“I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” John 17:6
A theme for today’s Mass is belonging. We long to belong. Yet, life does not always makes it easy for us to know where we belong and to whom we belong. Today’s Scriptures invites us to reflect upon these questions.
At this point in time in the Gospels, Jesus is getting ready to leave his disciples. He has to leave them twice. Once, as he prepared to take up his cross and suffer death by crucifixion, outside the walls of Jerusalem, as a common criminal. The second time, as he prepared to Ascend into Heaven, to take his rightful place at the right hand of God, his loving Father. Before he leaves his disciples, the people who loved him most in this world, he leaves us a testimony of Word and Sacrament, which we celebrate to this day. He left us the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Orders before he died. He left us the Sacraments of Penance and Confirmation, after he rose from the dead. Finally, he sent us his Spirit as he commissioned us as missionaries. We are to go out and baptize in his Name, preach in his Name and establish the Church in his Name. Jesus clearly knew that he belonged both to God, his Father, and to us, the people he died for, with love in his heart.
At the same time, the disciples had trouble understanding to whom they belonged, especially as they experienced Jesus die and Ascend into heaven. What does it mean to belong to Jesus, the Christ? What does it mean to belong as a disciple of Jesus? What does it mean to go out into the whole world and baptize and preach in Jesus’ name? These, indeed, are foundational questions of belonging.
One reason why these important questions are so difficult to answer is because our own life is a story of belonging, of coming to grips with questions as: where do we belong and to whom do we belong. Way before we became aware of our thoughts and feelings, we experienced belonging and rejection. We were learning the difference between belonging unconditionally or belonging only because of conditional love, a love that depended upon pleasure and mood of another or of others. Both life scenarios need the Grace of God to make us whole and holy. This is what Jesus was telling us in his farewell speeches. This was the experience of the disciples, from Peter to John to Paul.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel, as he prays to his God, his Father, “They (the disciples) belong to you.” Once we accept that we belong to the God who loves us unconditionally, then we can move forward in life. This is the ultimate act of Faith we are called to make. We, then, can leave behind our human origins and become a new people, a holy nation, a people set apart, a royal priesthood, to paraphrase St. Peter in one of his letters to us. St. Paul took another path to belonging Jesus. He found a way to belong and become a disciple, proclaiming the name of Jesus, baptizing in Jesus’ name. We can leave our old way of belonging and commit to belonging only to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
What a beautiful thought this is: that we belong to God who loves us unconditionally! We are, indeed, children of God, brothers and sisters to one another, anointed by the Holy Spirit. May we always belong to God!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Immaculate Conception Community in Chicago, Illinois.