Jesus' prayer in the John chapter 17 is often referred to as the High Priestly Prayer. In verse three we read "Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ."
In the past, I have ploughed through this verse without giving it much thought. I missed so much. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Benedict said about this verse:
"'Eternal Life' is not - as the modern reader might immediately assume - life after death, in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal. 'Eternal life' is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death. This is the point: to seize 'life' here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone."
This is important for people like me who are chronically ill. Eternity is not bound by time.
Whether I live or die, Christ is with me. Through my relationship with Christ I no longer merely exist. Even in chronic illness and disability I have begun to live more fully than ever before. Eternal life has already begun.
Eternal life consists of knowing the one true God through Jesus Christ. As we draw nearer to the Master we begin to really live. Again Pope Benedict:
"'Because I live, you will live also,' says Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper (John 14.19), and he thereby reveals once again that a distinguishing feature of the disciple of Jesus is the fact that he 'lives': beyond the mere fact of existing, he has found and embraced the real life that everyone is seeking" (Jesus of Nazareth, p.83)
God is accessible to you and me through his only begotten Son. That is why God sent Christ. Through faith we have eternal life (John 3.16). This is not a future possession - it is a real possession beginning here and now.
As people draw nearer to that which is eternal, eternity becomes clearer; as they draw nearer to the Holy One they become more holy and sanctified . . . set apart for God.
Christ said we are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5.48). But how can someone imperfect and flawed like me become perfect? From the preceding verses in this passage of Matthew, I think Jesus was referring to how we love. God is love.
Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13.34). It is through love that Christ draws closer to his followers and makes them holy as they grow in his love. It is through love that his followers give their greatest witness.
Suffering has opened to me new understanding of divine love.
In suffering we are presented with a stark choice: We can rail against it and let it make us angry and bitter. By doing this, we fall short of our full humanity.
Conversely, we can choose to surrender our pain to God and pray "Father take away this cup, nevertheless not my will but Your will be done." By relinquishing ownership of our agony, we begin to transcend beyond ourselves and truly become children of God. We can begin to move toward perfection within divine love.
Pain can either cause a man to bow and submit to God or to stiffen his neck and curse God. Think of the two thieves crucified with Christ: one cursed Christ in his agony and lost his chance for eternal love; the other asked in his pain that Christ would remember him and won a place in paradise. Christ's perfect love offered through suffering brings many to glory.
I strive (and sometimes fail) to give my lesser suffering to Christ as a vehicle for my sanctification – a purifying fire to bring me forth as gold to be offered to him.
What is your pain? Give it to Christ. You can transcend your agony into a new freedom "to seize life" here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone."