Saint Irenaeus, Bishop, Doctor and Martyr – Readings

Commentaries on 2 Timothy 2:22-26; Psalm 36; 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 “on behalf of those who believe in me through their word”.

Jesus prays that:

… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have 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’.

This prayer for unity among the followers of Christ reflects the life work of Irenaeus.  He spent his life dealing with false interpretations of the Christian messages, whether it was the Montanists, or the Gnostics or others.  All these movements tended to bring great divisions and were a cause of confusion among many Christians.

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.

In the First Reading from the Second Letter to Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy on how to deal with situations where there are disputes between Church members. He tells Timothy:

Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace…Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.

In a quarrel, each side is trying to prove itself right and the other side wrong.  What is needed is mutual listening and dialogue so that there is a common effort to find the truth.

…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.

That is good advice for all of us.

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