DECEMBER 27, 2004- ST JOHN, EVANGELIST: 1 JOHN 1-4; JOHN 20:1, 2-8
JOHN RAN TO THE TOMB WITH PETER; HE SAW THE BURIAL CLOTHS NEATLY FOLDED AND HE BELIEVED. Very early the faithful, and among them the most learned and gifted men of their age such as Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, identified John as the beloved disciple and the author of the fourth gospel. Like all historical facts this cannot be proved definitively, but it is supported by abundant authorities as well as by sound reasons provided by his text that portrays Jesus from the deepest and most intimate center of his personality. St Irenaeus was born in Smyrna and when a youth had personal contact with the martyr St. Polycarp. He affirmed that Polycarp had lived with the apostle John who is described as leaning on the breast of Jesus at the last supper. He adds that he wrote the Gospel while living in Ephesus. He wrote in his old age, after spending many years in devoted, loving meditation on the person of Christ. As he did so the events of the Lord’s life and the more hidden areas of his personality took on forms that transcended the psycho-social historical. John came to understand the Lord, his teaching and the acts he performed from the point of view of his return to the Father in glory by way of the cross. This viewpoint gives the characteristic tone to the whole of his Gospel. The horizon within which he depicts the person and acts of the Lord is infinite as he makes clear from the first line of his Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." God himself is the light in which the events and teaching of his Gospel are viewed and evaluated. He states as much in the course of his Prolog: “We saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It is not surprising then that John soon became a symbol of the contemplative life which is dedicated primarily to loving knowledge of the Lord, activated in faith during this life. For John's knowledge of Jesus was so penetrating, so true and faithful to the person of Christ precisely because a selfless and ardent love gave light to his mind and sharpened his gaze. Some centuries later Gregory the Great was to point out that 'love itself is knowing' (amor ipse notitia est) and still later William of St. Thierry varied this saying slightly and deepening the thought appreciably, he wrote that 'love itself is understanding' (amor ipse intellectus est). Love alone allows us to know another; only love permits us truly to understand the other as a unique person. [A modern novelist has essentially the same insight: ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’Antoine de Saint-Exupery]
The whole of John's Gospel is written as a witness of love for the Word of God made flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a major theme as well of his first epistle which was written at the same period his life as the Gospel. “This is the message as you heard it from the beginning: that we are to love one another.” (3:11) And he goes on to add: “God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him.” (4:16) This love is manifested by putting his teaching into practice: “...our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.” (3:18) And he specifies just what kind of activity is involved: “His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to do. Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him” (3:23, 24).
As if to follow up on John’s words St. Basil asks in one of his longer Rules if love of God can be taught. It does not need to be, he answers; only look deeply into your nature and you will discover it already there. What can be taught and passed on, however, is how to cultivate and strengthen love. That is precisely what St. John attempts in his letter and in his Gospel. Faith itself is a fruit of love of light and truth. We can love God only by putting faith in his son, the Lord Jesus. His words and the example of his life can then teach us all things as John puts it: “We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived. (2:5, 6)” The very purpose of Christian life and of monastic life in particular is to carry out this simple program of imitating Christ so as to be able to love the Father and all who belong to him. May we so carry out our duties and put into effect the opportunities that Providence offers us as to develop our spiritual senses in the service of love. Then, with St John we can say “we are already children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is (3:2).” This affirmation sums up the meaning of life and sets before us the purpose for which we are here on earth: to adhere to God by faith and become like him by love. By the grace of God given in this Holy Eucharist, may we all carry out this program of true love until the day of Christ Jesus.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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