Dear Parishioners and Friends of the Catholic Parishes of Western Holt and Boyd Counties,
The day is finally approaching when we will reopen our churches for public liturgies. The clergy team has been working nearly constantly to develop a plan that we feel is in compliance with the Directed Health Measure that is in force at this time, and will provide for the safety of all of us during this COVID-19 pandemic. The seating capacities will be greatly limited, but we don’t expect there to be an issue with overflow crowds the first few weeks. You will be receiving more information this week. Unless there is drastic change in our circumstances, we intend to resume public Masses in all 7 of our churches at the regular times on Saturday, May 30th and Sunday, May 31st. Weekday Masses will resume on Tuesday, May 25th in O’Neill, Atkinson and Stuart. On the weekend of the 30th and 31st we celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost; I think a very good celebration for us to gather together again even with our limited numbers.
As we near the end of the Easter season, we hear a gospel reading from John [17:1-11a]. The setting is Jesus’ final prayer to the Father prior to his being betrayed on the night before his death. The prayer is more than three chapters long (chapters 15–17)! Moreover, it concludes on a somewhat startling note with Jesus saying he is NOT praying for the world “but for the ones you have given me.” He says he will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world.
In some ways this episode seems a far cry from some of Jesus’ earlier words in this same gospel about how “God so loved the world he gave his only son.” But these episodes together summarize one of the overarching themes of John’s gospel. Jesus was with God from the beginning. God’s love for the world meant he sent his only Son, who revealed the name of God to those chosen. Jesus prays for these chosen few who know the only true God. They know the one sent by God, Jesus Christ. And this knowledge is eternal life. Now Jesus prepares to return to the Father, departing this world. Those chosen few, who came to know God and the one he sent, Jesus, remain in the world with the assistance of another Advocate.
It’s clear that this gospel and even its language is unlike the others. This Gospel of John reflects its own unique theological vision about Jesus and his identity. Much later, a heresy known as “Gnosticism” arose, claiming among other things that knowledge was the way to eternal life. The Gospel of John was the favorite among Gnostics, and this gospel passage we read today might give us some indication as to why. But for us two thousand years later, we may hear the passage proclaimed this week and nod approvingly. Even so, it would be good to listen carefully for the theological nuances of the text, recognizing the role of knowledge, eternal life, glory, prayer, and the world. Jesus prays not only for the disciples in his day and time, but for us today. He is no longer in the world as he once was, but we are. His prayers for us strengthen us as we live in the midst of the world. We are the objects of his prayer. In the face of all we encounter in the world, we have an advocate in Jesus, and another advocate in the Spirit. On the night before he died, this prayer was for us.
We live in the world but are not of the world. Such is Christian identity, as it is rooted in Jesus’ identity. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. But he called those who were his own in the world. The son came for us; we have been chosen. When we feel called by the allure of the world, let us recall that the world is only a temporary home for us. A bright future awaits where love reigns and glory is resplendent. The night before he died, Jesus prayed for us and for all those who were chosen by God. Rather than make us smug, this knowledge should humble us and cause us to emulate him who came to serve rather than be served.
For Jesus in the Gospel of John, the crucifixion is the lifting up, the exaltation of the Son of God. With eyes of faith, let us see anew and reorient our lives.
See you soon!
Ad Multos Annos!
Fr. Bernard Starman