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“That all may be one”: a reflection on Jn 17:1-26 from the perspective of St. Arnold Janssen.

Author: Fabio Pires, SVD
Subject: John 17, 1-26
Language: English, Spanish
Year: 2021
Biblical Service in the Church
Biblical Service in the Church

One day, while leafing through a small book entitled: “Praying 15 days with St. Arnold Janssen – The Search for the Will of God” (Lisbon: Paulus, 2010), which presents some historical data on the life of St. Arnold and his mission, I was reminded of a reflection by Fr. José Jeronimo Hipolito, a Divine Word missionary.   I stopped at some biblical texts of St. Arnold Janssen’s preference.  Among them were the Prologue of St. John (Jn 1,1-18); The Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38); The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (Lk 2:1-20); The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:21-39); The Missionary Mandate (Mt 28:16-20), and others. St. Arnold had a special preference for these biblical texts. However, I was interested to know what St. Arnold prayed about and meditated on concerning the text of John 17:1-26, as well as his concern for Christian unity.

Obviously, St. Arnold had a special preference for the Prologue of St. John (Jn 1:1-18). Within our missionary charism, it is customary that, in our Eucharistic celebrations, moments of spirituality, retreats, perpetual vows, priestly ordinations, we have as a basis for these moments the text of the Gospel of St. John, specifically the Prologue (Jn 1:1-18). St. Arnold had a very great and special appreciation for this text, which marked his life and the origins of the religious congregations he founded. However, I was struck by the text of Jn 17-1-26 which deals with the theme of unity, under the title “Priestly Prayer”, which was also a favorite of St. Arnold, especially vv. 20,21 “I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you. And may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” This is the theme of unity.

Fr. Jeronimo affirms that St. Arnold in his life trajectory, from a very young age, was a man of causes. Not just any cause, but great causes (2010, p. 51). The cause of Christian unity was a great cause taken up by St. Arnold.

Germany is Luther’s homeland, says Fr. Jeronimo (2010, p. 52). In the German context, Luther’s ideas flourished. Indeed, a highlight was the translation of the Bible into German. Certainly, the Bible entered homes and was a source of spiritual and Christian life in families. As Fr. Jeronimo (2010, p. 52) states, people learned to pray through the Bible. And with the passage of time what was a division between Catholics and Protestants came about, later, but fructified into collaboration. Here there is an important aspect: trying to identify what can unite people, in this case the Word of God.

St. Arnold already had in mind the great challenge of living unity among the Christians of his time. He had a deep ecclesial sense, suffered the separation between Catholics and Protestants and committed himself to the great cause of Christian unity (Jeronimo, 2010, p. 53).

The text of John 17:1-26 was for St. Arnold a source of personal reading and meditation and of updating the Word of God for the historical moment in which he lived.

  1. Mass in Steyl
    Mass in Steyl
    A brief summary of the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John is distinct from the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, which are called the Synoptic Gospels. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ miracles are called signs: the wedding at Cana (2:1-12); the healing of the son of the royal official (4:46-54); the healing of a paralytic (5:1-9); the multiplication of the loaves (6:1-15); Jesus’ walking on water (6:16-21); the healing of a man born blind (9:1-41); the raising of Lazarus (11:1-44). These seven signs reveal Jesus’ relationship with the Father in a deep intimacy of love and Jesus’ love for humanity.

The Gospel is divided into two parts: after the prologue, 1:1-18, which has as its message “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14); the first part: 1:19-12:50 narrates the seven signs that reveal the being and mission of Jesus. The second part, 13:1-20:31, also called the “Book of Glory,” shows that the life of Jesus was not in vain in this world; his death on the cross is not a sign of defeat, but an act of generous self-giving and return to the Father. Chapter 21, 1-25 is an “appendix” intended to guide the life of those who follow Jesus in this world.

The end of John’s Gospel indicates the purpose of the work, cf. Jn 20:31 “These signs have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And that believing you may have life in his name”.

Chapter 17 is within a section called the Farewell Discourse, in chapters 13-17. Chapter 17 is a long prayer of Jesus addressing the Father, following the model of the “Our Father” that he taught his disciples. It is Jesus’ prayer for unity. In the prayer, Jesus frequently repeats his petition to the Father, in total six times the petition to the Father appears, cf. vv. 1,5,11,21,24,25. (THERE ARE ONLY THREE TMES HERE!)  He begins his prayer in deep intimacy with the Father. Jesus uses Aramaic (his mother tongue) Abba (dear Father, little father), which reveals his total obedience to the Father. The disciples of the Johannine community are called to live in love, in unity.

Love is capable of overcoming the various forms of prejudice that destroy the relationships between people (MARQUES; NAKANOSE, 2015). Thus, the Johannine community was made up of people from different groups, cultures, and mentalities. They were called to live the new covenant, based on love and universal solidarity.

The great concern of the community is the welcome, the practice of charity and service in gratuitousness, for example: “the washing of feet”.

  1. A reflection based on Jn 17:21-23.

“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 have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one, as we are one. I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity, and that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me”.

The central theme is unity and love. Unity of the Father and of the Son Jesus. Unity also among the disciples of Jesus. This union must create a strong bond marked by love, so that the world can be transformed and enlightened by unity. The Gospel of John reveals the deep love of Jesus and the Father. The Church must also be a community marked by love. Followers continue with the same goal: to live unity in love.

The way of life of Christians must reveal this profound dynamic born of the love of the Father and the Son as a profound sign of unity. Another model prayer of fraternity and unity is the “Our Father”. Therefore, God’s will is to live concretely in love, in charity among brothers and sisters, so that the whole world may be transformed in the dynamics of love.

  1. St. Arnold and the Gift of Unity

St. Arnold Janssen prayed and knew how to update this text of the Gospel of St. John and make it the reality in which he lived. He knew how to interpret the signs of the times and to perceive the great challenge of unity among Christians. In this way, he translated the sacred words of John’s Gospel into the historical actuality of his time.

Even if, by a remote hypothesis, the Priestly Prayer or the Prayer for Unity were not on Arnold’s list of favorite texts, we could safely attribute to him a great predilection for the 17th chapter of John (Jeronimo, 2010, p. 71).

Arnold held in great esteem the gift of unity, of diversity in unity. He knew and lived the drama of the lack of unity between Catholics and Protestants in Germany, although he saw how they were united by many important things: faith, and Holy Scripture (Jeronimo, 2010, p. 71).

Arnold deeply desired that the members of his foundation, wherever they were and wherever they worked, could live the fundamental unity of faith, of love for God, of dedication to the missionary cause over and above differences of language, culture, and nationality (Jeronimo, 2010, p. 71-72).

Ecumenism, which is that profound search for unity among the Christian churches, among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth in living the Gospel and its values, was already present in the life of St. Arnold. Therefore, this text of the Gospel of John was for him a spiritual source in the concrete search for unity.

  1. A brief update

We live in a world marked by divisions. Divisions between powerful and rich powers, on the one hand, and on the other, poor countries, marked by misery and profound signs of injustice and exploitation of their peoples. Divisions within families and among their members. Divisions in the religious world and in the religious communities themselves. Then there are ideological, partisan, and political divisions. However, in the face of so many divisive realities, there is a strong call for unity in diversity. This is the challenge: to know how to build bridges to overcome barriers and divisions.

The text of Jn 17:1-26 challenges us to the deep love of the unity of the Father and of Jesus, the Son.  Just as St. Arnold knew how to discover and update the Gospel message for his life and for the reality of his time and of the missionary reality in a constant search for unity, so also consecrated men and women, in the Love of the Divine Word, of Jesus of Nazareth, and of human and fraternal values, should know how to incarnate and live the practice of unity in love and peace.

Let us renew this commitment to unity in love and justice. Guided by the Word of God, let us make the Gospel a reality in our daily lives.


Fábio Pires, SVD

Fabio Pires is a Divine Word missionary. He was born in Cananéia, São Paulo. The son of André Pires and Elza Pires. Appointed to the BRC province, he dedicated himself to parish ministry for several years. He is currently a student of the Post-Graduation Program in Theology-PUC-PR in the biblical area.

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