We have celebrated the feast of the Ascension, 40 days after Easter. Now with the whole Church we wait in a novena of prayer for the culmination and climax of the whole Easter mystery, the feast of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday.
To help us celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Church offers for our nourishment the long farewell discourse of Jesus, given on the eve of his departure from this world, as recorded by St. John. Over the past two Sundays we have read passages from the central Chapter of that discourse. In addition, at daily Mass over the past two and a half weeks we have read through the discourse in order from its beginning.
Now at last, on this seventh Sunday of Easter, we reach its sublime high point. We’ve come to Chapter 17 of St. John’s Gospel: what is often referred to as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.
Here our blessed Lord turns from his disciples to address his Father directly. Through this prayer, we are given access to the innermost movements of Jesus’ heart; to his deepest thoughts. It’s as if we are accidental eavesdroppers, overhearing the loving communion of the Son with his Father. But far from finding ourselves excluded from that ineffable union of love, we realise with astonishment that on the contrary we are being invited into it, caught up in it, made part of it.
The Holy Spirit is nowhere mentioned in this Prayer. Yet in a sense it is all about Him. He pervades it from beginning to end. So many terms Jesus uses are attributes, or effects, of the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks of Truth, of Unity and of Love. He speaks of consecration, of the knowledge of God, of holiness, of glory and of joy. The Holy Spirit manifests Himself in all these ways, whether He is at work in the inner life of the Holy Trinity, or in the Church, or in each of us.
To focus briefly on a small part of this Prayer of Jesus, let me point to a few words from the beginning of the passage we read today. Jesus prays that his Apostles may be one, as He and His Father are One.
How are we to understand this? We want to cry out with the Psalmist: “Too wonderful for me is this knowledge: too high, beyond my reach” (Ps 138:6). How dare we even approach the awesome mystery that is the unity of the Father and the Son? Yet Jesus came to reveal this mystery to us. So without ever fully comprehending it, we can indeed say true things about it, based on what has been revealed through Him, and written down in Scripture through the Holy Spirit. And these true things about God help us to understand the unity to which we ourselves are called.
So we say that the bond of unity between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit, just as the Holy Spirit is the bond of unity in the Church (Eph 4:3). Being their bond of unity, the Holy Spirit is also in Person the love the Father and the Son have for each other. From that we can go on to affirm that the Holy Spirit is Himself also their mutual knowledge, the glory they give to one another, and the joy they have in one another.
Now the Father is not the Son. The bond of unity between them can’t possibly make them as it were collapse into one another. On the contrary. Surely therefore we can say that the Holy Spirit also perfectly expresses in Himself the absolute distinction between the Person of the Father and the Person of the Son. In the same way, the Holy Spirit will certainly do nothing to blot out our own personhood and individuality. Indeed, precisely He is the one who establishes and deepens it. As St. Paul loves to insist, where the Holy Spirit is, there we will find endless diversity (cf. e.g. 1 Cor 12 passim). The Holy Spirit draws all that diversity into unity, not by suppression of difference, but by perfect reciprocal love.
Jesus goes on to pray that his joy might be ours to the full. What is the joy of Jesus? Without doubt it is the mutual love He shares with his Father, made concrete through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We could even say the joy of Jesus is the Holy Spirit. When he says he wants to share this joy with us, he points to the deepest meaning of his mission. For Christ came in order to give us the Holy Spirit. Then, as St. Paul tells us (Rm 8:14) those who possess the Holy Spirit are thereby made sons of God. Through our sharing in Christ’s own divine Sonship, through our bearing of his Holy Spirit, we enter indeed into his joy.
We who have been baptised already objectively possess these gifts that are so far beyond price. Yet we have to make them our own. It’s not enough for us to be passive recipients. We only really enter into the love of God which has been poured into our hearts (Rm 5:5), when we in turn actively love, just as Christ has loved us. That means, our love has to be marked by outpouring generosity: totally regardless of self; utterly heedless of the cost.
We quail before such huge demands, confessing our inability to rise to them. But at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out in power. As he then turned timid men into bold Apostles, so now he will turn us into Saints, great lovers of God, imitators of Christ, servants of the Church and of humanity, if we let Him.
Come, then, Holy Spirit, into our hearts, into my heart, into my life. Through this holy Eucharist, give us, give me in abundance your great gifts of unity and of love. Pour into me the love of Christ, that I may enter ever more deeply into the heart of the Holy Trinity, and into the heart of the Church, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.