Saturday, May 23, 2009

Kept by Christ—A reflection on the Seventh Sunday of Easter

In today’s reading from John’s gospel, Jesus is praying what has been called his high priestly prayer. It is a prayer for the unity of the Church. He asks the Father to protect the disciples so they may be one as Christ and the Father are one. Jesus has protected them so that not one of them was lost, except for Judas.

And what of Judas? Why was he lost? Jesus calls him “the son of destruction” and says that Judas was lost “in order that Scripture might be fulfilled.” The first reading from Acts tells us that Peter was with 120 others waiting for the Holy Spirit to come on the day of Pentecost. He reminds them that Judas was the guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was the betrayer, the son of destruction. Peter finds in the Psalms that Judas’ vacant office needs to be filled. So they selected Justus and Matthias and after praying, they chose Matthias by lot. This may seem like a strange was to go about choosing a successor to Judas, but it was the ordinary way things were done. We might pick names out of a hat!

I think the deeper reason for Judas being lost is found in the reading from St. John’s epistle. It too is about our unity in God. It is a unity of love. God loves us, so we must love one another. If we remain in love we remain in God and God in us. Judas did not remain in love, he betrayed Love to death. If Judas had sought true repentance, he would have remained in God’s love. The difference between Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal is that Peter repented with bitter tears and Judas chose to end his own life outside of God’s love.

But this is Easter, the season of glory and joy in the risen Lord Jesus Christ! So why are the readings talking about Judas? Because the Church understands our human frailty. I am reminded of St. Philip Neri. Philip had a prayer he used to pray every day. It was “Lord, watch over Philip today, or he will betray you like Judas.” St. Philip Neri, whose feast we celebrate this coming Tuesday, understood our frailty. He knew that we are all the kind of people who could betray Jesus. Judas’ price was 30 pieces of silver. Our price is often much less. We betray Jesus every time we deny that Jesus is the Son of God. We do that when we take him for granted, when we put him to the test, when we tell those who ask us about our faith “I do not know him”, when we treat the sacraments casually, when we deny the Church which is his body by dissenting from its teaching, when we do not help those in need.

The good news is that Jesus is praying for us to the Father. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that he always lives to make intercession for us.(Hebrews 7:24-25 ) In today’s gospel, Jesus prays for our unity, he prays for protection, he prays for our joy, he prays that the Father will keep us from the evil one, he prays that the Father will consecrate us in the Truth of his word. Then he sends us into the world protected by this prayer of consecration. Jesus is praying for us now in this Mass. The Eucharist is his answer to all that he prayed for us and all that we pray for ourselves. It is the source of our unity and the way God remains in us and brings his love to perfection in us. Let us receive Christ, remembering St. Philip Neri’s prayer. We are frail but Jesus is our redeemer. He took on our human nature and ascended to Heaven. Let us work for the unity in truth before the Father, for Jesus is that Truth.

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