Jesus' Prayer for Unity and Protection

by The Most Reverend Sean Alexander, DD, OSB | [Click to Listen]

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

It is with great joy and humility that I stand before you today to share the beautiful and powerful words of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 11b through 19, we find Jesus pouring out his heart in prayer for his beloved disciples, and ultimately, for all of us who follow him. His words are a testament to his deep love and concern for our well-being, and they offer us guidance and comfort in our daily lives.

As we begin, let us first set the scene. Jesus is nearing the end of his earthly ministry, and he knows that the time is coming for him to return to his Father in heaven. He has gathered his disciples together for one final meal, and he has shared with them the profound truth of his identity and mission. Now, as he prepares to leave them, he turns his eyes to heaven and begins to pray.

The first thing that strikes me about Jesus’ prayer is the intimate way in which he addresses God. He calls him “Holy Father,” a term that speaks of reverence and deep affection. This is not a distant or impersonal God, but a loving parent who cares deeply for his children. And what is the first thing that Jesus asks of his Father? It is for the protection and unity of his disciples.

“Holy Father,” he prays, “protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b) Jesus knows that the world can be a dangerous and divisive place, and he wants his followers to be safe and united in the face of any challenges that may come their way.

This prayer for protection and unity is just as relevant for us today as it was for the first disciples. We live in a world that is often marked by conflict, hatred, and division. We see it in our politics, in our communities, and even sometimes in our churches. But Jesus reminds us that we are called to be different. We are called to be one, just as he and the Father are one.

What does this unity look like? It means that we set aside our differences and our disagreements, and we focus on the things that unite us. It means that we love one another, even when we don’t see eye to eye. It means that we support and encourage one another, even when times are tough. And it means that we work together to build up the kingdom of God, even when the world around us seems to be tearing it down.

But Jesus doesn’t just pray for our unity. He also prays for our protection from the evil one. “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) Jesus knows that we will face temptations and trials in this life, but he doesn’t want us to be overcome by them. He wants us to have the strength and the courage to resist the devil and to stand firm in our faith.

This protection that Jesus prays for is not just physical protection, but spiritual protection as well. He wants us to be shielded from anything that could harm our souls or lead us away from God. This includes the lies and deceptions of the enemy, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. But it also includes the temptations of the world around us, which can lure us away from the path of righteousness.

How do we access this protection that Jesus prays for? The answer is simple: by staying close to him. When we abide in Jesus, we are surrounded by his love and his power. We are filled with his Holy Spirit, who gives us the wisdom and the strength to resist temptation and to live according to God’s will. And we are connected to the body of Christ, the church, which provides us with support, accountability, and encouragement in our walk with the Lord.

But Jesus doesn’t just pray for our protection and unity. He also prays for our sanctification, or our holiness. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) To be sanctified means to be set apart for God’s purposes, to be made holy and righteous in his sight. And Jesus tells us that the way to achieve this sanctification is through the truth of God’s word.

When we immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, when we meditate on them day and night, when we allow them to shape our thoughts and actions, we are transformed. We begin to see the world through God’s eyes, and we start to desire the things that he desires. We become more loving, more compassionate, more patient, and more kind. In short, we become more like Jesus.

This process of sanctification is not always easy. It requires us to confront our own sinfulness and to surrender our will to God’s. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to convict us of areas in our lives that need to change, and being willing to do the hard work of repentance and transformation. But the reward is worth it. As we grow in holiness, we experience the joy and peace that come from living in right relationship with God.

Finally, Jesus prays that we would be sent out into the world to share his message of love and salvation. “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18) Just as Jesus was sent by the Father to bring light and hope to a broken world, we too are called to be his witnesses and ambassadors.

This doesn’t mean that we all have to become missionaries or evangelists in the traditional sense. But it does mean that we are called to live out our faith in every aspect of our lives. We are called to be salt and light in our families, our workplaces, our schools, and our communities. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, to forgive those who wrong us, and to seek justice and mercy for the oppressed.

When we live in this way, we become a powerful witness to the love and truth of Jesus Christ. We show the world that there is another way to live, a way that is marked by compassion, generosity, and self-sacrifice. And we invite others to experience the same joy and freedom that we have found in Christ.

So, my dear friends, let us take these words of Jesus to heart. Let us strive for unity in our church and in our world. Let us rely on God’s protection and strength to resist temptation and sin. Let us allow his truth to sanctify us and make us holy. And let us go out into the world as his witnesses, sharing his love and his message of salvation with all those we meet.

May the Holy Spirit guide us and empower us as we seek to live out this high calling. May we be one, as Jesus and the Father are one. May we be protected from the schemes of the evil one. May we be sanctified by the truth of God’s word. And may we be sent out into the world to be salt and light, to the glory of God the Father.


Additional perspectives to consider: This sermon presents a traditional Catholic interpretation of John 17:11b-19. However, it’s important to recognize that there are many other Christian and non-Christian perspectives on this passage and on religion and spirituality more broadly.

Some key points to keep in mind:

  • Not everyone believes in the divinity of Jesus or the Christian conception of God. There are many other religious and non-religious worldviews.
  • Even within Christianity, there is a wide diversity of beliefs and practices. Catholic doctrine represents just one perspective.
  • Concepts like sanctification, holiness, sin, and salvation mean different things to different people and traditions. These are complex topics without universally agreed upon definitions.
  • The role and value of religion in society is a matter of ongoing debate and discussion. Many thoughtful and ethical people have differing views on it.

My aim here is not to advocate for any particular perspective, but rather to acknowledge the diversity of views that exist and to encourage further reflection and respectful dialogue. I believe we can discuss and think critically about religious and philosophical ideas while still treating one another with empathy and recognizing the humanity in those who believe differently than we do.

At the same time, for those who do find meaning and guidance in the Christian tradition, I hope this sermon has offered some valuable insights and encouragement. The message of unity, protection, sanctification, and mission that Jesus prays for in John 17 is a powerful one that still resonates today. May we all strive to live out these values in our own unique ways, according to our own beliefs and convictions.

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this profound passage of Scripture. I pray that God will bless you and guide you as you seek to follow him and to make a difference in the world.