By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday, 28 May 2017
St Ninians & St Chads Church, Maylands
Last Thursday, we observed the Ascension of Our Lord and after Our Lord had left his disciples they returned to the Upper Room in Jerusalem where he had told them to wait for the gift promised by the Father. During that time I would be surprised if they didn’t reflect on the events that Jesus had said and done while he was with them.
Today’s gospel reading is part of what is called the ‘high priestly prayer’ that Jesus prayed during the Last Supper. John tells us that in this prayer Jesus consecrates himself to his Father as a sacrificial victim offered in order to take away the sin of the world. Following this prayer Jesus goes to be crucified, not as a helpless sufferer of human injustice but as a king offering himself as a voluntary sacrifice in his moment of triumph over evil. He is not only the one who is offered, but also the one who offers himself. He is not only the sacrifice, but also the one who sacrifices.
His priestly prayer is a consecration of himself who he now offers in the sacramental body and blood of the Eucharist, the sacrament he initiated and which maintains the unity of the Church. This is why Catholics believe that sharing in this communion requires participants to believe in the teaching of the Church.
In this prayer Jesus gathers his disciples into his sacrifice and offers them to his Father alongside himself. This is our assurance that he and his disciples are united in his crucifixion. It is not only the original men and women gathered in the Upper Room at the Last Supper that are included in his sacrifice, but the disciples of the Church throughout the ages who are faithful to the teaching of the apostles, and that includes you and me, here right now.
The sacramental bread and wine we are about to receive is the flesh and blood of Jesus that he has given for the life of the world. Through this food Jesus lives in us and we live in him, and those who faithfully persevere to the end will be raised up to be with him on the last day.
In this prayer, Jesus does not pray for the world, he prays for his disciples whom the Father has given him because they are to be his agents in the world and they would be sealed and strengthened by his promised gift of the Holy Spirit. When we are confirmed the bishop or priest anoints us with oil and says, ‘be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ All this is good news.
But there is some bad news. Although Jesus on the Cross loosened the absolute grip of evil over the world, evil still makes its presence felt both in the world and in the Church.
Our second reading indicates that it was not long after Pentecost before the Church faced persecution because the teachings of the Church challenged the lifestyle and culture of the world. Discipleship means sharing in the suffering of Jesus in the continuing struggle against evil.
In our own time, while accepting that some of the hostility the Church faces is a result of the sinfulness of some disciples, this self-inflicted failure makes it much easier for those who are intent on destroying the Church to conceal their true motives.
The Catholic Church is suffering much more of a witch-hunt than any other institution partly because it is a much bigger target. It is Universal with an identifiable head whereas that is not true for other Christian groups. Yet the real reason for the hostility is because the Catholic Faith and the Social teaching that flows from that faith openly challenges the self-centered individualistic morality of the secular progressive elites in Western society.
We must thank God for the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and pray for those bishops, faithful priests and laity who continue to uphold the teaching of the Church while exploring appropriate pastoral ways to apply that teaching. The Church will not be overcome but if the forces of secularism and their Catholic sympathisers have their way, it will crumble like the Children of Israel did before their exile and as some Christian Church have already done.
As we wait to celebrate the empowerment of the Church at Pentecost, let us pray that we might be steadfast, unmovable, always doing the work of the Lord.