1 Peter 4:13-16
|May 27-28, 2017, Seventh Sunday in Easter, Cycle A|
Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.
Today's Gospel passage makes it very clear that the only reason that the Father sent Jesus into the world is to give eternal life to us. By extension then the main mission of the Church is to share that eternal life with everyone. As I thought about this, it really struck me how counter-intuitive it is that the central truth of our faith as Catholics, as Christians, is one of the most misunderstood truths. When you hear Jesus say to the disciples, and to us, that Jesus came to give us eternal life, what does that mean to you? I am going to guess that most of you answered this in your mind the same way that most people I have asked have answered it. Most people think eternal life has something to do with life without end after we die; and frequently the answer includes "in heaven". Did anyone have an answer that is substantially different?
Of course that is not what Jesus means by eternal life; nor did the disciples think that is what Jesus is talking about. And no one in the early Church would have understood "eternal life" that way. So what does Jesus mean? Jesus doesn't make us wait long; he goes right on to define what he is talking about. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. The sense of the word "know" here is much stronger than our normal definition of knowing to mean intellectual understanding. It means to be in intimate relationship with; it carries the same sense as it is used in the Book of Genesis when it says that Adam knew Eve and she conceived and bore Cain. Eternal life is entering into this intimate loving relationship with the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We are to know that we are loved by God just as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and we are to love them back to the fullness of our human ability. That is the eternal life Jesus came to give us.
It should come as no surprise that if this is why Christ was sent by the Father, that the mission of the Church is to continue Christ's mission. In other words, all the talk you have been hearing from our collaborative staff, from Cardinal O'Malley, Pope Francis, and so on about becoming new evangelizers, missionary disciples is just another way of saying that our baptismal call is to experience this gift of eternal life, and then share it with all we meet. That is why the Church exists, that is why these two parishes exist, and hopefully that is exactly why all of you are gathered here. So how do we go from thinking that to be Catholic means to go to Mass regularly, celebrate the sacraments (except for that Reconciliation one!), and try to be good, to entering into this intimate personal relationship with God, and then becoming so filled with that love we have to share it?
Well, again, our readings today tell us how to get started on that. The way the disciples started was to gather in their community and devote themselves to prayer. Probably a good idea for us to do the same. Let's look at the prayer part. For most of my life my prayer life consisted of intercessory prayer: asking God for this, or for that to happen. My prayer came out of a very distorted understanding of who God is and how the world works. Basically my understanding was that God was very busy and either did not realize these things were going on in my life, or did not realize what pain they were causing me. So if I could pray with enough intensity or coupled with the promise of enough good works, God would look down and say, oh sorry Charlie, I didn't see that; of course I will change things the way you want them to be. In other words I thought I had to earn God's love, and that then God would change things. I pray very differently now. Let's look at how Jesus prays in this Gospel passage, on the night before he died.
If we skim these words it might seem as if Jesus is asking the Father to do something different now. But as we reflect on this prayer we see it is not intercessory at all. Jesus prays to this Father with whom he shares eternal life knowing that what he seemingly asks for, has already been done by the Father. He knows that he is coming back to the Father. He knows the disciples are the Father's as well as his. This God we worship is all loving, all powerful, and all knowing. God is eternal which means outside of time. Eternal life is not something that Jesus initiates by coming to earth. It is already there, no beginning, no end. His coming reveals it. Our task as Christians is not to earn our way into eternal life, but to recognize it and let it fill us.
As many of you know, Betsy and I have been foster parenting our 3 month old great-granddaughter Rose since she was born. Rose has been a tremendous gift in many ways to our family and beyond. But I personally have found great insight into my prayer life, and our mission from this little bundle of joy. Rose doesn't have to earn her next meal, or even her next smile from us. We know what she needs and we do all we can to fill those needs unconditionally. Even if she could, Rose does not have to pray to us (or God) that we somehow create something new to feed her at the moment she feels that hunger. Days before her mother has expressed her milk, bagged it and frozen it and delivered it to our house. Well in advance of that hunger we have defrosted that milk and filled a bottle in the refrigerator waiting for that hunger. All Rose has to do is open her mouth and be fed with the warmed bottle. And then she responds by giving back a contented smile, and at night going right back to peaceful sleep. She doesn't have to earn that loving care; all she has to do is respond to it.
God has created us from the very beginning to share in this eternal life. Our job is not to earn it but to open our hearts to something already prepared for us. We need to gather in community and devote ourselves to prayer, not intercessory prayer, but prayer of thanksgiving, Eucharistic prayer. If we become like little children, our participation in this prayer of praise and thanksgiving will open our minds and hearts and eyes to this gift of eternal life God has prepared for us, and has revealed to us in Christ Jesus. And if we even catch a glimpse of that love, it will fill us so that we could no more stop ourselves from sharing than Rose can stop her smile of contentment.