The Lord's Prayer for Unity

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"Father, I pray that they will be completely one as we are one" (Jn 17:23)

The Need for Unity:

About one fifth of the Gospel of John is devoted just to the final, or so called farewell, discourse of Jesus during the last supper with his apostles - now that his 'hour', the most important moment of his life, had come, that would bring redemption to the world. And of these four chapters, one full chapter contains the prayer of Jesus on the very eve of his Paschal Mystery, his last and most important prayer to His Father for his present and future disciples. Twice in that prayer Jesus tells his Father that he is finally coming or returning to him, now that the work entrusted to him is complete, - but still not quite complete. For he now prays that his Father would glorify his name not only by initiating his work of salvation on the cross, as head of the Church, but by completing it in his body the Church, making it one in peace and love. And even today the Church continues that priestly prayer of Jesus, when daily at Mass we pray, "Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood may be filled with his Spirit and become one body and one spirit in Christ."

The Source of Unity:

But the unity for which Jesus prayed was not just an outward co-operation with philanthropic people in works of charity or an intellectual dialogue with religious men in matters of doctrine, but something far more fundamental. The mind of Jesus is that we cannot have unity with others unless we first have unity among ourselves as his disciples and, even more basic, we cannot have this unity unless we have unity with God our Father in Christ by his Spirit. That is why the prayer of Jesus to his Father was, "As you are in me and I am in you, I pray that they can also be one in us" (21, Jn 14). The very Trinitarian Life of perfect unity in perfect diversity is to be the source and the model of our own unity. We were baptised in the names of the Triune God to continue living the same Trinitarian life, motivated by it and even imitating it.

The Model of Unity:

That is why Jesus says so beautifully that by doing this his disciples will be true to and worthy of the name of their Father God, "so that they can and will be one, as you and I are one" (11, 22), just as loving one's enemies makes us true children of our Father, in whose image we have been created, - and no true child would want to spoil or disgrace his father's name. While he was with them, Jesus did all he could to ensure that his apostles who were so diverse would be true to that name in spite of their jealousy and pride, by watching over them carefully, being alert to any signs of disunity among them, and constantly bringing them back into communion, - an example to his future disciples.

The Protection of Unity:

As Jesus prays for unity among his disciples, almost in the same breath he prays that they would be protected from the wiles of the Evil One and the hatred of the 'world', (i.e., his followers), whose strategy, as the Lord warns them, would be to cause dissension, especially among Church and Charismatic leaders, often through a misguided emphasis on mere signs and the more spectacular gifts, and to lead them astray through an attachment to and seeking after pleasure, possessions and power. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which began with a prayerful and joyful togetherness, transcending all barriers, is now unfortunately sometimes plagued by bitter divisions at certain levels, by an unholy aggressiveness and a spirit of competitiveness.

The Purpose of Unity:

After washing their feet Jesus commanded his apostles, "You must love each other as I have loved you" and he concluded at once, "All people will then know that you are my followers if you love each other (Jn 13:35). Now he addresses his Father, "As you are in me and I am in you, I pray that they can also be one in us", and, "I will be in them … so that they will be completely one. Then the world will believe and know that you sent me and that therefore you have loved them just as much as you loved me" (21,23). He regards his salvific mission as incomplete until his followers are united. They will have to make up for what is missing, in the enigmatic words of Paul, by living in unity, which can be one's greatest cross. But he would thus be glorified in their unity, as one body - his Church, and that would be his greatest joy, just as the greatest joy of parents is to see their children in loving and joyful unity. And that unity would in turn be the radiant glory and crowning joy of his disciples, of his Church.

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