I pray that they may all be one.
This, St John tells us, was the last request that Jesus made in the great prayer which he offered up to God his Father for his followers and for the world. In a few hours he was to be arrested and condemned to die on the cross.
'I pray that they may all be one,' he said. You will not be surprised to be told that today's gospel reading is considered the most appropriate one for World Communications Day in other words for today. This is the day when the Church is asking us to reflect on how, all over the world, the media can -- or, more correctly, should -- bring human beings closer together, and how we can support the important Church organisations dedicated to working with the media.
Neither will you be surprised to learn that this gospel reading is one often favoured for Peace Day, which occurs in mid-January. And we hear it quite frequently at weddings.
Its popularity does not lessen its power, however. It movingly reminds us that divisions among Christians began very early indeed: in fact, from the very beginnings of Christianity. Even during Jesus's ministry the disciples were contending with each other over which of them was the most important.
There was then, and still is, a need constantly to pray that love will not grow cold. Yet, for all their shortcomings, what is striking about the faithful eleven disciples closest to Jesus is their stability.
It is important for us never to forget that when Jesus prayed 'that they may all be one', though he undoubtedly had his disciples and, in fact, all future believers in him very much in his mind, what he was praying for was something much more profound than a comfortable secular togetherness. As the rest of this wonderful prayer reveals, what he was basically praying for was really nothing less than the mending of creation, in other words the restoring of creation to its original relationship with God.
This is what we say that Christ died for. But the revealing of the fact that he had brought peace to the world -- that was something for us, his followers, to do, or at least to start. Now, nevertheless, two thousand years have gone by, and we live in a world quite as violent as the world of Jesus's time and far more materialistic. And, by and large, Christians are making no serious attempt to challenge the world around them.
Jesus never, of course, thought that the revealing to the world of his victory over the powers of darkness, division and death would be something quick and easy to do. He knew too profoundly the weaknesses of human nature to think that. And that is why he prayed -- prayed that we may all be one. And why he promised that he would not leave us deserted, solely dependent on our own resources.
His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is with us wherever we may be: among us, and closer to us than we are to ourselves. Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, the birth of the Church.
During this coming week, day after day, at Mass throughout the world, the Church prays that the Holy Spirit may fill our lives, so that we may serve God with all our hearts and that we may work together with unselfish love. The strength of God can be our strength, if only we are ready to make ourselves open to accepting it.
Remember, then: however grim or difficult may be any situation you find yourself facing, you are in fact never really alone, never facing something Christ has not already faced. As the letter to the Hebrews says about Christ, 'He is our pioneer.'