In the gospel readings for the last few days before Pentecost we hear Jesus’ prayer in John chapter 17. It is the last prayer before he goes to his death. Try to put yourself in his place. You have had a mission in life, and you have done your best to carry out that mission. You believe that this mission will lead to your death, and that somehow God will bring about what you were sent to do. It sounds crazy, and some of your closest friends think it’s crazy. You know that your disciples are on high alert, sensing that something momentous and dire is about to happen. And you have been trying to get them to see the real point of your mission during this last meal together. Now you launch into a prayer to your dear Father, knowing that they will be paying close attention. What would you pray for at such a moment? It’s a haunting question, isn’t it?
Now read the whole passage and see what Jesus asks for. Over and over he asks that his disciples may be one as he and the Father are one. Moreover, he asks for the same thing for all those who will come to believe in him throughout history. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). Jesus does not pray that they will believe certain propositions, that they will keep all the commandments, that they will follow all the pronouncements of their leaders. No, he prays that they will be one, that they will be one in their love for one another, that they will be one in their care and compassion for one another, that they will be one as God is one.
Why is union so important to Jesus? It seems to be because God is one not in spite of the fact that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but because of this “diversity.” If unity is so important, then all of us are being asked to do whatever we can to keep together the diversity that God has joined together. All of us, no matter what our role in the church, must beg God for the grace to do our small part to bring about this union that was the deepest yearning in Jesus’ heart the night before he died. Every day let’s ask God to help us to everything we do so that all may be one, at least all the ones we deal with that day. We may well have to say hard truths to one another, but let us never forget that Jesus wants us to tell the truth in love.
The bitterness that characterizes so many interactions among Christians (and others) these days should concern us all since it seems so contrary to what Jesus prayed for on that solemn night. Am I a part of his solution to the world’s problems or a part of the problem? We may be both, if the truth be known, but we can become more a part of the solution if we pray every day to be instruments of God’s peace. If we are one, then, as Jesus prays, the world may believe in him.
Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Presently he resides at Campion Center where he is co-director of a nine month Jesuit Tertianship Program and gives retreats and spiritual direction. He is the author or co-author of 15 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, With An Everlasting Love, and Contemplatives in Action with Fr. Robert Doherty. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.