Seventh Sunday of Easter at Mississippi Abbey
As we near the end of Easter we are given a portion of the High Priestly prayer of Jesus. It is the night before He is to suffer a gruesome death. He’s doubtless seen others crucified and knows what He is in for. But in this glimpse of His prayer life, we see Him pray for the sake of others. And that “sake” is for all to be united around a common purpose…a purpose greater than self-interest. That’s called “a mission.”
He prays, “Heavenly Father, the world does not know you.” “The World” is the society of those who are self-seeking. Jesus continues, “…but I know you…I have made known to my disciples your name…and that the love with which you love me may be in them and I in them.” We are being given a purpose in life and the power to carry it out. Jesus’ first concern is His mission in life. He is passing that mission and its importance on to us.
Early in the history of monasticism Evagrius Ponticus warned monks of the danger that thinking can pose to receiving that purpose and power. He wrote about eight categories of thoughts that can cause us to turn to the self-seeking ways of the world.
A sense of purpose organizes aimless, drifting thoughts toward a desired destination. As our veteran sister’s know, the promises of Christ often lead to long periods of lethargy, but that does not have the last word. It is that purpose-of-Christ, that dedication-of-self-to-mission that gave power to thought of Him…and let it prevail. It gave our thought-life focus and concentration on a mission that affected us in ways that are pervasive, enduring and deep. It turns obstacles into stepping-stones and builds character.
Being clear about our purpose, we must then decide to submit to it. That is reverence. Living by and for moral values also distinguishes one from the world of self-seeking. One is attracted to the noble as being more important than the sensually satisfying. It is thus that moral values become not someone else’s rules, but personal values. We must be able to grasp what is important-in-itself, know how it intimidates us, and prefer it anyway. To meet this challenge, we will need a community and a story that gives a way of life. For value to outweigh the personally satisfying, one must live a shared way of life that is preoccupied with value. A “value” is something of great worth. “Mission” is of great worth. And that will require faithfulness.
Faithfulness gives one a sense of inner consistency and unity. Rather than an inner life consisting of bouncing from one impression to another, it is a life with a destination and everything gets its importance from its relation to that mission. That’s why the “secret to life is One Thing.” A deliberate decision made in a community with a shared story makes one a person “living-in-the-truth” rather than yielding to passing impressions from daily events. The impressions are not necessarily bad. They are stored at a certain depth in oneself according to their importance. Jesus is saying that the Father is what is most important, is that which we revere, is that to whom we are faithful in our way of life.
And what is the consequence of Jesus’ prayer and our reception of the purpose and power? Self-cultivation is not our purpose. It is “that the world may believe.” What will make them believe? “Look at how they love one another.” Care for one another’s good is the strongest advertisement for the truth of the faith. It is our mission.