Friday, December 27, 2013

“Our Message is the Word of Life” – The Feast of St. John

St. John on the Isle of Patmos, dictating the book of
Revelation to his secretary, Prochorus

The Third Day of Christmas is also the annual commemoration of St. John the Divine, Apostle and Evangelist. Divine here means a theologian in the highest sense: one who experiences and expresses communion with God. He was an Apostle (one “sent”), chosen by Christ to share in ministry with him and then to share the Gospel throughout the world. He was also an evangelist: the fourth Gospel is credited to him. Tradition has also credited at least the first of the three Letters of John to him, as well as the book of Revelation.

St. John is the Theologian of the Word-made-flesh, a theme that runs in all of the literature attributed to him. It is this teaching—called the Incarnation—that we celebrate during Christmas and Epiphany, and on which the passage from St. Augustine found below focuses.

The Incarnation means, among other things, that we are all given the opportunity to experience the Word directly; first by his dwelling with us in time and space in Jesus, and then—through the operation of the Holy Spirit—by sharing in the Apostolic Faith. That faith is a gift to us, something to be entered into and nourished by over a lifetime. It is not a personal possession, nor is it a kind of mental puzzle we master some day. It is a loving, trusting, growing relationship of mutuality, service, hope, and response that builds a way of life filled with dignity, purpose, and joy.

St. John’s Day, placed in the midst of Christmastide, expresses the centrality of a mystical theology, Apostolic community, and personal experience to the Christian Faith. With these gifts, we are able, as 1 John 1:3 says, to have fellowship with the Apostles, and through that True and Life-Giving Faith, with Christ himself.

Our message is the Word of life.  We announce what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have touched with our own hands. Who could touch the Word with his hands unless the Word was made flesh and lived among us? 

Now this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment. We know this from what John says: What existed from the beginning. Notice how John’s letter bears witness to his Gospel, which you just heard a moment ago: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. 

Someone might interpret the phrase the Word of life to mean a word about Christ, rather than Christ’s body itself which was touched by human hands. But consider what comes next: and life itself was revealed. Christ therefore is himself the Word of life. 

And how was this life revealed? It existed from the beginning, but was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread. But what does Scripture say? Mankind ate the bread of angels. 

Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word. 

John continues: And we are witnesses and we proclaim to you that eternal life which was with the Father and has been revealed among us – one might say more simply “revealed to us”. 
We proclaim to you what we have heard and seen. Make sure that you grasp the meaning of these words. The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face; they heard the words he spoke, and in turn they proclaimed the message to us. So we also have heard, although we have not seen. 

Are we then less favoured than those who both saw and heard? If that were so, why should John add: so that you too may have fellowship with us? They saw, and we have not seen; yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith. 
And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. And we write this to you to make your joy complete – complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity. 
- from the tractitates on the first letter of John by St. Augustine
(Tract 1, 1.3: PL 35, 1978, 1980)

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