domenica 28 maggio 2017

«Perseverantes unanimiter in oratione»

This last Sunday of Eastertide before Pentecost could be considered the “Prayer Sunday.” In today’s gospel, we read a passage from chapter 17 of John. This chapter is the conclusion—better, the climax—of the discourse that Jesus delivers to the apostles during the last supper. Well, at this point Jesus stops speaking to his disciples and turns to God in prayer. He addresses God in a way familiar to him, calling God “Father” (Abba). Since he does not pray only for himself, but even for his disciples—thus playing a role of intercessor—this prayer has been called the “high priestly prayer.”

First of all, Jesus prays for himself. He is aware that his “hour” has come. Do you remember, when at Cana his mother Mary pointed out that they had run short of wine, what Jesus replied? “My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). Now, that hour has finally arrived. The evangelist John, at the beginning of chapter 13, introducing his account of the last supper, says: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father” (Jn 13:1). So, it is the hour of his passing; but it is, at the same time, the hour of his glorification—a glorification which can be attained only through suffering and death. Jesus knows that time for his passion has come, and he accepts it freely. But he asks the Father to glorify him. He is entitled to glory, because he possessed it before the world began. He had temporarily renounced that glory at the moment of his incarnation. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says: “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). But now it is time to take up that glory again. He has accomplished the mission the Father had entrusted to him. He has revealed the name of God to his disciples. Now, he wants to give them eternal life. The gospel explains in what eternal life consists: “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.”

So, Jesus is concerned not only about himself, but also, and above all, for the salvation of his disciples. That is why he prays for them. He prays for his disciples, because he is about to leave them; he is going back to the Father, whereas they are staying in the world, with all its dangers; therefore, they need a special protection from God. Jesus does not pray for the world, but only for his disciples—“the ones you have given me”. In John’s gospel, the term “world” refers to those who refuse God, because they consider themselves self-sufficient; they do not feel in need of him. So, what’s the use of praying for them?

In the gospel, we see Jesus praying; in the first reading, instead, we encounter the apostles praying: they “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (perseverantes unanimiter in oratione) . By now, Jesus has ascended into heaven. Before leaving his disciples, Jesus had confirmed his promise of sending them the Holy Spirit, and had enjoined them to wait for the fulfillment of that promise. So, now they go back to the place where they had eaten the last supper with Jesus and where he had appeared to them after his resurrection. They start to pray, waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. They are not alone: with them, there is “Mary the mother of Jesus.” The Blessed Virgin immediately takes on the role of “mother of the Church,” that Jesus had entrusted to her from the cross. This scene is an icon of the Church in every time—the Church praying, with her Mother and her Pastors, for the coming of the Spirit. In these days between the Ascension and Pentecost, we are invited to imitate the apostles gathered in the upper room along with Mary, and pray like them, imploring the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and the world.