Commentary on Phil 4:4-9; Ps 33; John 17:20-26
The Gospel reading is part of Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers. It comes from his long discourse during the Last Supper as given to us in John’s gospel. In this particular part of the prayer, he is praying not for those disciples who are with him at the supper but “for those who will believe in me through their word”.
Jesus prays that “they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me”. For this is the way that people will come to recognise the true identity of Jesus. To be a follower of Jesus is not simply to believe in him and lead a good life. It is not to see the Church as some kind of organisation outside of me but to which I go to get the ‘graces’ I need to be a good person, to keep the commandments and as a place where I can carry out my ‘religious obligations’ and in the end ‘save my soul’.
To be a follower of Jesus is essentially to be a follower with and through others. The Christian life is essentially communal. And Jesus is saying here that the most potent witness we can give of who he is is that we who claim to follow him do so as part of a fellowship. It is said that in the early Church there was a saying: “See those Christians how they love one another!” That was one of the most striking characteristics to the pagan eye, namely, that people who came from different ethnic and social backgrounds could live together in such harmony. This was something strange to societies which strongly and defensively identified with their own group.
Jesus had said this earlier during the same discourse. In giving his disciples a “new” commandment, he had told them to “love one another as I have loved you”. And, he continued, “by this will all people know that you are my followers: that you have love one for another”. This was to be the defining mark of the Christian – to be a ‘with-person’ or an ‘inter-person’. There is no room for individualism, going it alone to Jesus. This is a very relevant message for our individualistic, self-seeking, post-modern times.
Of course, the life of Philip Neri was very much along the line presented by Jesus. This is evident, first, from the concern he showed to the poor and needy, even to the prostitutes of Rome whom he tried to rescue from their slavery. It is seen in the Congregation which he established which is based so much on a brotherhood of equals rather than on a structure of discipline and obedience. It is seen in the outgoing, warm character of Philip Neri.
It is not surprising, then, that the First Reading is from the Letter to the Philippians where the underlying theme is joy and happiness, traits particularly linked with Philip. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” are the words of Paul to the Christians at Philippi. “Your kindness should be known to all.”
“Have no anxiety at all.” Worry should never be part of the Christian’s life. As Fr Tony de Mello used to say: “If you worry, you will die. If you do not worry, you will die. So why worry?!” On the contrary, focus on the good things that have come our way. Be full of gratitude. And then what will happen? “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Again our minds should be filled with “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious… If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… Then the God of peace will be with you.” It could all be a word portrait of Philip Neri and what a lovely world it would be if everyone was like this!