SFX Bulletin, 12th May 2013: Without a thought, many of us today turn to social media to overcome the loneliness we often encounter. In recent years, studies have shown that this near-decade-old social media connectedness could increase our sense of isolation and loneliness rather than overcome it.
In his book, “The Meaning of Friendship”, Mark Vernon observed that on social media, we tend to embellish and even fabricate events, "we don't really live experiences, we live them to report them. We're editing ourselves rather than actually being ourselves. Rather than having a genuine encounter, your friends become your audience, and you are someone else's audience. The exchange is thwarted in both directions."
“Genuine encounter(s)” and genuine relationships are never smooth-sailing all the way. “Being ourselves” mean letting others see us as we truly are – not strong, controlled and confident all the time but oftentimes hurt, broken and more in need of being loved than having the strength to love. If we allowed others to see us for who we really are, would anyone even want to be our friend?
With this honest acknowledgement of our own frailties in mind, we can perhaps better appreciate Jesus’ prayer of intimacy and friendship in today’s gospel. This prayer is often called Jesus’ “high priestly prayer”. It is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus and what we read today is the final section of the prayer in which Jesus prays for us, “those…who through (the apostles) words…” have come to believe in Jesus (v.20).
The word “one” - is repeated throughout this prayer. Jesus prays that we will “all be one” and also “one in us” – not only united to each other but also united to himself and the Father. From this unity between God and man, Jesus prays that we will experience love – the love he has for us that propelled him to offer up his life on the cross so that we will all be united with God when our earthly lives are over – the same love which Jesus experienced from God that assured him that God will raise him to life after his crucifixion (cf.v.23).
The prayer is centred on the hope that we, as God’s adopted children through our baptism, will welcome this bond of love between God and man and become “so completely one” (v.23) that our love for each other and for God will become a sign to others of true authentic love – love that is willing to accept suffering and sacrifice for the good of another.
This intimate friendship that Jesus offers us can be frightening. Our social media behaviour reveals that we do not want our true selves with its weaknesses and all to be seen by anyone. Jesus assures us today that his offer of friendship is made precisely to help us overcome our weaknesses, resist sin and regain our dignity. At the same time, he gives to us his power to forgive those who have hurt us because of their weaknesses or ignorance.
In today’s prayer, Jesus also prays that we will be where he is so that we may “always see the glory” that God had given him (v.24). While we cannot be in heaven with Jesus just yet, Jesus wants us to fix our hearts and minds on his “glory” – his Ascension into heaven with God the Father where he unceasingly prays for us and gives us strength to live as God’s children should.
Jesus knows the experience of being alone and he found the perfect and authentic – not virtual or illusory – way of overcoming human alienation. Anticipating his disciples’ abandonment at his arrest, Jesus said to his disciples, “…you will be scattered…You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (Jn. 16:32).
This surety of God’s presence came from Jesus’ prayer life. If we feel an emptiness in our deepest being today, let us resist the temptation to turn to social media but turn instead to prayer and seek understanding for our emptiness. As we experience Jesus’ consolation and grow “so completely one” with him and our loving Father, we will not only be able to face unjust alienation but even pray for those who hurt us. Let us not be afraid to invite Jesus intimately into our lives. Come, Lord Jesus! (Apc.22:20).