Wednesday December 14, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Saint John of the Cross
Reading I (Isaiah 43:1-5) Reading II (Romans 8:14-18, 28-30)
Gospel (St. John 17:11, 17-26)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, a prayer that we read in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. As Jesus prepares for His Passion and is at the Last Supper, He prays this prayer with His disciples. He prays for all of those who will come after. He prays specifically: May they be so completely one that the world will realize that it was you who sent me, and that I have loved them as much as you loved me.
Now we look around and we see that not only are we not united with one another but we have all kinds of divisions within the Church these days, and very tragic divisions. We have some parishes that you would not even recognize as being Catholic. We have people who call themselves Catholic who hardly believe in anything the Church teaches. Then we have exactly the real horror that Our Lady had foretold, that is, priest against priest, bishop against bishop, cardinal against cardinal. We cannot even agree on basic Catholic things, let alone how to live it out. And so the real question is: Why not?
The answer is a very simple one: Because we do not pray, because we are not in union with Jesus Christ. We can give Him all the lip service we want, but we have to be in union with Him (“union” means a union of mind as well as a union of will). We have to be conformed to Christ. That is precisely what Saint John of the Cross teaches us how to do. It is also precisely the reason why most people run as far away as they possibly can–they do not want to be conformed to Christ–because there is only one way to be conformed to Jesus Christ, and that is the Cross. There is no salvation apart from the Cross, and there is no conformity to Christ apart from the Cross. Most of us, when we read the Gospel, we like the nice parts, but we like to skip over the parts that do not seem so pleasant. But we realize that we cannot have one without the other.
As Saint Paul made clear in the second reading, the sufferings of the present are nothing compared to the glory to be revealed in us. It does not matter what the sufferings are that we have to endure, if we understand why it is that we are doing it. It is to be purified so that we can be perfectly united to Christ. If we are perfectly united to Christ, there will be no division–no division between us and God, and no division between one another–because we will be united in the truth and we will be united in love, the mind and the will. And what is God? God is truth and God is love. So if we are united in the truth and we are united in love then we are united in Christ, and that is exactly what He prayed for.
So there is nothing lacking on God’s side, in His desire, as well as in the grace that is being offered to us for this unity. It is the very prayer of Jesus Himself. Obviously, God is not going to ignore His own prayer, and so the prayer is efficacious, completely and perfectly. If there is something lacking in the unity, it is lacking on our part, not on His. His Will is there that we will all be united. The question of why we are divided cannot find its answer in Him; it can only find its answer in us. Objectively, it is because of our own imperfection. But subjectively, it is either because we just have not gotten that far and we are working at it, or, as the case is with most people, they really do not want it. They do not want it because they are afraid of the cost.
That is a real tragedy. When we look at what Jesus did for us, when we look at the cost that He paid to save our souls, and then we run away because He might ask us to take up a little sliver of the Cross, it is like looking at somebody who paid $100,000.00 dollars for us to be able to do something and then turns around and asks us if he can borrow a dollar, and we tell him “no” and get angry and run away and wonder how somebody could be so insensitive as to even ask us to borrow a buck–even after he has given us $100,000.00 himself! The insensitivity and the audacity is not on His part; it is on ours.
If we reject the Cross, we reject Christ. That is not a good idea, obviously. So we need to choose Jesus Christ, and that means the fullness of Who He is. It means that we must be united with Christ, to allow our minds and our wills to be conformed to Him in truth and in love. Then we will fulfill His High Priestly Prayer. We will all be one in Him as He is one in the Father. And as the Father is in Him, so too, they will come to us; they will live in us and we will live in them, and all of us will be united with God and with one another in truth and in love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.