MAY 16, 2002, HOMIILY: JOHN 17:20-26

 I HAVE GIVEN THEM THE GLORY THAT YOU HAVE GIVEN ME THAT THEY MAY BE ONE IN US ANDTHE WORLD MIGHT BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME.  One of the reasons the primitive Church of Jerusalem so impressed their fellow citizens was their mutual concern for one another. The Acts of the Apostles describes their community in glowing terms: ‘And the multitude of believers were of one heart and one soul, nor did any of them call anything his own, but all things were held in common. (4:32).  As so often happens in human groupings, however, once their number increased rapidly and considerably, it was not long before tensions arose which threatened this unity, as the same book of Acts tells us. ‘But in those days, as the number of disciples grew, the Greeks murmured against the Hebrews that in the daily service their widows were neglected (6:1)’.   Nothing is more natural than that men take care of their own first, and unless special care is taken,  they will come to give all their concern only to those with whom they have affinity and neglect others, even those for whom they have responsibility.  

That such behavior soon becomes a source of resentment is inevitable; indeed, resentment in these circumstances is a healthy reaction when it leads to action calculated to re-establish justice to the helpless. Had this situation been allowed to continue uncorrected, it would surely have created clicks at first, and result in division and possibly even a schism along cultural lines. In fact, that is what has happened in the Church at a later age, and its effects are still with us today.  The witness of the early Church was so efficacious precisely because of a concern for one another regardless of such differences as language and culture, poverty and riches. Today there is much concern for remaking the unity among the Churches in order to respond to the prayer of Christ and to give a clearer, more effective witness to the world of the grace and love he offers to his followers. 

The obligation to live in unity is incumbent on all who believe in Jesus as Lord and accept him as their Redeemer. It must be put into effect not only on the level of relations between the various Churches and sects that exist today in such considerable numbers; each community of believers has the duty to create and maintain a visible and fervent union among all its members in order fully to respond to the desire of our Lord. This applies with a more particular force to monastic communities.  St. Benedict was very sensitive to the various ways in which unity is weakened in a monastery and sought to obviate this danger by prescribing very specific correctives. One important one is to assure that channels of communication are open so that legitimate complains are listened to by the  abbot and other superiors. The apostles gave a good example to all of us when they, who were mostly Hebrews, listened to the complaints of the Greeks against their fellow Jews, and responded by providing correctives. Another is for each monk to act responsibly so as to avoid complaining and gossiping with those who are no capable of judging and correcting the abuse if there is one. Great harm has come to many a community in the course of history, and even in recent times, from such murmuring, as it has to the larger Church. 

In this prayer Jesus reveals one of the most intimate desires of his heart: that his followers be united among themselves. He gives the reason why such unity means so much to him: it is a condition for effective witness to his unity with the Father. This is so because Jesus and the Father are themselves united in a loving relation that is the model for all those called to eternal life. The Eucharist we offer at this altar this morning is the sacrament of this unity. It is a sign that we are one among ourselves as well as with the Lord. May our life in all its aspects be an expression of this oneness of spirit and of heart to the glory of God and the sanctification of all who are called to share his glory.  

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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