Thursday December 27, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast Of Saint John
Reading (1 John 1:1-4) Gospel (St. John 20:2-8)
In the Gospel reading today, Saint John recounts the episode when Our Lord had risen from the dead. The disciples, of course, did not believe. They had locked themselves in an upper room out of fear and they did not believe in the Resurrection. They were trying to figure out what it was that they were going to do with their lives now that all of their hopes had been dashed because the one that they thought was going to be the Savior of Israel as a political savior was not; the one that they thought was going to lead them into a battle that would remove the Romans from Israel had now died. So the question was - What was their life about now? They had invested 3 years of their life into following this man, listening to him preach, and it did not happen the way that they expected. Now they had to figure out what they were going to do to put their lives back together.
But then, at the time of the Resurrection, Saint John and Saint Peter, at the word of Saint Mary Magdalene, run to the tomb. And that beautiful phrase at the very end of the Gospel is the one that is so important: "The other disciple entered into the tomb; he saw and he believed." That is precisely what Saint John begins his first letter with as well. He says, "This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have touched. We speak of the Word of life." And so we have this same point: one at the very beginning of His life, and one at the very end of His life on earth. We have the point that the Word became flesh; that the Life which was with the Father from all eternity, the One who is eternal life, became human. We have a Word which became visible. All of these things, again, seem to make no sense; and yet how are you going to describe the reality of the mystery that we celebrate? Try to describe God being born as a little baby, try to describe the Resurrection from the dead, try to describe what is happening in the mind and the heart as we try to grapple with these realities. We do not have the words to be able to describe them. So Saint John simply says things like "the Life that became visible to us" or "the Word that became flesh". He is trying to take these eternal mysteries and at least make them accessible to us. But ultimately it is the exact same point that he makes at the end of the Gospel: "What we have seen with our eyes, what we have heard with our ears, what our hands have touched." It is to say, "We have seen and believed."
Then he goes on to say that it is not enough for us just to believe. He says, "Now we share this life with you" and "Our purpose in writing this is that our joy may be complete." The importance of that is to say that individually to believe is freedom and it is life, but it is not enough. He makes very clear to us that our joy is going to be whole only when others believe, only when the fullness of Christ in the Mystical Body has been achieved. It is not enough to be able to take these realities into ourselves and to come to the point of saying, "Yes, I believe." But once we come to that point then we need to go outside of ourselves and we need to bring that faith to others. We need to bring the message of Good News to others.
We do that on the natural level. All we need to do is think about when a baby is born. If it is somebody within our own family or someone known to others, we let them know: "Did you hear that so-and-so had a baby?" When someone dies we tell other people so that they will know, so that they can pray, so that they will know the information.
We have in the readings today the Birth of Christ and the Resurrection of Christ. These are two points which Saint John recognizes that he cannot keep within himself. Having grappled with it and come to an understanding to the best of his ability of how he can describe this - having made these his own, if you want to say it that way - he now has to tell it to others. That is the same reality for each one of us. We need to look at this mystery that we celebrate at this holy time: the Birth of God as a little baby. We cannot grasp it fully in our minds, but in our hearts we can understand. As we allow that to take over our lives more and more, as we allow our own lives to be shaped by that particular mystery, it is no longer something that we can just keep to ourselves. It cannot be at an armís distance, saying, "Well, isnít that nice? A little baby born in Bethlehem, thatís cute." That is not enough. That little baby is God, and God became man so that we could become as God.
That is what we need to be able to understand: that this little Baby frees us from our sins, that this little Baby is life. When that becomes understood in the depths of our being, we just cannot keep it there any longer because we need to proclaim it. A baby is born for us and we need to tell others. Not merely for a natural reason, but for a supernatural reason so that when we understand this Life that became present to us, and this Life that indeed lives within us, then we want others to share that Life. It is not a selfish thing. He did not do this for a selfish reason Ė and neither can we. Once we understand it, once we live it, we want others to share it because we recognize the joy which is ours in being united with Him. But we know that our joy will be complete only when we bring that message to others and they share that Life, and the fullness of the Mystical Body is finally achieved. Then our joy will be complete. That is what Our Lord wanted; it is what Saint John wants; and it is what each one of us needs to desire as well: to have this joy within ourselves and to bring it to others so that our joy will be shared with them and our joy will be complete. That is the fullness of this mystery that we desire to be able to live so that others will have life and our joy will indeed be complete.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.