The fragility of our lives came to the fore once again this week with the horrific shootings in Texas. This time the images are not coming from Europe but our own country. The victims were children of our homeland. The perpetrator was one of our own.
Many people use the expression “senseless” because the gravity of the crime is incomprehensible. We cannot figure out why something like this would happen. We try, and should continue to try, to get to the heart of these situations. Since this is not the first time a terrible shooting has occurred, we’ve had time to wrestle with these questions.
Answers proposed to the question of how something like this can happen include the explanation that there are insufficient gun control laws, lack of proper mental illness detection and awareness, along with deficiencies in our society on addressing substance abuse.
Perhaps it’s more than a single issue or combination of these issues that underlies the current climate that allows such an event to take place over and over again – perhaps something in our culture needs to be addressed. St. John Paul II used the term “culture of death” as one way of describing the current age. He used this description, not as a condemnation, but as an evaluation of a small but powerful set of beliefs that distort the value of human life and the meaning of life which lead, at times, to devastating effect.
In the midst of this unfolding tragedy and among our debates on causes, we look to our Good Shepherd to guide us through with his light.
Our celebration of Easter continues now in this period between our observance of the Ascension and anticipation of Pentecost. We are reminded through these celebrations that God does not distance himself from the fragility of the human experience but embraces it. The creator “takes on” the creature by sending his Son. Jesus is “God made man.” In his passion and death, Jesus takes on human suffering and the confrontation with evil itself. In his resurrection, he proves the triumph of love and mercy.
In his ascension, he provides hope for us who journey through this life – a hope that looks forward to the eternal life promised us in his passion, death and resurrection. It is a hope that sustains us through these very difficult and challenging times. It is a hope that while it looks forward never forgets God’s saving action of the past, a remembrance that bolsters the hope and grounds it in the real.
The Gospel passage for this Sunday’s liturgy recalls Jesus’ prayer to the Father for his disciples. He prays not only for the original apostles and disciples “but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”
Jesus refers to us. He, in the hours before his passion, is praying for us. He clearly knows the heartbreak, anguish and difficulties of life. The pain and suffering he is about to endure is already evident in his mind as it swiftly approaches. And he prays for us.
Jesus prays that we may be one just as he and the Father are one. The union, which is a product of reconciliation, is accomplished in his passion, death and resurrection. The union he prays for is rooted and sustained through love. God’s love for humanity, his creation, is seen in Jesus. It is this love that confronts sin and death, and overcomes them in resurrection. It is this love that sustains us in our confrontation with sin and death.
Jesus not only speaks of our union with the Father but the communion we share with each other. There is a strength to this communion that becomes evident when we see love manifest in word and deed. The weaknesses of this union are likewise evident when love is absent, or deficient, in word and deed. So Jesus prays that we may be strengthened in love.
Jesus prays also for our “perfection.” He is speaking here of the “completion.” He prays that our union may be complete both with God and each other. This union will reach completion upon his return. Jesus’ prayer for us reminds us that we are on a journey. We are not “complete” or “perfect” now but will be in the end; not by our merits but by his. So we look forward in hope striving to love and forgive so that the communion may be strengthened and fortified, fueling our hope.
The communion Jesus establishes is both strong and delicate. It is strong because of him who establishes and sustains the union. It is delicate because the communion is made up of imperfect human beings who are capable, at the same time, of doing amazing good or appalling evil. Today, Jesus prays for us, a prayer that is eternal:
“Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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