“If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you.”
As I have already pointed out, the Gospels we have been reading during these Sundays between Easter and the Ascension are from Our Lord’s discourse after the Last Supper. It is a sublime set of instructions on the Holy Ghost, the Trinity, and the spiritual life. Today, we are getting the final portion before the great event of the Ascension, so it should be no surprise to hear our Lord say, “Again I leave the world and go to the Father.”
Useful Lessons. What we get in today’s readings is not what it might sound to be at first blush, an incomprehensible catalog of sacred utterances to confuse the Apostles and us before the Ascension. No, while it is stupefying in its scope and lofty in its content, today’s Gospel is also a very direct and simple declaration of concrete truths on Christian prayer. When we combine it with St. James’ very down-to-earth counsels about “pure and undefiled” religion, we get the real “meat and potatoes” of how we should pray well and how we should live well in order to pray better.
Epistle. St. James is a master of the basic and simple, the practical and day-to-day. This is what we should expect from the Apostle who tells us, “even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.”
His epistle today tells us to be “doers of the word,” and not “hearers only.” Further, he tells us what real religion is, or, as he calls it, “religion pure and undefiled before God the Father.” Even with what we know of St. James’ practical sense, it may come as a surprise to us that he tells us what this “pure and undefiled” religion is: “to give aid to orphans and widows in their tribulations, and to keep oneself unspotted from this world.” It sounds a bit naturalistic, doesn’t it? There isn’t even mention of God, or saying prayers, or any other notably “religious” thing is there?
I’ll get back to that point later. First, some words about the Gospel.
“In my name.” Our Lord tells the Apostles, “Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you.” But what does it mean to ask for something “in the name” of Jesus? There are many explanations of this. As it is one of those polyvalent words of Jesus which has many varieties of meaning. It can mean:
- Asking something that pertains to salvation. This is because Our Lord’s name is Jesus, which means Savior.
- In a related meaning, but with his own nuance, St. Augustine focuses in on the reference to joy: “Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full.” That Doctor says the phrase means asking what pertains to true happiness, to our spiritual and everlasting joy.
- Asking something by the infinite merits of the Savior.
- Asking “as a Christian,” for we bear the name of Christ ourselves.
I would like to combine these meanings and work in some nuances. These include the Mass, which Jesus has instituted just before He gave this discourse; the anticipated descent of the Holy Ghost, which He has foretold to his Apostles only minutes before; and the full doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. One important truth to recall is that the Apostles were perfected at Pentecost. That is, they were brought into what mystical theology calls the “unitive way.” Therefore, at Pentecost, they were mystics in the full and proper sense of the word, who were about to launch out on a fruitful apostolate to convert the world, and to suffer and to die for the name of Jesus.
With that background, here is another way to explain Our Lord’s words, “Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you”:
“As members of My Mystical Body, you will be offering worship to the Father through, with, and in Me, and in the unity of the Holy Ghost. Thanks to the Spirit of Pentecost, which you are soon to receive in His fullness, and the Blessed Sacrament, which you have just received here at the Last Supper, you are entering now completely into the glory of the New Testament. You have already been plunged into Me as “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” You are already sons of Mary. At Pentecost, you, my Apostles, will be raised to the hight of the spiritual life, to the way of the transforming union. Therefore, you are soon to live in the full freedom of the Holy Ghost and have instant access — through Me, My Cross, My Mass, and My Mother — to the Father. You will treat with the Father as if it were I myself who were doing so.“
“…In Ipso…” Think of the way we end our prayers: “per Dominum nostrum...” Think also of the Minor Elevation at the Mass — “through Him, with Him, and in Him, is to Thee, Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all Honor and Glory forever and ever.” We are “asking in his name” when we beseech the Father in Jesus Christ as his members. And we see this at its hight in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the official prayer of the Mystical Body of Christ.
“Hitherto.” Our Lord says to them, “Hitherto you have not asked anything in My name.” Because the Cross had not happened, the Mass had not been instituted, because all their prayers went either to the Father or to Jesus who delivered them to the Father, but they had not yet learned to pray in Jesus Christ to the Father. This is why the Master says He does not say He will ask the Father, for the Father loves us. What does this mean: “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father for you, for the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God”? It means this: I don’t need to pray for you as some human intercessor. When you pray as my members, you are praying through me. It is I who pray in you and you who pray in Me, because you and I form the Whole Christ. The Father looks at you praying and he sees Me praying. He hears you and he hears Me in you.
“Come down… return…” Our Lord emphasizes this identity of ourselves with Him when He says: “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again I leave the world and go to the Father.” In other words, “I have come down from the Father, gathered you into Me, and I will return to the Father, taking you in My Body. Even when you are still on earth, as long as you are in my Mystical Body, my Church, as long as you feed on my Sacramental Body and live by my Spirit, you are in Me and you have instant access to the Father.” The disciples are grateful for this straightforward talk concerning the Ascension. Even though it was a full two weeks ago in our liturgical cycle, in St. John’s account, it was only a few moments before that Our Lord uttered those obscure words: “A little while, and you shall not see me; and again a little while, and you shall see me, and, because I go to the Father.” Now he makes it clear, by saying, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again I leave the world and go to the Father.” And the Apostles gratefully reply, “Behold, now Thou speakest plainly, and utterest no parable.”
The Tie-In: Religion. How do we tie this in to St. James’ advice? And further, how do we save St. James from the charge of naturalism by promoting an inverted Lutheranism, a “good-works-only” religion? First, it should be pointed out that St. James is teaching us about the virtue of religion, that virtue by which we render to God what is his due. Prayer and Sacrifice are the main acts of the virtue of religion and these have four ends: Adoration, Thanksgiving, Reparation, and Petition.
Other Good Acts. But in addition to prayer and sacrifice — which (sacrifice) in the New Covenant is strictly limited to the Mass — the virtue of religion also commands certain other acts done in honor of God. So if we are penitent, merciful, patient, just to our neighbor, if we do corporal and spiritual works of mercy all in the name of Our Lord and in order to honor his majesty, we are performing them as acts of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and petition. This is what St. Peter called “spiritual sacrifices” — offering to God acts of all the virtues with the intention of thereby giving him praise and honor.
Avoiding Evil Acts. Further, if we fail to do these things — to live virtuously, that is — then our more properly so-called “religious acts” — attending Mass, prayers, and other spiritual exercises — are not going to please God. This is especially the case if we allow ourselves to corrupted by this world. When we become worldly and gravely sinful, our prayers and sacrifices are not pleasing to God. So, St. James is being very precise — and very supernatural — when he says that pure religion is “to give aid to orphans and widows in their tribulations, and to keep oneself unspotted from this world.”
Summary. Whether the Father Loves you — as our Lord told the Apostles He did — depends on whether you have the virtue of Charity in your soul, accompanied as it always is with it the State of Sanctifying Grace. Then, as a member of Christ, you can perform acts of religion in the name of Jesus. Believing in Jesus, you have the Love of the Father, and you will be blessed in your deeds.
Mirror. Be a hearer and a doer of the word, taking St. James’ counsel to use the Gospel as a mirror in which to study yourself, to see if you measure up. Don’t forget what you look like when you walk away from that mirror, that Gospel. Reflect on it while examining your conscience. Do the words that are commanded in it. Then will be realized in you the petition of today’s Postcommunion prayer: “grant us… both to desire that which is right, and to gain that which we desire.” Then, when you ask the Father anything in Jesus’ name, He will give it to you, because the desires of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are the desires of your heart, too.