John 17 + the Acadians

abandoned stationThe Seventh Sunday of Easter. A station where the trains no longer stop.

Lord Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after He rose from the dead. He ascended, therefore, on a Thursday.

But, for the past twenty years, most of us Catholics have commemorated the Ascension of Christ on the 43rd day. Our bishops decided it would suit people better to have the Solemnity of the Ascension on Sunday. (Theodore McCarrick preferred it that way.)

This replaced the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Now that liturgical day haunts us only as a phantom.

Thing is, we would read something kinda important at Mass, if we kept the Seventh Sunday of Easter. John 17. The priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Father, the message you delivered to Me, I have delivered to the men you singled out from the world and entrusted to Me. They have accepted it. They really understand that I come from You, and they believe that I am Your ambassador.

I am not long for the world. Holy Father! Keep them loyal to Your name, which You have given Me. Consecrate them in the service of the truth.

As You made Me Your ambassador to the world, so I make them My ambassadors to the world. I also pray for those who, through their preaching, will believe in Me. You love them as You love Me.

May the love with which You love Me dwell in them, as I dwell in them.

There’s more. The Lectionary apportions the entire chapter over the three-year Sunday cycle. I quote here just some passages. And I quote from the translation of James Kleist, which I find particularly moving.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church dedicates an entire article to John 17. St. Thomas Aquinas commented on this chapter of John: “Previously the Lord consoled His disciples by example and encouragement. Here He comforts them by His prayer.” I personally find bottomless comfort and consolation in reading John 17.

Neglecting to read John 17 at Sunday Mass seems almost as odd as it would be to neglect to read John 1 at Sunday Mass. The Prologue to the gospel.

Wait. We actually do neglect to read John 1 at Sunday Mass. Owing to similar circumstances. The Lectionary includes John 1 for the Second Sunday of Christmas. Another phantom station where the train never stops. Since the bishops moved the Solemnity of the Epiphany from January 6 to the second Sunday after Christmas.

Not sure the Fathers of Vatican II had this in mind, exactly. But we still have our Bibles, and know how to read. Thank God.

Today not only comes as the anniversary of the ordination of a certain clodhopper priest. We also keep the 265th anniversary of the British expedition from Boston that conquered Fort Beauséjour, in what is now Nova Scotia. (The expedition left Boston on May 22, 1755.) This conquest led to the Great Expulson of the Acadian people.

A rendering of Evangeline

The Acadians had lived in the maritime provinces of Canada for well over a century. French Catholics, they intermarried with the Mi’kmaq and created a distinct ethnicity. When the French colonial authorities abandoned Acadia, the Mi’kmaq refused to acknowledge British sovereignty.

After the British conquered Fort Beauséjour in early June, they proceeded to deport 11,500 Acadians, over the course of nine years. The Spanish helped many of them to re-locate to Louisiana. There, the “Acadians” became “Cajuns.” Still speaking their colonial French and still Catholic.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline sings the tragic tale of the displaced people.

A fellow seminarian, a Cajun, taught me all this history. It has stuck with me ever since. I take the moral as: God always has a plan.

The Constitution

Chris the priest

Today at Holy Mass, we read the conclusion of Christ’s “priestly” prayer. He ministers as High Priest of all creation, offering Himself, the Eternal Word, in union with His human flesh and blood.

All Christians share in Christ’s priesthood. We all find communion with God, and with each other, by offering ourselves to the heavenly Father along with the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.

We base our entire lives on this offering of ourselves with Christ. It gives our lives their true meaning. Our participation in Holy Mass situates us in the universe properly. It makes prayer possible. One Christ, Head and members, glorifying the Father with the eternal and infinite sacrifice of love that Christ revealed on the cross.

Now, for this offering to occur, Christ instituted the sacred priesthood of the altar. He chose from among His disciples those who would minister at the celebration of the Eucharist. Those who would stand in His place, to bring about the union of the Head and the members of the Body of Christ. The sacred priestly ministry of the altar.

priestMy dear Protestant mother and I have been locked in argument lately about this. The sacred priesthood, conferred by the laying on of hands through succession in office, going back to the Apostles. The indelible sacramental mark that makes a man a priest.

We Catholics rightly recognize that in the upper ranks of the hierarchy, a false sense of superiority has produced a class of arrogant and detached men, men who seem incapable of governing the Church honestly and effectively.

So a lot of people rightly question the whole idea of a sacred priesthood. The whole idea that Jesus Himself chose from among His whole flock a “clergy,” a group of men who stand apart, consecrated shepherds, with a unique authority. Why not just have a ‘democratic’ Church?

Now, the building is on fire, to be sure. But that doesn’t mean that the basic idea of the foundation is wrong, or even really changeable. The Son of God did, in fact, start the sacred priesthood of the New Covenant at the Last Supper. He did so in order to make it possible for all of us Christians to exercise our baptismal priesthood as members of His Body. And He made the celebrant at Mass the shepherd.

Certainly there’s a better way to do this, better than the dispiriting mess we’re living through now. But we could search high and low, combing the Scriptures and the countless tomes of learned theology, and we will never a find another, better “constitution” of the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us our “Constitution” when He walked the earth, when He celebrated the first Mass, when He breathed the Holy Spirit upon the original Apostles.

Our task is to serve Him, to obey Him, to trust Him. To offer ourselves to the Father, in union with Him.

“Knowledge” in CCC 2751

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

We think we know things. But we really don’t.

I thought I knew how to paddle a small boat. But it turns out that, if you want to paddle properly, the main force of your stroke has to come from pushing with your upper hand, not pulling with the lower.

Who knew? I learned this yesterday during the annual 10th-grade Roanoke-Catholic-School kayaking trip. Which of course included the obligatory excessive splashing of Father.

Catechism-of-the-Catholic-CHurch…The Catechism has a brief, lapidary explanation of the priestly prayer of Christ in John 17 (which we read at Holy Mass this week). I find it one of the hardest parts of the Catechism to understand. So, during the seventh week of Easter, I always try to re-read it.

Here’s the concluding sentence of this section of the Catechism:

The priestly prayer of Christ reveals and gives us the ‘knowledge,’ inseparably one, of the Father and the Son, which is the very mystery of the life of prayer.

See what I mean? A mysterious sentence.

The knowledge the Father has of the Son, and the knowledge the Son has of the Father–a single, unique knowledge. Who has it?

Well, Lord Jesus tells us: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” (Mt 11:27)

Humbling. We don’t really know anything ultimately worth knowing; we don’t know lambshanks from shinola, unless the Son reveals to us the unique knowledge that He has of the Father. That fact constitutes a prevailing theme of the priestly prayer of Christ, in John 17.

But what does the Son say, after He says, ‘no one knows nada without Me?’ He says: Come to me, all you weary lambs, who struggle and strive and sweat and cuss under your breath– Come to me, and I will give you rest for your souls. Learn from me. I am gentle and humble of heart. My yoke is easy and my burden light.

It’s not so hard. Prayer. Life. All He wants us to do is to say the Our Father every day and mean it.

John-17 Week Homily

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priest

Christ our Priest prayed for us that night, Holy Thursday: He prayed for those who, through the preaching of the Apostles, would come to believe in the incarnate Son of God.

The Lord Jesus prayed at the first Mass, as our priest, because we need a priest. As He declared in His prayer, the world does not know the Father. The world needs a priest; the human race needs a priest, to unite us with the unknown Father. Christ executes that uniquely essential office.

He consecrates us in the truth. The truth of Mount Calvary, and of Easter Sunday, and Pentecost Sunday. The truth of the Paschal Mystery.

We, too, are priests.

The Lord provides ministerial priests, to be sure, to keep His Body and Blood on the altar, to gather the scattered children into the unity of the Holy Mass. We see in (seminarian) Dan’s presence with us this summer how the Lord keeps His promise: He calls men to serve at the altar, down through the generations. So the Mass continues, on a march towards the final day.

But, indeed, all of us, all baptized Christians, share the priesthood of the incarnate Son. He offered Himself on the cross. He gave us the Mass as the perpetual presence of that one, true, pleasing sacrifice to the Father. So we offer ourselves, too, just as He offered Himself. We offer ourselves along with Him, whenever we come in faith to the holy altar to participate.

In this act, we stand united. Or perhaps I should say we kneel united.

In this act, Christ consecrates us in the truth. We are priests in Him. The world cannot hold us. Our office reaches beyond the confines of the material cosmos and touches the eternal Father. Our office extends to Him. We extend to Him.

And the love with which the Father has loved the Son, since before the foundation of the world—that infinite love abides in us.

John-17 St.-Lucy-Day-Crown Candles

St Lucy crown

Father, I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:22)

I have given them the glory you gave me. The ‘them’ is us: we who believe in Christ.

The ‘I’ is Christ, true God and true man.

The ‘glory’ is the glory which God has given to the Christ. What is this?

From eternity unto eternity, the Father begets the divinity of the Son, the unlimited glory of God.

We, being limited creatures, cannot receive this glory. So He cannot mean this.

From the moment of His conception in the Virgin’s womb, the Christ received from God the fullness of grace, the human share in divinity: wisdom, knowledge, perfect love, indomitable fortitude—the full spiritual equipage of the holy man, the man perfectly united with the Creator and Governor of all.

From the moment of our Holy Baptism, Christ shares this grace with us. It grows in our souls through our pilgrim lives as we persevere in faith, do good, and avoid evil.

princeBefore dawn on Easter Sunday, the Christ received from God the permanent re-invigoration of His human body. This, too, we will receive–on the last day.

Why? Why has the Christ given us the glory that God gave Him?

So that we, His believers, may share the unity of the Father and Son. So that we may share the Holy Spirit.

Again, we cannot share this as God, because we are not God.

But we can share it as divine love poured into human hearts. As Christ’s Heart is, so can our hearts be: Moved altogether with love for the truly beautiful and truly good. Impervious to evil and death. Alive with the same life that made the whole world, keeps it made, and guides it to its fulfillment.

That the Father and Son are one in the Holy Spirit is the foundation of everything else. That foundational love that makes things exist—as opposed to not exist—that very love can be in our hearts now and forever. That very love–nothing less. The love that is the foundation of the earth, of the universe.

Prince, in his heyday; Prince rocking ‘When Doves Cry’ in 1984, would have nothing on us. Michael Jordan in his heyday; Jordan knocking down 69 points in one game would have nothing on us. F. Scott Fitzgerald, sitting down and writing The Great Gatsby like an ethereal poem of pathos, would have nothing on us. Alexander the Great, ruling from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas, would have nothing on us.

To be among those for whom the Lord prays in the words of John 17 is to be a burning candle in the St.-Lucy-Day crown of the world.

Reality Novena

Father, consecrate us in the truth. Protect us from our propensities to subterfuge and close-mindedness. Free us from ourselves and the tendency we have to make up our own version of reality.

Now, if ever there were days to make a Novena…This is the week of the original Novena.

“Father, consecrate them in truth,” prayed the Lord Jesus. “Wait until you are clothed with power from on high,” He told His disciples.

ezekiel bonesCome, Holy Spirit of truth. Come and consecrate us with the greatest gift any human being can ever receive: a firm grip on reality.

I don’t know about you, but on Sunday something struck me like a ton of bricks, as if for the first time. The Savior came to the world, showed Himself the Savior, overcame death—and then He vanished.

He was here. At one time, Jesus wore shoes and a tunic of some kind, and dust collected on His garments, and He had to spend time cleaning His teeth every day.

But then He departed from the world. Peace out. To heaven. And—except by certain visionaries—He has not been seen with human eyes on the earth since.

This would seem to mean heartbreak and pain for His disciples. We read on Sunday, however, that they rejoiced and praised God when Jesus ascended and disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:52). The Master had triumphed altogether and returned to the unimaginable heaven from which He had come. Unlike the Christians of Miletus, who wept when St. Paul left them for good. In Jerusalem, after the Ascension of Christ, the disciples did not cry. Rather, joy filled their hearts as they prayed the first Novena.

el_greco-sinaiNow, we know that the Lord Jesus does not despise the world. He abides with us here still in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. And He promised one day to come again in the sight of every human eye. His sandals will touch the earth again. Then heaven and earth will come together. Where He disappeared to on Ascension Day, and where we are now, will be the same place.

And it’s not just a matter of our passively waiting for Him to come back in all His glory. We can hasten the re-union. By prayer and zealous works of justice and peace.

But this reality which the Holy Spirit helps us get a grip on… This truth…

The Holy Spirit, Who looks like…what exactly? Pentecost looks like: “power from on high.” I think the greatest artists will freely tell us: Not easy to depict this for human eyes. Actually, it’s altogether impossible.

For now—while we still make our pilgrim way—the true reality which the invisible Holy Spirit helps us grasp is itself a lot more invisible than it is visible. “Getting a grip”—really getting a grip on reality—means believing. We pray with joy that God will help us to get a firm grip on the ungraspable Truth that He Himself is.

Reason for Confederation

No human organization has ever endured with the sole purpose of everybody sitting around and looking at each other. We homo sapiens get together, stick together, and succeed together when we have a clear goal to work towards.

The goals that we seek together can be good or bad. Some people form bonds with each other by exchanging gossip at others’ expense.

To “form a good community,” we need a good goal. Actually, we need the best goal. We need the one goal that makes life genuinely worth living.

At the deepest core of our human selves, we seek God. We could go so far as to say: human being = God-seeker.

And our search for God brings us together in a uniquely intimate way. The bond that unites people who seek God together endures like no other bond, overcomes obstacles like no other bond.

Where do we find God? In Christ. Christ shows us the Father. In Christ, our seeking souls can find rest.

Nothing could ever bring people together like this: to seek God together and find Him together. This bond endures for all eternity. It is the communion of Christ’s Church, bound together in love by the Holy Spirit.

Prayer of Christ Extended

When we pray, how do we do it?

We pray to the Almighty Father. We thank Him for giving us everything. We offer Him His own Son as our sacrifice. We pray on behalf of the whole Church, that we would be delivered from evil and reach the final goal. We pray that everyone, living and dead, would be gathered into Christ’s fold. We give the Father all glory and honor through Christ, and we consecrate ourselves in the Spirit of truth.

We pray this way by praying the Mass together. We pray like Christ Himself prayed at the Last Supper. He prayed to the Father with confidence and trust. He gave thanks for the gift of everything: His existence, born of infinite love. His mission. The glory prepared for Him and for all those predestined for glory with Him. He offered to the Father His sacrifice of obedience. And Christ united Himself with all who believe.

Our prayer at the altar echoes Christ’s priestly prayer. Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper has not passed away; He hasn’t stopped praying to the Father for us. He prays perpetually as our High Priest in heaven. He prays for exactly what we need, when we need it. He pours out the right graces at the right time.

When we pray, we want only to pray with Him. Obviously, we cannot pray on our own any better than He can pray in us.

Praying with Him, uniting ourselves in our inmost souls with Him—that in and of itself can get us on the right track—and keep us on it. We can walk out of church peaceful, focused on what we need to focus on, full of love, ready to do what we need to do and help the people we need to help.

When we pray Christ’s prayer in union with Him, the world makes sense. Our lives make sense. Our duties make sense.

Which doesn’t mean easy. Easy doesn’t actually make sense for us. A self-respecting human being sitting around watching t.v. all day doesn’t make sense. A Christian living as if other people don’t matter doesn’t make sense.

Letting the Holy Spirit consume us with love, like He consumed Christ with love: that makes sense. Walking out of Mass dedicated to loving the least lovable people, like Christ has loved us: makes sense. Living at all times with gratitude to the Father, offering everything to Him, glorifying Him with the smallest, most apparently insignificant actions: all of this makes sense for someone who prays regularly with Christ the High Priest.

Pray like Christ, with Christ, in Christ. Live like Christ, with Christ, in Christ. One week at a time; one day at a time; one hour, one minute, at a time.

Next thing we know, we will be praying and living with Christ in heaven.

Christ the Priest’s Prayer

At the end of the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus prayed aloud to the Father.

He prayed for Himself, for His Apostles, and for us. In other words, He prayed as a priest. He offered Himself to the Father, He consecrated Himself, and He invoked divine assistance upon all the people gathered around Him—gathered around Him then and throughout the ages, from St. John and St. Peter down through time to us.

In the eternal Trinity–the blessed communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–there is no need for a priest. The three divine Persons are bound together in perfect, perpetual unity—more inseparable than a ball and its roundness or water and its wetness. A ball doesn’t need a priest to be round; water doesn’t need a priest to be wet; the eternal Son doesn’t need a priest to be consubstantial with the eternal Father.

But then God created. He created something other than Himself. He brought into existence a world with limts.

Don’t get me wrong. The world excites our wonder and esteem. As Woody Allen put it, “The world is the only place where you can get a good steak.” In this lovely world, you can grow blueberries; you can go for a boatride; you can listen to Mozart.

Continue reading “Christ the Priest’s Prayer”

91st Street Subway Station of Easter

When you ride the Seventh Avenue-Broadway IRT on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, you roll through the ghost of the 91st Street Station. The train doesn’t stop, because the station has been closed since 1959.

Book of the Holy Gospels
When you pray your way through the Easter season according to the Roman Missal–in most ecclesiastical provinces–you roll through the Seventh Sunday of Easter like a ghost station.

Because now this Sunday is the perpetual home of the Solemnity of the Ascension, transferred from Thursday. The liturgy train doesn’t stop on the pages of the Lectionary marked “Seventh Sunday of Easter” anymore.

The gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter is the priestly prayer of Jesus.

I certainly am not competent to judge great things, like how to make decisions about when people have to go to Mass.

But this situation is rather ironic.

According to the Second Vatican Council:

The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.

And yet, because going to Mass on a Thursday is too inconvient for people, we solemnly read the Prayer of the Hour of Jesus–by any estimation, one of the most important texts of Scripture, upon which the entire spiritual life of the Church is based–we read it in church…never.

(Well, only at daily Mass.)


Perhaps you will say, ‘Father, we actually hear the priestly prayer of Jesus at EVERY Mass, because the Eucharistic Prayer is the Church’s humble echo of Her Founder’s prayer.’

You would have a fine point. I would grant your penetrating pertinacity. Praise God. You cheered me up.

But, nonetheless, it would be edifying, don’t you think, to hear the original version of the Eucharistic Prayer read from the holy book, at least every once in a while.