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By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds

12/31/2012 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (

The Prologue gives us a key to understanding the Gospel of St. John.


By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds

Catholic Online (

12/31/2012 (4 years ago)

Published in Year of Faith

Keywords: St. John, Prologue of St. John, Prologue, Incarnation, Grace and Truth, Octave of Christmas, December 31, St. Theresa, Sugar Land, Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds

SUGAR LAND, TX (Catholic Online).  Many histories, biographies, and other publications have an introduction composed by a learned critic, a friend of the author, or someone who has special insight into the subject of the book for which the introduction was written.  The Gospel of John may be among the first publications with such a composition.  Consisting of the first eighteen verses of the Gospel, St. John's poetic Prologue sets the stage for what follows.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). 

The Prologue of the Gospel of St. John is a poetic text.  It reminds us of the Song of Solomon from the Old Testament, and of the canticles found in St. Paul's Epistles.  As a work of poetry, the Prologue cannot be understood as a simple presentation of events.  Instead, St. John plunges the depths of the mystery of Christ and surfaces with inspired insights that color his entire Gospel.

It is useful to think of the Prologue as something of an explanatory key.  Every map has a "key" which explains the meaning of the symbols used to chart various objects: roads, natural features, buildings, etc.  In a similar way, the Prologue gives us a key to understanding the Gospel of St. John.

What are the "explanatory keys" of the Prologue?

There are several things that St. John wants us to grasp.  First, the Word of God is a light for all peoples (John 1:1-5).  Physical light illumines the darkness and shows reality in high relief.  In a similar, but far surpassing way, spiritual light - which comes from Christ - dissolves the shadow of evil and enlightens the conscience.  "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Next, the Prologue clarifies that John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the way for the coming of Christ.  He points to the light, but it is Christ alone who possesses the divine radiance.  Jesus is called the "true light, which enlightens everyone" (John 1:9).  We should pray for a share in this grace.  Jesus possesses the answers to all of our questions and is the ultimate source of meaning and purpose for every human person.

St. John goes on to say that those who should have been most prepared and eager to recognize and accept Jesus rejected him instead (John 1:9-11).  This is a sobering thought.  Being a Christian does not preserve us from the possibility of being self-deceived about the state of our soul or the strength of our discipleship.  Striving with God's help to be continually converted is an essential element of the Christian life.

When we live with that spirit of turning towards the Lord and receiving him, Jesus responds by giving us the grace to become children of God (John 1:12-13).  "God is a Father - your Father! - full of warmth and infinite love.

- Call him Father frequently and tell him, when you are alone, that you love him, that you love him very much, and that you feel proud and strong because you are his son" (St Josemaría Escrivá, The Forge, 331).

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (John 1:14).

Through the incarnation, which we are still celebrating liturgically during the Octave of Christmas, the world learns how close God wants to be to us.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies the reasons for the Son of God becoming man: Jesus saves us by reconciling us to God; he lets us know God's love; he is our model of holiness, and he make us partakers of the divine nature (see Catechism, nos. 465-460).

The Prologue concludes by asserting that Jesus is adding something new.  Moses received the Law from God and gave it to the chosen people.  Christ brings something altogether more transformative, the sharing of God's own life with us: his "grace upon grace" (John 1:16).  The greatest gift of grace is knowledge of the Father.  Through Christ, the Father is made known to us, and we are confirmed as his children, not just in name but also in fact (see I John 3:2).

St. John will develop all of these theological insights throughout the Gospel text. As we prepare to begin a New Year of grace, let us pray that these truths will develop in our minds and hearts, and lead us to a deeper communion with the Father.

Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, TX, a suburb of Houston.  You may visit the parish website at:


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