Today’s Gospel continues and almost concludes the “farewell discourse” of Jesus. This prayer to the Father for the disciples happens at the Last Supper. At the conclusion of the Supper, Jesus will go across the Kidron valley to the Garden of Gethsemane where he will be met by Judas and the band of soldiers. The Passion is about to begin. Jesus is about to be arrested and be separated from his disciples. He knows it. We hear words that express the heart of this man who is God who is sending his disciples into the world when his earthly preparation of them is complete. This is a time of transition. Transitions are difficult and painful. We can hear the longing in his voice. He entrusts them to the Father and prays for their unity - that they continue to share the unity that he has with the Father - that they do not lose the bond of love he has with them. He wants them to be happy - to share his joy - this joy of communion with the Father. Jesus’ prayer captures the experience of any mother or father who’s child is leaving home - going out into the world: to go to high school or college or to move away to start a new job. You want them to be happy, but you also do not want them to get hurt. Being sent into the world is a necessary part of growing up. That a child can make this transition is a sign of a successful parent, i.e., that the parent really is no longer needed. Jesus describes a dynamic that really defines the Christian life. The Christian is sent into the world but does not belong to the world. This dynamic describes a tension in the life of the Christian that is essential to the fruitfulness of the mission and the joy that Jesus desires for each of us. As human beings, we have a need for belonging yet also a need for freedom, and these two needs are in tension. The paradox is that only in our belonging do we find freedom. We need to grapple with this tension to understand who we are as human beings - what our identity is. We are not looking for some “middle ground” between belonging and freedom but the integration of these two dynamics. In Christ, these two dimensions find their integration. In communion with Christ we experience real freedom. Only with the awareness that we belong to Christ and not to this world are we able to go forth in the world freely. How do we get there? We need someone who witnesses to this integration in their life and is able to accompany us in the tension or struggle of the cross. That is the path to unity and joy. The Christian is met with hatred because we challenge the worldly notion that I can’t be free if I belong to a tradition, i.e., if I belong to something greater than myself, i.e., that I depend on another. We often interpret our desire for freedom as a need to separate ourselves from the law - we need to reject the law to be ourselves. But our desire for freedom is always drawing me to another - we want to be appreciated, wanted, and desired for ourselves. We all want to be recognized and seen, but unless we are desired, our experience of desire will fade as will our life. A priest who is a high school teacher remarked recently how much desire is lacking in his students. They are afraid of desire. They either want you to just tell them what to do or get rid of all the laws - change the law to match their desire so nothing they do is “wrong”. They don’t want to live in the tension that comes with the desire. It is in these teenage years where we witness the rejection of father and mother and the rebelliousness that expresses a desire to be noticed by another. When that person encounters the desire of another, their world opens up and everything has meaning. It is in the longing to be desired and recognized that we become fruitful - when I accept that I depend on the other and discover the other who desires me. This is where the integration of law and desire takes place. We notice how Jesus doesn’t set the law and tradition aside. He loves and accompanies the person struggling, and his recognition of them moves them to belong to him and fulfill the law. Jesus criticizes the Pharisees because they live the law without desire - “Just tell me what to do” - and they reject and don’t recognize those who fall short of the law. The law is for man, not man for the law. If we try to chart our own course apart from the law or without the law, our desire dies. What happens with the death of desire is that people don’t want to be in relationships. Desire is not the enemy of the law but is the engine that moves you to seek relationship, and ultimately a relationship with God. How do we accompany each other into the discovery that there is this someone who longs for you and your desire is not in opposition to the law?
As parents and as a priest who is a spiritual father, we run into this challenge all the time. We are challenged to live in this tension of staying with the other who rejects us or hates us or rebels against the law or tradition. In the face of the rejection, we are tempted to go either one of two ways: 1) lay down the law. “You follow the law or else you are not welcome here.” or 2) throw out the law or ignore the law or say the transgression does not matter. “You’re OK. Do what you want. As long as you’re happy.” But any parent knows that either of these positions precludes the possibility of joy in the relationship. It doesn’t give us joy to take either of those positions. And both positions shut down the desire in the other. What is the harder position to take - one that maintains the tension - is to stay faithful to the tradition (not compromising the truth), while accompanying and desiring and recognizing the other in his or her struggle. This is the method of the Father in the parable of the prodigal son. He allows the son to reject him and doesn’t place demands on his son. The son has his own idea of freedom that it is found apart from relationship, but that path led him to a form of degrading servitude. The son in his freedom goes on a journey and discovers through this journey that his deep desire is that he belong with the Father. That discovery would not have been made if the journey was shut down or not permitted to happen or if the Father was not patiently waiting and desiring his son. The father desires the son more than the son desires the father. When the son comes back and is met with an unexpected mercy - restored to sonship when he wasted his inheritance and has nothing to offer, there is great joy in the house. His desire finds its fulfillment. “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” (Lk 15:31). Often, when preparing couples for marriage, they are living together prior to the wedding. Do you ignore it or say if you don’t separate I’m not going to marry you? Or do you ask them what they desire - what they are looking for and how the church teaching is in line with that desire. What I’ve found is that most times either the situation is ignored - that’s ok - what are you going to do - that is how it is these days - or there is some threat or legalistic response. “We were just told it is wrong and you shouldn’t do it but nobody ever gave us any reason or explanation why it is not good.” What is surprising is when the priest looks at them with love and patiently explains the church’s teaching and leaves it to their freedom to judge what it is that fulfills their desire. This is the path that maintains the tension but opens the possibility for conversion and unity. Any other path is a path that otherwise either maintains or promotes division. It is important to note that the criteria for picking a replacement for Judas is that the person walked with Jesus from the beginning of the public ministry until the Ascension. That he be a witness to the resurrection. To preach the Gospel and share the good news one must have experienced that the cross is not the end. He has to be someone who can accompany another through the cross to the resurrection. This faithfulness is the sign that we belong to something and someone greater than the world, and it is that witness of merciful love that calls us to the truth and consecrates us in the truth. May we pray for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with Christ’s merciful love so that we can be witnesses of the resurrection and renew the face of the earth.