And let our prayer be for unity; for union with God and one another and also for the strength to pray better and more regularly.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket