As He prepared His disciples for the coming of the Spirit, Jesus prayed in a very loving and intimate way for those to whom he was entrusting his mission. But his prayer looked far beyond these first disciples. When all is said and done, a religious community, and its doctrines and beliefs, are finally judged by the kind of people it produces. As we celebrate the feast of the Ascension, and anticipating the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost, Jesus’ words take on an additional meaning today for us, the descendants in faith of those first followers of his.
In this week's Gospel reading Jesus is about to enter the last few days of his life on earth. The events of those days, His last meal with His friends, His betrayal, abuse and mockery of a trial, and His crucifixion and death provide a backdrop for the prayer He prays for His disciples.
Jesus prays for those who are dear to Him, but he knows that it will not be his miracles that will engender faith; it will not be his message that sparks truth. Only when the lives of his followers project a unique and genuine oneness will their witness be authentic and compelling.
And so, we see him praying for four things - unity, joy, holiness, and mission; "Father - keep them safe, keep them united ('that they may be one'), keep them joyful ('that they may have my joy'), keep them consecrated ('sanctify them in the truth'), keep them mobilized for the mission ('so I have sent them into the world')."
The search for truth and the need for truthful communication is an absolute, basic human need. We are taught from earliest childhood to tell the truth. We grow up expecting that people around us speak truth to us: parents, teachers, clergy, doctors, elected leaders. Then we discover that truth is a rather rare commodity - that it is rather easily hidden or compromised. We ourselves find it difficult to say exactly what we think and feel. We don't want to offend; we don't want to get involved; we don't want to take sides.
But the mandate given the disciples at the Ascension tells us that it is indeed imperative to take sides.
Jesus left his followers with a mission that would provide the impetus for all they were to do - to take the knowledge of salvation to the entire world - no small task. This mission provides focus and meaning for our existence. It is only by staying focused on the mission that we remain alert, open to the gift of the Spirit and ready to fulfill the vision of the reign of God.
As we read the Gospels and relive the mystery of the Spirit in our daily lives, we must change all of the verbs from the past tense to the present. The Ascension story is a mission given to us. Pentecost is our rebirth in the Spirit. The original fire of the Gospel must burn in us. This gift must bring excitement, passion, and courage to us. We must shake off complacency, intolerance, and indifference. The Spirit must become our strength, our light, our hope, and our joy. It must become the driving force for all activity.
What could be more urgent and necessary for us than awakening our passion for faithfulness to Jesus? He is the best the Church has to give, the best we can offer and communicate to today’s world. Jesus is the center of our lives – everything else comes later.
When all is said and done, a religious community, and its doctrines and beliefs, are finally judged by the kind of people it produces.