Dear Friends in Christ at Holy Spirit and St. Helen’s,
Who is a disciple of Jesus? What distinguishes someone as a disciple? Is there a way to tell how close one is to being a disciple? Today’s gospel reading (taken from the 7th Sunday of Easter in place of the 6th Sunday gospel) provides a clear answer to each of these questions.
By the way since Ascension is celebrated on the 7th week of Easter in our Diocese there is an option to read the gospel for the Seventh Sunday a week early so that we do not miss this tender and heartfelt prayer Jesus prays for us. It comes at the end of the famous Last Supper Discourse. In it Jesus prays for unity, hope, and assurance. The beauty of this prayer is that it is extended beyond the Twelve and includes all who believe in the word they will preach and choose to embrace Jesus as they did.
A disciple according to this prayer is one who is close to Jesus. It is someone who opens their heart to Him. It is any person who is willing to let Him into their lives and allows their lives to be governed by their encounter with the Lord. So to answer the first question, a disciple is a person who wishes to encounter Jesus and allows that encounter to change their lives. A disciple seeks Jesus, embraces Him, determines to make His message his/her own and desires to become one with God, the Father.
What characteristic distinguishes a disciple? The answer is really simple, love. The prayer Jesus prays today is a prayer for love. It is an encouragement to follow the new commandment we heard last week and to make it our own. Earlier in the Last Supper discourse, Jesus invites his followers to love one another as he has loved them. Love is at the heart of being a disciple. The 60’s song, And They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love, echos this element of discipleship. The unity that Jesus prays for is a sign of love at work within us.
The intensity of our discipleship is calculated by our willingness to grow closer to God and our desire to be one with Him. Jesus prays that both his disciples and those who follow them may experience the oneness that Jesus shares with the Father. He prays in this manner, “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.” Oneness becomes the goal of a disciple and unity with Jesus and the Father becomes at the fulfillment of that goal.
Each of us is being called to become a disciple. Our Baptism amplified by the Sacrament of Confirmationpropels us towards this reality. The Eucharist nourishes us for the journey to realize our discipleship and the Church guides us along our path of destiny. The love of God is inviting to us to join Him in an experience of unity, expressed by love and empowered by the Holy Spirit.