To know the true God
(Readings: 1:12-14; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11)
Introduction to Mass
After Jesus’ Ascension he left his disciples to carry on with the mission he had started. Today’s readings show how the disciples came together to pray before doing anything else. St. Peter adds that Christians always have to be prepared to suffer ridicule as a consequence, and as a test, of their faith in Christ.
As we come together for Mass we ask God to forgive us for our weaknesses and to strengthen our faith in him.
We’re coming to the end of the Easter Season and the readings for Sunday Mass have progressed to the end of the first Easter period, the time of Jesus’ Ascension and the approach of Pentecost.
In the gospel reading, where Jesus is praying for his disciples shortly before his death, he declares that his own work is finished: “I have made your name known” he says to the Father, “I have given them the teaching you gave to me”.
Jesus’ mission was to reveal God more fully than before and to open up the prospect of “eternal life” - human life lived in knowledge of God and communion with God. As the time of his death approached he anticipated leaving his disciples to carry on with that mission, down through history: “I am not in the world any longer, but they are in the world”.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles refers to that time when Jesus is “not in the world any longer”, and we see that the disciples’ response to Jesus’ departure is to gather together in the upper room to join in continuous prayer, as St. Luke puts it.
Jesus’ own mission was dependent on the contact and communion with the Father which he maintained by prayer - often very long and intense periods of prayer - and so is the mission of the Christian community. The disciples seem to realise this, because it’s the first thing they do after witnessing Jesus’ Ascension. Luke is saying that the Christian community, before anything else, has to be a community that prays.
There are two reasons why prayer is so important. The first thing that we gain from prayer is a sense that God is high above us, and a sense that the appropriate attitude on our part is one of worship and adoration.
When we look at our own sources of guidance about prayer – the Psalms in the Old Testament, for example, or the passages in the gospels that tell us about Jesus’ own practice of prayer, or the writings of the saints in Christian history – they all use very similar images to describe their experience of meeting God in prayer.
In all those sources the images applied to God are those of Lord, King, Master, Father, Shepherd. God is described as someone we look up to, follow, bow to, kneel before.
They’re images of superiority, but not the kind of superiority that inspires fear or dread. It’s the superiority of holiness and goodness and love - and when people make progress in prayer they get a stronger sense of that, with all the sense of reverence and gratitude that goes along with it.
The second thing we gain from prayer is that our will is drawn into alignment with God’s own will, if that’s the best way to put it. We start to want what God wants. Our motivations change.
Prayer loosens the grip of our possessive and self-seeking habits and helps us learn how to offer service without the selfish investment we often make, sometimes without even being conscious of it. The more we pray to God the more he influences us to be patient and compassionate in our dealings with people and the more he removes our desire to dictate people’s decisions or control results. Our contact with God makes us like God, in other words.
The comments that St. Peter makes in the second reading point in the same direction. Genuine commitment to God involves being willing to suffer ridicule and humiliation, he says. We should be glad when we’re insulted for the sake of Christ.
I don’t think it would be right to interpret Peter’s remarks as encouraging a masochistic attitude, as if all suffering was a good thing in itself. What he was getting at reflected the situation that the first Christians had to live in: their faith in Christ might have been a source of great happiness to them but it also made them a persecuted and ridiculed minority in society at large.
St. Peter’s advice to the members of his community is that ridicule might hurt our pride but it also tests the genuineness of our faith. It might cause some people to abandon their search for God, but if it’s confronted in the right spirit it can help us become detached from another self-interested motive - being respected or liked or thought well of.
As with other forms of suffering, it’s when we’re deprived of ordinary human comfort or support that we can be most open to God’s influence. Peter is appealing to his readers to put knowledge of God and progress in their relationship with God above their desire to be accepted and liked.
Those are the some of the conclusions that Jesus’ first followers reached while they were still trying make sense of their experiences in that early period after Jesus’ Resurrection, which we can make use of today in our own life of faith.