Acts 1:12-14 • 1 Pt 4:13-16 • Jn 17:1-11a
A Catholic high school teacher found she had advanced breast cancer. After breaking the news her doctors wanted her to go to surgery the next day and then begin aggressive chemo and radiation therapies. The woman understood the urgency but wanted a delay to make a quick retreat, two to three days, and then be anointed at a Mass inviting all of her fellow faculty members.
The principal, a priest, told her he thought the idea of making a retreat before surgery was very noble, but he advised her to go straight to surgery, but the teacher was adamant about making a retreat. She spoke of the Passion of Jesus telling her priest-principal how she had always been struck that Jesus had prayed before He started His Passion. She knew she was about to start a whole lot of suffering, and she too wanted to begin in prayer dedicating her suffering to God, or as we have said in the past, “offer it up.” She made her retreat, and every faculty member who could be present attended the Mass she wanted. There was hardly a dry eye.
This is almost exactly what we see in today’s Gospel. John presents Jesus to us praying at the Last Supper. The dialogue John gives to Jesus during the Last Supper is very lengthy, more than any other of the Gospels, but as the teacher related, the last thing Jesus did before leaving the upper room to face the traitorous Judas in the garden was to pray. Jesus was consecrating His suffering to the Father.
We have been reading in this Easter season from the first Letter of Peter. More than a letter, this is thought to have been an instruction read to new Christians at their baptism about how to be Christians. It speaks of suffering, specifically what we can do with our suffering because of our faith.
Echoing Peter’s sentiment that our suffering can point other people to God, the beginning of the teacher’s journey of suffering with cancer became for her a way to share in the redemptive sufferings of Christ..
How do we “offer it up”? If not suffering from illness, do we attempt to identify with Christ when we make hard choices in life? Do parents see themselves as identifying with Christ when they dare to say “no” to their children or dare to punish them? Do we take our pains and use them to try to understand what Jesus went through for us?
The Acts of the Apostles speaks to us of how to do this. Jesus had ascended. He was gone. He had left His promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, but still He was gone. The disciples returned to Jerusalem as He had said, and Acts leaves us with a list of the 11 remaining Apostles (quite possibly in order of the importance Luke felt that they held). This small group of people from many different areas, of different ages and many different walks of life, and now in fear had to have been divided among themselves as to what to do next. We can imagine them arguing. What must be noted by us is that having lost their Teacher and still being in danger from the authorities and thus in hiding, their instinctive reaction was to pray. Acts makes a point of telling us that despite their differences, they “devoted themselves with ‘one accord’ to prayer.”
Interestingly, with them were also some women and among them, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus’ suffering not only offered redemption, it changed how we live. Up until this point, men and women never prayed together! Each had their own places in synagogues and in the Temple. Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection were profound indeed.
The Apostles, the women, and a few others gathered. Their reaction was not one of panic as we would assume. Instead, they prayed, and their prayer made them of one accord. In our Gospel, this is exactly what Jesus in prayer asked of the Father, that we will, through prayer, come to an intimacy with the Father and, therefore, be held together by Him.
Jesus’ earnest prayer the night His passion began was that His disciples would have a personal and intimate relationship with His Father. Jesus prayed that just as He “knows” the Father, He hopes His followers will also “know” the Father. This expression of the word “know” is used to express the most intimate within a society that did not allow self-revealing, but Jesus employs it to describe how He prays we will be with His Father.
Coming to know God is the whole point of prayer. Knowing God has consequences in our world, and, in fact, knowing God is the basis of joy in eternal life. We must learn to “offer it up” so that our intimacy with God can grow.
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..