THIS IS ETERNAL LIFE !
The first reading of today shows that after the ascension of Jesus, the apostles, together with Mary the mother of Jesus and his brethren, and other women, devoted themselves to prayers. In the second reading, Peter encourages us to rejoice whenever we share in Christ’s suffering as Christians. In the Gospel, Jesus in the first part of his priestly prayer, asks God to glorify him (the Son) and be glorified in him whom he (the Father) sent to give eternal life to they that the Father gave to him (the Son).
Let us remember that last two Sundays, Jesus assured us that there are many rooms in his Father’s house (Jn 14:2). Last Sunday, Jesus promised never to leave us orphaned, but that he will send us the Holy Spirit who is the paraclete(Jn 14: 15-21). Today therefore, Jesus states emphatically the unity that exists between himself and the Father, demonstrated in how both persons share things in common. Hence, Jesus prays to the Father to glorify him whom he (the Father) has given power over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom he has given him (Jn 17:2). What then is this eternal life?
THE TRUE MEANING OF ETERNAL LIFE
Eternity from its Greek origin (aionios) has not so much to do with duration of life, but with the quality of life. This word can only be properly applied to God. Therefore, eternal life means the life of God. To possess or enter into it simply means to experience here and now something of the splendour, and the majesty, and the joy, and the peace, and the holiness that are characteristic of the life of God. No wonder Jesus sees ‘eternal life’ as the knowledge of God the Father who is the only true God, and Himself (Jesus Christ) whom the Father sent.
Beloved friends, we need to ‘know’ because the people of God “are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). This knowledge is in part intellectual because, it implies knowing what God is like. However, to ‘know’ God (the Father and the Son) is not merely intellectual knowledge, but to have intimate personal relationship with him and to be with him, which is like the nearest and dearest relationship in life. This is not a ‘theoretical’ knowledge, but a ‘practical experiential’ knowledge. It is not a knowledge of Mathematics or Chemistry, but a knowledge that comes from deep encounter just as the apostles had. An example is when Saul encountered Jesus on his way to Damascus, he was transformed. That was when he ‘knew’ about Jesus in the real sense of it, and his mission changed as well as his name (Acts 9:1ff). Also, when St Augustine had this type of experience, he led a saintly life. Without Jesus, such intimacy with God would have been unthinkable and impossible. It is Jesus who taught us that God is not remote and unapproachable, but the ‘Father’ (Lk 11: 2) whose name and nature are love.
Thus, it is because of this knowledge that Jesus said, “I have shown your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world” (Jn 17:6). In the Old Testament, ‘name’ does not simply mean what a person is called, but the whole character of the person as far as it can be known. No wonder the psalmist says, “those who know your name put their trust in you” (Psa. 9:10). Therefore, knowing God means trusting him! No wonder the divine mercy prayer is summarized in few words, “Jesus I trust in you”. Jesus simply says, “I have enabled the people to see what the real nature of God is like” (Jn 14:9). He is the face of the Father because he is one with the Father (Jn 10:30).
HOW THEN DO WE GAIN THIS ETERNAL LIFE ?
Jesus knows that the Apostles will meet rejection, opposition, and persecution. In spite of this, he sends them into the world to be his witnesses (Jn 17:18; 20:21). That was why he promised them the Holy Spirit (Paraclete) who will assist them (Jn 14:16). If Jesus refers to his imminent suffering and death as ‘glory’, one understands why Peter in the second reading asks us to rejoice whenever we suffer in the world (1 Pet. 4:14). Our sufferings bring us glory. As St Francis of Assisi puts it, ‘it is in dying that we are born to eternal life’. But there is a very important question here: What is the reason for your suffering? You can make it personal: why do I suffer? The reason for Jesus’ suffering which brought him glory (Phil. 2:6-11) was clear. That is, he suffered as a result of his mission as the Messiah, the Son of God, and in obedience to the Father. God is also glorified in our suffering! Peter warns us in the second reading, “but let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrong-doer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God” (1 Pet. 4:15-16). Before now, the apostle had made it known that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil” (1 Pet. 3:17).
Dear brothers and sisters, we need to embrace our challenges as Christians with faith, and in total resignation to the will of God. This is because as the Psalmist tells us, the Lord is our light and our salvation; who shall we fear? The Lord is the stronghold of our life; whom should we dread? (Psa. 27:1). You know what? It is not enough to suffer for the sake of Christ, it is enough to rejoice in this suffering. The second reading tells us, “Beloved: rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:13-14). This is how we gain eternal life!
We have the following lessons from today’s celebration: Firstly, we need deep encounter with God. This is eternal life (knowing the Father and the Son)! We meet God in the created realities: We encounter God daily in our fellow human beings who are also created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). We experience Jesus in the Sacraments especially in the Eucharist. We become one with Jesus through the reception of Holy Communion, etc. Secondly, Jesus saw his glory in his suffering. May we also be ready to accept our crosses as Christians (Mat. 16:24). There is nothing like a cross-less Christianity! Your own suffering may be economic or financial crises arising from your moral uprightness, family challenges, loss of job due to your unwillingness to compromise your faith or yield to immoral persuasions, intimidation or segregation or rejection, etc. When we have this deep knowledge of the Father and the Son, these our crosses will become less burdensome (Mt. 11:28). May we remember that we can also offer up our sufferings for the conversion of sinners as our mother Mary requested from the three seers of Fatima. Thirdly, let us always be ready to suffer for the sake of good and truth, and be careful not to suffer for the sake of the wrong we have done. This resolution keeps our minds on the precepts of Christianity. It is only then that we shall always smile in the face of difficulties because we are towing the footsteps of Jesus.
Finally, may our dreams and prayers be in accordance with the second stanza of the day’s psalm, “there is one thing I ask of the Lord, only this do I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire into his temple” (Psa. 27:4). We ask the Lord (as in the Collect) to graciously hear our supplications, so that we, who believe that the Saviour of the human race is with you in your glory, may experience, as he promised, until the end of the world, his abiding (eternal) presence among us. Amen!
Peace be with you !