By Sr. Doreen, SSJD.
1 John 1:1-9
We celebrate the Feast of St. John twice – once now during Christmastide and once again in May. It is an important double celebration, not just because St. John is our Patron Saint and we can therefore squeeze all the juice out of the lectionary options. Two days ago we went with the shepherds in haste towards the unknown, where we found a stable and a manger, where we stopped and gazed in amazement at God who has become one of us, and we fell down and worshipped. In May we run with John towards the unknown, where we find an empty tomb and where we will gaze in amazement at this mystery of the God who is one of us, and where we will enter that mystery, and where we see and believe. The full cradle and the empty grave – the mystery of the Incarnation inseparably linked to the mystery of the Resurrection. Together they are the fullest expression of God’s gift of constant giving, of God’s presence amidst human vulnerability, of God’s tenacious and ever lasting love for each one of us and for our world.
St. John, the beloved disciple, whose name our Community bears, models that deep inner longing, that yearning to ‘come and see’, to run towards the unknown, to stand still and gaze, to ponder, to enter into mystery and the unknown and to believe. We hear the wisdom attributed to John in the Sirach reading for today – ‘those who revere God will possess wisdom, knowledge, understanding and support.’ And we hear it again in the psalm “the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree … they shall bear fruit in old age, they shall be green and succulent.”
De Chardin says of the Gospel according to St John: “The first three gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke are called Synoptic (in Greek meaning ‘with the same eyes’) because they share the same viewpoint on Jesus’s teachings. John’s gospel enters a new level of evolutionary development in the Christian Community. …John sees Jesus’s teachings with even ‘newer eyes’. …The gospel challenges us to new insights, calls us to a transformative, higher level of understanding, a fuller meaning and purpose.”
His good news is the fruit of old age, green and succulent. St. John is someone who remembers more deeply and completely, someone who is trying to give expression to an elusive and almost inexpressible mystery. I think of this when I read the way the gospel according to John begins, and again in the way that he ends the gospel in such a haunting way “there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
This beloved disciples whose name we bear, is the only disciple not to die a martyrs death, but to live to old age. He was entrusted with Jesus’s Mother, he was the first to reach the tomb, he is the one who recognized Jesus standing on the beach after the Resurrection. He is often pictured as or with an Eagle, as in one of the panels on our Altar, and he is considered the patron saint of authors, loyalty, and friendship.
This feast during Christmastide draws our celebration to the Incarnation, the very Life itself appearing in human form, the means of our salvation. 1 John 1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of Life” – this is John’s testimony. This is his message.
St. Athanasius said it this way: “God became what we are so that God might make us what God is”. This is the gospel, the good news, it is John’s bold statement .. “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ..”. It is the message of our patron St. John – and it is also our message to proclaim – to each other, to those who come to our home, to those in our world.
Over the years our Community has made some big moves: from a little house, a converted stable on Robson street to the Convent and Women’s Surgical Hospital on Major Street, from Major street to the Convent on Botham Road, and from Botham Road to the present Convent on Cummer Avenue. Today we stand in discernment about another move, to renovate or re-vision our Guest House. Each of these moves has been in response to changes that have challenged us to move into the unknown, changes that have caused us to stop and ponder, to struggle and wrestle with God and each other, changes that have moved us into mystery and questions seeking wisdom, understanding and a deeper faith in the God who is among us.
Every time we sit down to pray, every time we touch that deep longing for God, we become the beloved disciple and we start to run to the full cradle, to the empty tomb. We run because we thirst for God, but what we will find we can’t possibly predict or control. When we run towards God, we always run toward the unknown. Do we take the time to stop and gaze, to linger, to ponder, allowing ourselves the opportunities to hover over things, over the contradictions of life, over our relationships? Do we take the time to hold them gently in our hands and gaze at them until they move slowly into that place where we can make friends with them?
Can you hear St. John talking to you, to us, today? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, and seen with our eyes, and have looked at and touched with our hands: the Word, who is Life – this is the subject of our letter.
That life came to be; we saw it and bear witness to it. We proclaim to you the eternal life which was with God and was manifested to us. What we have seen and heard we declare to you, so that you may be one with us – as we are one with God and with the Only Begotten, Jesus Christ. We write this to fulfill our joy”.
I often hear the words of Jesus reverberating in my own head and heart “do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear?” (Mark 8:18). I, like the disciples, am often bewildered by Jesus, I often do not comprehend what I am seeing and hearing, I rush in with my own passion for God and for justice and truth, see literally without taking the time to ponder, and fail to enter into the mystery seeking deeper understanding. I forget St. John my mentor and role model. Love asks us to linger and go slow, but it can be so hard to wait and to linger and go slow.
It is a hard task entering into mystery: but I believe that the beloved disciple John models for us a willingness to wait and to gaze deeply without grasping. It is the hard work of staying with an inner wisdom, of being open to saying yes to abundance, limitlessness, freedom and the realm of all possibilities. It is the hard work of letting go of control. We need to honor our capacity for interiority, we need to honour the paradoxes of life and not just try to resolve them. We, all of us, are called to the contemplative gaze – to revere God and possess wisdom, to seek understanding and knowledge, to lean on wisdom – it is the road to being open to the possibilities that the Word asks us to speak. It is a radical trust in God and the courage to face reality. As a community, is our life modelled by a radical search for meaning?
As we give thanks for the beloved disciple John, and as we give thanks for our beloved community today, as we take up the challenge of running towards the unknown, of pausing to gaze deeply, of being willing to enter into questions seeking understanding that enables us to move to a place of seeing and believing, we need to acknowledge that we need each other – more than we could ever ask or imagine! Those who love us and blessed us in 1884 in our beginnings left us with this challenge: “May the name which it is to bear, be an indication of the Love which is to pervade and animate it; that all the members are indeed in a very special sense ‘beloved of the Beloved’; are ever mindful of the words “little children, love one another.” (Hannah Grier Coombe, A Memoir p. 81)
Faithful God you have revealed the mysteries of your Word through John the Beloved apostle. By prayer and reflection may we come to understand the wisdom he taught. Amen.