Saturday, December 27, 2008

Feast of St. John the Evangelist: God Made Visible (ACL Pilgrimage, Day 6, Rome)

(Feast of St. John the Evangelist; This homily was given on 27 December, 2008 in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome; See 1 John 1:1-4)

I am sure that all of us have heard of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Given as a part of his Wednesday General Audiences right here in the City of Rome in the first five years of his pontificate, this profound teaching of our late Holy Father can hardly be reduced to a sound byte.

Yet John Paul II himself offers a sentence, back in October of 1982, that allows us to catch a glimpse of what—or, rather Who—this Theology of the Body is all about. On that autumn day some 26 years ago he said:

The body, in fact, and only it, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.

Great. Now what does that mean?! We can start with our own experience. We know that we are not just physical beings, not merely bodies occupying space. We are also spiritual; we have a soul.

But what does a soul look like? You cannot tell what another person’s soul looks like because it is invisible. You do not know if it is dark, occupied with hatred, anger or jealousy. Perhaps it is a soul filled with light, surrendered completely to love and compassion. We could never know such a thing.

But when persons express themselves—using their speech, actions, mannerisms—then we begin to catch a glimpse of what is happening in the soul. We cannot know everything, and we should always be careful not to make hasty judgments, but we can begin to see that which had been hidden.

I will give you an example. Let us say that a father has a deep and abiding love for his daughter. Well, what does that mean? What does it look like? But imagine that this little girl is out playing in the back yard, and suddenly she falls and is hurt. The father rushes out to her, scoops her up in his arms and holds her close to himself. Now we can see, in a concrete way, what it means to say that this father has a deep and abiding love for his daughter.

The body, in fact, and only it, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.

That is how the body can make visible that which is invisible, the spiritual nature we all possess. But what about that second part: the divine? How does the body reveal the invisible God?

Hopefully you have already guessed this one, since we have been celebrating it for the past three days! In the Incarnation—Christ born among us on that first Christmas morning—we come to see a love that has existed from all eternity.

The eternal communion of love that exists from all eternity in the Blessed Trinity—this love that is forever being poured out and received within God Himself—is suddenly revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

That little Child born in Bethlehem grows up to be a man, and he reaches out in love to the lonely, to the sorrowful, and to those who no one else wants anything to do with. He forgives and reconciles in ways that defy all common “standards.” In loving obedience to the Father’s will, He suffers and dies on the cross without ever becoming bitter, and even pleads forgiveness for the very people crucifying Him.

We look at this Christ and say: Yes, that is what love looks like. Now I understand what it means to say that “God is love.”

And that is precisely what St. John the Evangelist is saying in our first reading this morning. We listen to those words here, in this basilica dedicated to St. John, on his feast day. We hear his own words, his eyewitness account of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ:

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.

—1 John 1:1-2

We have seen Him, St. John declares. We listened to His voice, we touched His body. The invisible God has been made visible to us, and now we proclaim this Christ to you!

This is John’s message to all the world. He burns within to make it known, to announce to every person this Good News about the God who first loved him. This is why we call him—the author of the Fourth Gospel—St. John the Evangelist.

As we celebrate his feast today, here in this basilica, how is God calling us to be evangelists? How are we called to hear, and see, and touch Christ, so that we may burn with that same desire to share Him with the world around us?

It is not all that different for us here today. We also listen to the words of Christ in the Gospel. We hear His voice speaking to us when the Scriptures are read. We touch Him and are touched by Him, physically and spiritually, in the sacraments of the Church. In a moment we will eat His body and drink His blood in the Holy Eucharist.

May we also leave this place and make Him visible to the world we live in. We who have seen the invisible God and been changed by Him, cannot help but to make Him known to those who are seeking and searching and longing for God.