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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Canon Law

The Church is born from the prayer of Jesus

Mon, 30 Jan 2012 15:47:00 +0000 Published in

In 1902 Alfred Loisy wrote, not without a certain irony, that "Jesus announced the Kingdom and it is the Church that has come", a phrase that has been used during the 20th century to establish a civil service examination between Jesus and the Church. The Second Vatican Council affirms that the Church is the seed and instrument at the service of the Kingdom of God (cf. LG 5).

To understand the relationship between Jesus and the Church, and how Jesus founded it, it is necessary to "penetrate" into the prayer of Jesus. This is what Benedict XVI showed in his General Audience of January 25. He focused on the prayer that Jesus addresses to the Father at the "hour" of his elevation and glorification, which corresponds to his passion and death. It is the so-called "priestly prayer" (cf. Jn 17:1-26), because it is the prayer of the Supreme Priest, inseparable from his sacrifice for the salvation of all people of all times.

As he does in his book "Jesus of Nazareth" (volume II), the Pope places this prayer in the perspective of the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, in which the priest prays for himself, for the priestly class and for all the people.

Jesus prayed first of all for himself, asking for "the entrance in full obedience to the Father, an obedience that leads to the fullest filial condition" (cf. Jn 17:1). It is the first act of his new priesthood: "a complete self-giving on the cross, and precisely on the cross - the supreme act of love - he is glorified, because love is the true glory, the divine glory". It follows that each one of us must also ask for divine grace and strength for ourselves, to fulfill the will of God, to be fully children of our Father God and to give ourselves to him project.

Secondly, Jesus intercedes for his disciples (cf. Jn 17:6) so that the Father may sanctify them in truth. That is to say, to "continue the mission statement of Jesus, to be given to God so as to be at mission statement for all" (cf. Jn 20:21). Here too we should pause to recall the baptismal consecration that every Christian receives in baptism and which enables him or her to participate in the Church's mission statement . We should also keep in mind, in our prayer, the Christians around us (our parents or siblings, relatives, friends, etc.), who are called to be apostles of Jesus Christ. And we should try to make them aware of this.

Thirdly, Jesus prays for all Christians until the end of time, for the Church, for us (cf. Jn 17:20). Benedict XVI reaches here the summit of his exhibition. He understands that the prayer of Jesus gives rise to the Church. He must think of this in the context of all the events of Christ's life, of his death and resurrection, together with the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In this framework, there are, in fact, moments of special intensity in which Christ takes steps in the constitution or "foundation" of his Church (the constitution of the community of the disciples, the election and sending of "the Twelve", the vocation and mission statement of Peter, the Last Supper in connection with the sacrifice of the Cross, the apparition on Easter evening when, already risen, he confers the "power" to baptize and forgive sins, and, finally, the event of Pentecost).

The prayer of Jesus, which is like the soul of his submission and sacrifice for love of the Father and humanity, is always situated in this line. And that prayer, in its aspect of intercession for the Church, is intensified in this "priestly prayer" at the end of the Last Supper.

But let us continue with the Pope's words. He underlines in his homily at the closing of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: "The central petition of Jesus' priestly prayer, dedicated to his disciples of all times, is that of the future unity of all those who will believe in him".

He goes on to explain that this unity is not a worldly product, but a gift from Heaven. Jesus prays "that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). The unity of Christians, Benedict XVI continues, "on the one hand, is a hidden reality in the hearts of those who believe. But at the same time, this (unity) must appear clearly in history, it must appear so that the world may believe, it has a very practical and concrete purpose and it must appear so that all may truly be one". For this reason, "the unity of the future disciples, being unity with Jesus, whom the Father has sent into the world, is also the original source of the efficacy of the Christian mission statement in the world".

In a synthesis of what he has been saying, the Pope says: "We can say that in the priestly prayer of Jesus the institution of the Church is realized.... Right here, at the Last Supper, Jesus creates the Church". And he asks "what else is the Church but the community of disciples who, through faith in Jesus Christ as the one sent by the Father, receive their unity and are involved in the mission statement of Jesus to save the world, leading it to the knowledge of God". He insists, taking up some ideas and getting to the very heart of his message: "The Church is born of the prayer of Jesus. And this prayer is not only in words: it is the action by which He 'consecrates' Himself, that is, He 'sacrifices' Himself for the life of the world" (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, II, chapter 4).

In other words: "Jesus prays that his disciples may be one. By virtue of this unity, received and maintained, the Church can walk 'in the world' without being 'of the world' (cf. Jn 17:16) and live the mission statement entrusted to her so that the world may believe in the Son and in the Father who sent him. The Church then becomes the place where Christ's own mission statement continues: to lead the 'world' out of man's alienation from God and from himself, out of sin, so that it may once again become God's world."

Also in this central aspect we Christians can and must make Jesus' prayer our own (it is so in itself, but it must also be so because we unite ourselves to his prayer as best we can, with all our life). Thus, prayer for the Church, for all Christians in the world and for Christian unity, is not just for one week a year, but must be at the center of our intentions and petitions; indeed, at the center of our whole life, transformed into mission statement.

In synthesis, the priestly prayer of Christ signifies and realizes something decisive for humanity of all times: that the Church was willed and, in a profound and all-encompassing sense of her whole life, "founded" by Christ. And in this way Christ always remains the living and active foundation of the Church and of her mission statement, by the action of the Holy Spirit.