The Second Vatican Council called for a renewed sense of holiness among all the faithful not just the priests and religious. The council referred to this as the “Universal call to Holiness.” It was the common practice among Catholics to hold that the laity participated in the holiness of the religious through their devotional and moral life, but there was no real sense of what it meant for an ordinary layman or woman to be “holy.”

While men and women often went on retreats and were familiar with many private devotions, what was lacking was a real sense of engaging the world with holiness. To a real extent, the recognition of this call to be holy is the groundwork of the new evangelization. We can more authentically share with others that which we have deeply incorporated into our lives.

This call to holiness is seen in the prayer of Jesus in our Gospel this week. As he prays for the Church, Jesus has in mind not just his 12 disciples but the entire communion of saints. Jesus is praying for each of us, and as the Good Shepherd, he prays for each of us by name.

It is fitting that we hear this passage as we are at that awkward time between the Ascension and Pentecost. The confusion that must have reigned with the disciples in those days immediately following the Ascension was no doubt overwhelming. It was then that they most clearly must have felt as though they were sheep who had lost their shepherd.

In the midst of this chaos, Peter has the foresight to think about the future. In the absence of Jesus and prior to the full realization of their mission through the power of the Holy Spirit, the importance of sharing their new found faith with others was of primary importance. Peter is concerned with filling the role abandoned by Judas. Through prayer they discern that Matthias, who has been with them from the beginning, should become the 12th apostle. It will be through Matthias, along with the 11, that the continuity of the teaching of Jesus will be realized.

This concern of Peter for the Church reflects the prayer of Jesus in the Gospel. He prays for his disciples, for their strength in service and their courage during trial.  They did not understand what was ahead of them. It is not until Pentecost that they will be able to make the next step in the journey.

Although we are guided by the same realization as Peter we can often find ourselves struggling and alone on the journey. This is especially true for those of us who have seen our families and friends grow tepid in faith or abandon it all together. We pray for them, hoping that they experience a renewed sense of the presence of God, perhaps that they have their own Pentecost moment.

The prayer of Jesus this week is his prayer for us. It is through the life of faith, through our response to the call to holiness that Jesus lays out for us in the Gospel, that we can continue to enliven our spiritual lives and be drawn ever deeper into communion with Christ. We subsequently pray that our own holiness will lead others to renew their lives with Christ and the Church. It is through holy lives that we can authentically evangelize the world.

Father Garry Koch is parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River.