MAY 18, 2011, WEDNESDAY 4TH WEEK OF EASTER: JOHN 12:44-50

 

TO KNOW JESUS in his person, not only by his appearance and name and other external characteristics, remains today as it was already in his lifetime on earth, possible only to trusting faith. For unlike every other man and woman, our Lord is not, in his person, an individual human self; rather, he is more than human, for he is divine in his person, while  in he is both human and divine in nature. Although this truth is revealed to us in various statements in Scripture, and it is fundamental to the Catholic faith and to the faith of each of us who believe in him, yet we have no complete idea of just what this fact really means.

 

In today’s Gospel our Lord himself speaks in a manner that stirs such reflections when we ponder them, earnestly seeking to grasp the fullness of their meaning. He expresses the matter with these words that become the more mysterious in their implications the more we attempt to penetrate them: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever see me sees him who sent me.”

 

Such affirmations readily require us to discern exactly what reality Jesus here points to with these mysterious words. Taken literally these statements seem to contain contradictory concepts. How can it be that to see our Lord is not to perceive him but his Father, who is the One who sent him? To find meaning in them we must focus our attention and concentrate our minds. It would seem that it was our Lord’s purpose in so expressing himself precisely to challenge us to put aside other matters and engage our whole attention in considering his meaning. The problem arises here, as I see it, largely from the different meanings covered by the word person. Our modern idea of a person is that of an individual, free, independent agent. American Heritage Dictionary gives as a definition of person “the composite of characteristics that make up an individual personality.” I find this quite inadequate even when applied to humans. There is something about each person that is more than the individual characterists. Somehow hidden within, and as it were, standing behind, the outward features there is a self that is more than the collection of characteristics. This self cannot be captured fully in any one word, by any of the personality traits, or by all of them together. The reason is that it is transcendent in nature. That is to say, it is fashioned on a model that is beyond anything created in time. So it is not surprising that it is quite misleading when the same dictionary defines the divine persons as “the separate individualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as distinguished from the essence which unites them.”

 

There are not separate individuals in the Trinity, and that is the very point that Jesus makes in our text. A divine person is not separate from the other divine persons, for there is but one essence subsisting in three substantial relations. Were they separate individuals there would be three Gods. But only One God exists, while they are three divine persons. A divine person, as Karl Rahner underlines, is not definable by the same term that is used of humans: applied to God, person is unique in its meaning. And this is the issue that Jesus makes in his discourse with his unbelieving audience. To see Jesus is to see the Father because he not only is the filial relation to Him but also shares the same real essence so that the Father is One with him, as the Lord says elsewhere.

 

In speaking of these matters here today we are carried beyond the horizons of this world, beyond time itself, into that infinite realm where only those who are transformed by the action of the Spirit can enter. In our Eucharist we are put in contact, dimly by faith, with that eternal city where God is all in all, and whose light is the transfigured lamb. For this grace let us thank and praise our God. &      


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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