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On the Feast Day of St John, the Evangelist and Beloved Disciple
The heart of good theology, the fire that fuels living faith, is an ongoing encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus, cultivated as an ongoing experience, through prayer. Without such an encounter I do not know how anyone can do theology at all. The God who is Love hungers for the communion of sons and daughters - and we hunger for communion with Him - because He made us this way. Nothing else will ever satisfy us. Origen, an early Church Father, once wrote: Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God.
On this Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, the readings at the Liturgy of the Western Catholic Church speak to us about our relationship with Jesus, who is Love Incarnate.
Every human love is a participation in God's love, fully manifested in Jesus Christ. Every human love is perfected (made complete) when it is joined to the fullness of Love which is given to us in Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ.
St. John is rightly called the beloved disciple in the Christian tradition for good reason. Our first reading at Holy Mass is a portion of his beautiful first letter to the early Church. (1 Jn. 1:1-4) These letters flowed from the deep theological content so evident in his Gospel account. The Gospel passage (Jn. 20:1a and 2-A) introduces us to the source of John's deep theology.
He was a witness to the Resurrection. Not only did he walk with the Lord, rest his head on the chest of Christ during the last meal, stand at the second tree, the Cross on Golgotha's Hill - right next to the Mother of the Lord - but he rushed to the tomb and witnessed the implications of the triumph of Love over death.
John is the disciple of that Love which is stronger than death, the love of the Risen and glorified Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate. His Gospel was the last to be written. It reflects the deepening theological reflection of the early Church on the meaning of the conception, nativity, life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, the Christ.
That is why my very favorite Gospel of the numerous Christmas liturgies is the Gospel of the Mass of Christmas day taken from St. John. (John 1: 1-18)
The best definition of a theologian I have discovered is taken from the writings of a first century monk named Evagrius of Pontus. He wrote that a theologian is someone who "rests his head on the chest of Christ." The image calls to mind the beloved disciple, John, depicted as doing just that in early Christian art. Evagrius also wrote that- a theologian is one who prays and one who prays is a theologian.
St. John, the beloved disciple, was just such a great theologian because he was in an ongoing intimate communion with Jesus. He really, really prayed. Do we? Well, it helps to dig deeper into what prayer really is. The kind of prayer which is rooted in encountering the Lord.
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As someone who has pursued years of graduate theology, and am still trying to finish a doctoral degree, I am certainly not opposed to academic theological study.
However, the heart of good theology, the fire that fuels living faith, is an ongoing encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus, cultivated as an ongoing experience, through prayer. Without such an encounter I do not know how anyone can do theology at all.
For John the Beloved, that communion continued after the Resurrection because Jesus is still truly present, in His glorified life, to all those who live in the encounter which lies at the heart of being a Christian.
The Risen Jesus comes to be with us in every Eucharist, in His Word, and in the intimate life of living prayer. John knew Jesus personally and lived in an intimate communion with the Lord; the kind that only comes through prayer.
We can do so as well. The choice is ours.
St John, the beloved disciple, shows us the way. He prayed. Do we pray? I mean really, really pray? Are we living in a communion of love with Love Incarnate. We really can live that way. That is the call of every Christian.
Christian Prayer is about living in such an ongoing dialogue and intimate communion with the God who is Love, that we begin to experience life in a naturally supernatural way. God fashioned men and women for such a relationship. He created us for communion, a relational conversation of life with Him.
However, at the heart of understanding what it means to be created in His Image is coming to understand the immense gift of human freedom - and realizing what happened to our capacity to choose, as a result of sin.
Our relationship with God was broken, separated and wounded through the first sin, what is called the original sin" in the theology of the Western Church. That sin, like all sin since, is at root a misuse of human freedom infected by pride and self-sufficiency.
Our ability to exercise our freedom rightly by directing our capacity for free choice always toward the good was impeded, diminished, wounded and broken through the fall. Our freedom was fractured. Only the splint of the Cross of Calvary can heal.
The Good News is that through Jesus Christ, the way has been opened for an even fuller communion with God than our first parents had before the fall. Through the Incarnation, Saving life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ we are being re-created, re-fashioned and redeemed.
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He comes to live in those who make a place for Him within the center of their lives. This - making a place - is the essence of Christian prayer and living in communion. John made such a place for Jesus. He calls us to do the same.
The Lord wants us to freely choose to respond to His continual invitations to love. John shows us the way to do just that. We need a Savior. We will only find our fulfillment as human persons by entering into the relationship that he had with Jesus.
This relationship is the meaning and purpose of our life. As we grow in faith through our participation in the life of grace, lived out in the Church, our capacity to respond to the Lord's loving invitation grows as well, through growing in the prayer of communion.
This kind of prayer is not about doing, but about being - in a loving communion with God. This kind of prayer is about falling in love with God. St. John was in love with God. He was, as the early Church fathers all were, a mystic.
Isaac of Nineveh was an early eighth century monk, Bishop and theologian. For centuries he was mostly revered in the Eastern Christian Church for his writings on prayer. In the last century the beauty of his insights on prayer are being embraced once again by both lungs, East and West, of the Church. He wrote these words in one of his many treatises on Prayer:
When the Spirit dwells in a person, from the moment in which that person has become prayer, he never leaves him. For the Spirit himself never ceases to pray in him. Whether the person is asleep or awake, prayer never from then on departs from his soul. Whether he is eating or drinking or sleeping or whatever else he is doing, even in deepest sleep, the fragrance of prayer rises without effort in hid heart. Prayer never again deserts him.
At every moment of his life, even when it appears to stop, it is secretly at work in him continuously, one of the Fathers, the bearers of Christ, says that prayer is the silence of the pure. For their thoughts are divine motions. The movements of the heart and the intellect that have been purified are the voices full of sweetness with which such people never cease to sing in secret to the hidden God.
The Christian revelation answers the existential questions that fill every human heart and hound every generation. Our hearts are indeed, as Augustine wrote so eloquently, restless, until they rest in God.Through His Incarnation - Saving Life, Death, and Resurrection - Jesus Christ opens up such a full communion with God the Father for all men and women.
Jesus leads us out of the emptiness and despair that is the rotted fruit of narcissism, nihilism and materialism. He leads us into a new way, the way of communion, of love, of life that never dies.
When we enter into the dialogue that is prayer, we can experience a progressive, dynamic and intimate relationship with God the Father as He transforms us from within by grace. We can actually "become prayer" as we empty ourselves in order to be filled with Him.
Through prayer, daily life takes on new meaning. It becomes a classroom of communion, life of love. In that classroom we learn the truth about who we are - and who we are becoming - in Jesus. Through prayer we receive new glasses through which we see the true landscape of life. Through prayer darkness is dispelled and the path of progress is illuminated.
Through prayer we begin to understand why this communion seems so elusive at times; as we struggle with our own disordered appetites, and live in a manner at odds with the beauty and order of the creation within which we dwell only to find a new beginning whenever we confess our sin and return to our first love.
Prayer opens us up to Revelation, expands our capacity to comprehend truth and equips us to change. This is true for all men and women, no matter what their state in life or specific vocation.
Through prayer we are drawn by Love into a deepening relationship with Jesus whose loving embrace on the hill of Golgotha bridged heaven with earth; His relationship with His Father is opened now to us; the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead begins to give us new life as we are converted, transfigured and made new.
Through prayer, heavenly wisdom is planted in the field of our hearts and we experience a deepening communion with the Trinitarian God. We become, in the words of the Apostle Peter "partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4)
That participation will only be fully complete when we are with Him in the fullness of His embrace, in Resurrected Bodies in a New Heaven and a New Earth, but it begins now, in the grace of this present moment, in prayer and communion.
The beloved disciple John became prayer. He wrote in the letter he penned in his later years:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:1-4
Today's Feast of St. John invites each one of us to become prayer. It calls us to meet the same Risen Jesus who John knew - and knows - so well. This is not only a possibility, it is meant to become a reality as we learn to become prayer. The Feast of the Beloved Disciple John Invites Us to Live a Life of Communion with God through Prayer.
Our daily life is a field of choice. We are made capable now, as we learn to cooperate with grace, of choosing the more excellent way of love of which the great Apostle Paul wrote. (1 Cor. 13) Pondering the implications of the exercise of our human freedom should become a regular part of our life, as we learn to "examine our conscience", repent of our sin and become joyful penitents.
Prayer provides the environment for such recollection as it exposes the darkness and helps us surrender it to the light of Love, the life of the Living God dwelling within us. Yes, living within us. (Jn. 14:23)Becoming prayer is possible for all Christians, no matter their state in life or vocation, because God holds nothing back from those whom He loves. This relationship of communion is initiated by Him. Our part is to respond. That response should flow from a heart that beats in surrendered love, in the process of being freed from the entanglements that weigh us down.
The God who is Love hungers for the communion of sons and daughters - and we hunger for communion with Him - because He made us this way. Nothing else will ever satisfy us. The early Church Father Origen once wrote: Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God.
We were made in the image of God and are now being recreated into His Image in Jesus Christ, as we cooperate with grace. As we become prayer, that likeness begins to emerge. We give ourselves fully to the One who gave Himself to us and cry out with Jesus Christ - Abba Father.
No longer alienated, we participate in the inner life of God who now dwells within us. We also dwell in Him through His Spirit. This dwelling is prayer. It is not about doing or getting but about being, becoming, receiving, giving, and loving.
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