Sunday, May 24, 2009

Consecrate Them In The Truth.

Acts 1:15-26

In those days, Peter stood up among the believers, who numbered about a hundred and twenty, and said:

“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the voice of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide of those who arrested Jesus – He was a member of our community, and shared in this ministry. For it is written in the Book of Psalms: May another take his place of leadership.

“Therefore, it is necessary for us to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus came and went among us, starting from the baptism of John, until the time when Jesus was taken up from us. One of these must join us as a witness to his resurrection.”

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he was destined to go.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias, and he was counted among the twelve apostles.

1 John 4:11-16

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.

We know that we live in him, and he in us, since he has given us of his Spirit. We have seen and can testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. This is how we have come to know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

John 17:11-19

Lifting his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed:

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you have given me – so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by the name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction, so that the Scripture could be fulfilled.

I am coming to you now, but I am saying these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world, any more than I am of the world.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world; and I consecrate myself, so that they too may be consecrated in the truth.

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Today’s gospel is a portion of the Priestly Prayer which forms the climax of the Last Supper Discourse that replaces the narrative of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. Jesus prays for all those who believe in him, that they might be one just as he is one with his divine and Holy Father. In this prayer, Jesus mentions the purpose for his coming into this world: to save those whom the Father has given him from the destruction of the evil one. In preparing this reflection, I found references to an article syndicated by the Associated Press and to a series of articles in the British newspaper the Telegraph:

• Murder, Suicide Among Teens Caught in World of Satanism
• Predators tell children how to kill themselves
• New Bridgend suicides “not part of cult”
• 20 year old ends her life after suicide of her 15 year old cousin
• Father found hanged after suicides of daughter and nephew

The key to the treasure of meaning in Jesus’ prayer is found in the concluding verse: “And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in the truth.” The words used in Greek are these: εγω αγιαζω εμαυτον, which literally mean “I offer myself as a sacrifice”.

Of the great variety of sacrifices in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), one form is especially relevant to the Priestly Prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper. In this tradition, someone could offer an animal (for instance, a lamb), representing the person or even the entire family as a sacrifice to God. That is the significance of the Seder Meal at Passover, commemorating the meal of roast lamb which each family shared before leaving on the Exodus to the Holy Land.  It is no coincidence at all that the Priestly Prayer is offered at the end of the Seder Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before he died.

The lamb is roasted to signify passage from this world to the realm of the Most Holy. God accepts the substitute sacrifice, and those who offer it, and invites them to share in a sacrificial banquet as an expression of their communion with God. Now, it is a Latin word which expresses a reality beyond our full understanding: communio – total union with – God. There is a multi-millennial tradition (between 3500 and 4000 years) which explains that the offering of sacrifice to God is associated with joy – most especially, the joy of freedom of worship.

In his Priestly Prayer, Jesus says to the Father, “Now, I am coming to you; and I am consecrating myself to you for them.” Jesus is not offering a lamb, like the ones being sold in the Temple when he chased off the sellers and moneychangers. Or like the one he was sharing with his disciples on the night before he died. Jesus is offering his entire human life – from the moment of his conception, to the moment of his death on the morrow – as the sacrificial offering. The completion of his sacrifice comes when he is lifted up on the altar of the cross, and is accepted by his Holy Father in the resurrection. He is “the priest and the lamb of sacrifice, the victim who dies no more, the lamb once slain who lives forever.”

During this Paschal Meal, Jesus reveals to his disciples the good news that they will be consecrated, just as he is consecrated. They – the twelve at table with him and the others who might well have been at other tables in that banquet room – and we ourselves, have been given the same mission as was given to Jesus by the Father. We have been sent into the world of our own day, a fallen world, which God loves nonetheless, to bring it into the joy of divine life. The presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the mystery of his eternal sacrifice is made present in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the Holy Mass.

Today, we also hear the good news that our self-giving becomes one with the self-giving of Jesus. Whenever I have said that, someone is bound to think – and some are brave enough to ask – “but what can I add to the sacrifice of Jesus?” The answer to that question is one which will be given a few minutes from now, if you’re listening to this reflection from the pews in front of the pulpit – or the next time you attend Mass, if you’re reading it in “Bear Witness to the Light”. The answer is “Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum… “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you …” “Señor, no soy digno que entres en mi casa …” He knows you are not worthy. He knows I am not worthy. That’s why the prayer before Holy Communion ends the way it does: All he has to do is say the word, and we are healed, made whole, and made holy.

We share in the sacrificial banquet to which God has invited us; we receive Jesus himself as our food and drink, for the healing and the sustenance of the eternal life to which we have been called. The Lord Jesus then sends us into the world as he was sent into the world by the Father, to become bread and wine for others, so that they may be healed and nourished, and so that one day all may rejoice at being one with him in the life and love of God, His Father and ours, at the banquet table prepared in Heaven for those whom he loves, and who have loved him in return.

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