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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Saint John Beloved Disciple and Witness to the Light

The Apostle John fills Christmas with a wisdom that knows what it means to be "beloved" of God. This is an intimate kind of understanding born in friendship for the sake of love alone. His Teacher passed on the discipline of love to him. What he received was no incoherent doctrine or conflicting myth. Rather, he was fed the truth and he ate from the Bread of Life and found it has the consistency of truth, a consistency on which one can stand with his entire existence. Thus, he roots his whole witness to divine love on the Word. The Word dwelling with us, not in mere appearance but in our flesh, this is the context of the Beloved Disciple's message. Gazing on all of sacred doctrine with the analogy of faith, his own writings reach out to the vast horizons of what the Word of the Father has revealed about the love of God that abides with us. Indeed, he teaches as one who has heard, touched and contemplated this Word. From the very first line of his Gospel, the Evangelist draws an intrinsic connection between the saving mystery of the Incarnation,"the Word became flesh" and the work of Creation itself, "In the beginning the Word:" It is this Word who personally and intimately "abides." The Word of the Father remains with us not as an impersonal force imposing the Father's will as if humanity needs to be coerced or overpowered. He is not an ideal extrinsically imposed on our existence from without. He is not a system: the clever invention of the powerful in the heavens above or on earth below to manage our pain, our individuality, our guilt, our dis-ease over death, our yearning for something beyond ourselves. The Author of human freedom has no need to deprive us of liberty or violently rob us of our dignity even as He grieves over its loss. Saint John knows that the Lamb that was slain rules by attraction and invitation. The Risen Lord proposes and offers friendship. The One whose eyes blaze like fire appeals to all that is good, noble and true. The Lord evokes faith so that those who believe in Him know life to the full. This is why he does not need to annihilate evil or surmount our frail humanity. He leads humanity like a shepherd through the valley of death to victory by remaining with us, abiding with us even in the face of all that threatens our lives. The Word is the Son of the Father from the Father and for us. In Eternity, the Son is the Word from and for the Father: conceived by the Father and proceeding from Him in goodness and truth, He communicates all that is good and true to the Father in the Spirit and to the Spirit for the Father. In time, the Word become flesh is sent from the Father and for us: conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and baptized by John that we might know the Father's goodness and truth for our own life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. To abide with us as He abides with the Father is the reason He suffered death on the Cross - the Incarnation culminates in the Paschal Mystery. By abiding with us in this way, the Word fills our brokenness with ineffable fullness like light shining in the darkness. To believe in Him is to stake our lives on the proposal that our existence is not an empty accident or meaningless void. Instead, to hold fast to this Word is to believe that everything, even when suffering reduces us to silence, resounds with His fullness. He is the One who loves us and is with us through it all. This is why He does not make our problems magically go away as if they were purely incidental to our lives. Instead, He loves us in these trials, redeeming them, even as our whole world falls apart around us. In this solidarity, He reveals God's decision to suffer the necessary ambiguity our freedom and dignity require. He wills that we might with contrite and astonished heart find our dignity in returning again to Him, He who abides with us. This Disciple who in the shadow of the Cross took the Lord's Mother into his home wants us to know this wisdom, the wisdom of being the beloved of God. He knows that the disciple who surrenders to Christ's particular and unrepeatable love for him, becomes, not God's slave, but his friend. He knows that this kind of faith suffers the abiding presence of God in the Word made flesh even in the face of the Cross. This wisdom, baptized in Blood and Water, beholds the loving goodness of the Father who raises up from death. This wisdom feeds on all that is good, holy and true about consecrated humanity, "My flesh is real food." This Seer of Patmos is a reliable witness. He testifies to the light from above, a light that shines in darkness. In the midst of all the confusion and ambiguities of this world, he proposes that the Lord has entered into the world of our misery, not to annihilate or coerce, but to remain with us in our freedom, awaiting us with love. He enters into our world and into our hearts with tender mercy to be our life. He invites us to say "yes" to the Blood and the Water, to the Spirit and the Bride, to the abiding presence of a love the world does not know.

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