Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Feast of St. John the Evangelist
December 27, 2014
1 John 1:1-4, Ps 97, Jn 20:1-8
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in today’s homily:
- Beginning today, on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the Church has us begin pondering more deeply the mystery of the Incarnation and birth of the Son of God with the help of St. John’s first letter.
- The first thing St. John helps us to grasp is the reality of the Incarnation. St. John was writing to Christians at a time of the Gnostic (docetist) heresy that believed that all matter was evil and hence taught that God could have never assumed matter to himself. Therefore, he only appeared to have a body but was more like a disincarnate ghost. He only appeared to be wrapped in swaddling clothes. He only appeared to eat. He only appeared to walk on water. He only appeared to die on the Cross. He couldn’t have given us his body and blood to consume because he didn’t have real body and blood. For the Gnostics, the incarnation was a philosophical impossibility. St. John wrote underlining the sensible reality of the Incarnation. He said, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerning the Word of life, for the life was made visible, we have seen it and testify to it.” During these days of Christmas, it’s key for us to use the senses God gave us to grow in faith. It’s important for us to meditate, with the help of crèches, paintings, music, newborn babies and various other realities the fact that the Creator of the world became a little baby in a sense just like us except original sin, he was fed, he was bathed, he was embraced and kissed, he slept, he squeezed onto fingers and everything else. Many times we don’t ponder enough the sacred humanity of Jesus and the first thing St. John helps us to do is to use our senses to approach the Word of Life made visible, audible, and tangible.
- But that’s not enough. Many people saw, touched and heard the baby Jesus but thought he was just like any other infant. Later on in life, the multitudes all saw him, but some stared intently at him trying to trip him up, accusing him of being a blasphemer, even working by the power of the prince of demons. Something more is needed. That’s the second thing St. John teaches us. In today’s Gospel scene of the Resurrection, we see that he entered into the empty tomb, saw and believed. Faith is a different type of vision, a different type of hearing, a different type of touching and tasting. It’s built on the sensible but it transcends it to a different form of sensation. St. John wants us to see, touch, and hear but both physically and faithfully, going beyond sensible appearances to what they signify. It’s important for us to ensure that the sensibility of the Incarnation doesn’t lead us to sentimentality. Pope Francis was speaking about this yesterday on the Feast of St. Stephen the Martyr when he pondered Jesus’ words, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22) and commented, “These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life. To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. And if not all are called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to be to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes. Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will. At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, “on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:14). This peace given by God is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end” (cf. Mt 10:22). That’s what it means to look at this Baby in the manger with the eyes of faith, that we look and see his sufferings in the flesh, that we understand our own in light of his, and that we grasp that that’s not the last word! In fact, it’s the path to peace, to happiness, to joy.
- That brings us to the third step that St. John helps us to grasp during these days of Christmas. Our encounter with Jesus in our human senses and in faith has a purpose. It’s meant to bring us into communion with him and with others. We prayed on Christmas day in the opening collect about how Jesus had taken on our humanity in order to make us partakers in his divinity. We’ve been made in his image and likeness and we know that God is a loving Communion of Persons. Jesus has come into this world to bring us back into communion, the communion that was severed by sin. St. John writes at the end of today’s passage from his first letter, “What we have seen and heard we now proclaim to you, so that you too may have communion [koinonia] with us, for our communion [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” To enter into the true spirit of Christmas, the reason for the Season, is to enter into communion with God and communion with each other. Jesus came to be God-with-us, not God-with-me. He came to restore the familial sense of human life that we will be celebrating this weekend. And this is not just some type of horizontal “fellowship,” as if reality or the Church is a form of drinking club, but this is an ontological communion: we become one with each other through becoming one with God. The real “good news of great joy” of Christmas, the true “joy to the world,” is based on our entering into Communion with God-with-us and bringing others to enter that communion as well. St. John wrote, “We are writing this so that our joy may be complete!” Anyone who loves someone else wants the absolute best for that person and that best is God. Our joy will be complete when those we know and love are in communions with us and communion with God.
- The best way we enter into this two-fold communion is here at Mass. The Eucharist is the continuation of the Incarnation and all of the lessons St. John teaches us about Christmas are applicable to the celebration of the Mass. Under the appearances of bread and wine, the eternal Son of God, who dwelled in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was held in St. Joseph’s arms, who walked the paths of Palestine, who gave his life on Calvary and who rose from the dead is here. We can touch him. We can see him. We can taste him. But just like the appearances in ancient Bethlehem to some degree revealed God but for the most part hid him — because he looked on the outside just as any other child did — so the same thing happens in Holy Communion. We need to exceed this reality by faith, by “seeing and believing” as St. John did in the empty tomb. That’s why St. Thomas Aquinas famously wrote in his Adoro Te Devote, “Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, sed auditu solo tuto creditur.” Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived, but it’s only through hearing that all may be believed.” And specifically hearing Jesus’ words, “This is my Body!,” “This is the chalice of my Blood!,” and “I am the Bread of Life. Unless you gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” We respond with faith. St. Thomas says, “Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius, nil hoc verbo veritatis verius!” “I believe whatever the Son of God has said. Nothing is truer than the Word of Truth.” The Word that was from the beginning, that was with God, that was God, that “Word of life … made visible,” has said that it is his flesh and blood, that it is Him, and we approach with faith in order to enter into communion with him and others. And our joy is dependent on bringing others to experience this same communion with God and communion with us. And so today we come with gratitude to adore Him and we ask him through our communion with Him and each other, to fill us with his holy Zeal that we may go out to others to seek to bring them into the joyous Communion with God and us for which Jesus became a little baby and St. John wrote his first letter!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 1 jn 1:1-4
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life —
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us—
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.
Responsorial Psalm ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many isles be glad.
Clouds and darkness are around him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the LORD of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
Light dawns for the just;
and gladness, for the upright of heart.
Be glad in the LORD, you just,
and give thanks to his holy name.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord;
the glorious company of Apostles praise you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel jn 20:1a and 2-8
Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we do not know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.