John 17:20-26. The selected gospel verses for this reflection are the recommendation for this Sunday's liturgy when the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated next Sunday. It is the reading that would have been read on the 7th Sunday of Easter were it not for the alteration to Ascension Sunday. The significance of the verses is that we are privileged to listen to the private prayer of Jesus. For us this is a gift often overlooked or forgotten.
The event in the reading actually takes place only a few hours before Jesus would begin the excruciating suffering that would end his life. We might expect that he would utter words, even pleas, for himself. Not so! Neither did he pray for his closest associates or his mother or those who had come to believe in him through the words of his other followers.
The gift, a mystery, was and is that he offered his prayer to the Father for you and me. And surprisingly he is not asking the Father to cure illnesses, nor for successful business adventures, nor for emotional health. More surprising there is not a prayer for protection form social evils such as injustice, discrimination or poverty. He does not ask his Father to end wars or violence of any kind.
No, to our surprise, perhaps, Jesus prays "that they all may be one." Not just some of us but that ALL of us, all the people God has brought into this world. Unity is his primary concern for all of us. Surely as the Son of God he knew how many times nations would be engaged in wards against other nations, that families would be divided; that hatred would dictate so many human failures.
In calling the Church to Vatican II, Pope John XXIII stated that the reason for his decisions in the matter were twofold: updating our Church and, what is so often forgotten perhaps because there is so much division in the world, his call for unity.
Perhaps we need to reconsider Jesus' prayer. We need to redirect our efforts to make Jesus' prayer a reality. Can there be any reason against such efforts when a major root of division in our world today is rooted in a religion based activity ... the radical use of words found in the Koran? Hear these words from the Decree on Ecumenism presented by the Council Fathers at the Second Vatican Council.
"The faithful should remember that they promote unity among Christians better, that indeed they live it better, when they try to live holier lives according to the Gospel. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly and sisterly love."
To this we might well add that we should promote mutual relations with other non-Christian religions, again, especially in our times.