Tag Archives: Gospel of John

An Apostle for Skeptics

Duccio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas (The Maesta altarpiece, 1308-1311)

Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle

John gave us the fullest portrait of Thomas in the Gospels, however brief and sketchy, in three instances. 

First, when he accompanied Jesus and the disciples from the river Jordan to Bethany in response to the urgent message of Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus was ill. Jesus had just barely escaped being stoned to death in Judea, and now proposed returning to the area again, a risky move in the view of the disciples. If Lazarus is “asleep,” he will recover, they reasoned. Then Jesus told them clearly, “Lazarus has died,” prompting Thomas’ gloomy response: “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16).

Second, at the table of the Last Supper, Thomas gave voice to the uncomprehending hearts of all the disciples as they listened to Jesus’ discourse about the “many dwelling places” in his “Father’s house.” 

“Where I am going you know the way,” Jesus concluded. Thomas was not afraid to admit his ignorance: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” His question was rewarded with the immortal words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Third, Thomas showed up a week after the Resurrection full of skepticism, having heard from the other ten disciples that Jesus was alive and came to them through locked doors on the evening of the third day after his crucifixion. The whole group claimed to have seen the Lord’s hands and pierced side—a mass delusion in all probability. After all, grief can lead to wishful thinking. 

But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

As if playing with Thomas, Jesus repeated his miraculous entry through closed doors with the same words of greeting as on the previous Sunday.

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas spoke for all who wrestle with doubt and need sensible proof so as not to sink into unbelief. Eucharistic miracles, visions of Christ, Marian apparitions, and the numerous prodigies that have been approved by the Church in the last two millennia answered the Thomas in all of us. Yet after Pentecost, we have a more powerful witness than all sensible proof—the Spirit of truth, our Advocate, without whom no one can say, “Jesus is Lord!” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Jesus assured all those whom Thomas would later preach to, that their faith was no less authentic without the aid of sight. Faith may be “blind” to the physical eye, but full of light to the spiritual eye (Ephesians 1:18; Matthew 6:22).

Follow Thomas in this video for the fifth Sunday of Lent on the raising of Lazarus. His witness gives us the freedom to doubt, question, and make an honest appraisal of Jesus Christ.

-GMC

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loves

John 21:20-25

A renewed Peter, now confident of being in the Lord’s good graces, swiftly turns his attention to his fellow disciple John and asks, “Lord, what about him?”

Why does Peter suddenly take an interest in John’s particular destiny? After having his own martyrdom foretold, does he wish to benefit his silent comrade and obtain foreknowledge of his end as well? Whatever may be in Peter’s heart, Jesus tells him that such curiosity is irrelevant. Keep your eyes fixed on me, he says. “You follow me.” 

In our earthly state, with the eyes of the spirit not yet fully attuned to divine realities, there is a tendency to fall into the comparison syndrome. The brothers spent time in idle speculation about John because Jesus had said, “What if I want him to remain until I come?” 

Referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” John stands out for his deeply personal relationship with Christ. He is also highly intuitive. At the empty tomb, “he saw and believed,” and at the miraculous catch of fish, “That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” Requiring fewer proofs and empirical data, John’s vision soars far beyond the created cosmos to arrive at the Word who was “in the beginning.”

The reality is that every single disciple is beloved by Jesus in a unique, unrepeatable, and incomparable way, but only John seems to have reached a high state of realization of that personal love during his time on earth. He also spent years quietly caring for the Blessed Virgin Mary until her Assumption. John’s Gospel was written many years after the other Gospels had circulated. It is the fruit of deep contemplation and lofty theological insight, no doubt in part due to his quiet hours with the Mother of God. 

In light of the Trinity, the comparison syndrome is seen to be illusory. Absolutely distinct persons cannot be compared. Individuals in the divided state of nature can be compared according to quantities and qualities like height and musicality, but persons cannot be. 

Persons contain the whole nature, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each contain the whole divine nature. But the Persons are absolutely unique, and thus transcend the categories of equality and inequality. For example, the Father is neither equal nor unequal to the Son as Person, but utterly distinct from him. The concept of “equality” is typically applied to the oneness of nature (the Son is equal to the Father as God), but cannot touch the distinction of persons. 

This is true also of the brethren of Christ. Each child of the Father in Christ is a unique person, but each also carries the entire Body of Christ, the one deified human nature. When one member suffers, all suffer. When one rejoices, all rejoice. A desert monk once said that he spent twenty years in combat so as to be able to see all humankind as one man. Such a realization puts an end to envy and comparison because we enjoy the gifts of our brothers and sisters as our very own. We also do everything we can to make others flourish.

Bottom line: Each child of the Father is supremely loved and is “the disciple whom Jesus loves.”

-GMC

“Follow me.”

John 21:15-19

Chapter 21 in the Gospel of St. John comes in like an “appendix,” as the writer already concluded his account in the previous chapter. The wisdom and marvels in the life of Jesus are uncountable, the Evangelist tells us, but thankfully he decided to add the beautiful and touching scenes at the Sea of Tiberias.

After the wondrous miracle of the unbroken net full of fish, and breakfast served by the resurrected Lord, Jesus turns to Peter and asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Jesus knows and loves Peter to the last detail, and sees the great potential in him. As the spokesman and leader of the apostles, Peter has an “all or nothing” character. 

At the Last Supper, it was not enough for him to have his feet washed; he offered his hands and his head as well. Then afterwards, lacking self-knowledge, he declared that he was ready to die with Jesus. Peter is an earnest, wholehearted friend on a journey to spiritual maturity. Jesus does not remind Peter of his denials; his own tears were enough. Instead, by having him affirm his love for him three times, he gave Peter a chance to start afresh.

Peter is also given the special mission to feed and tend Christ’s sheep as the first chief shepherd of the flock. Peter (Petros/Cephas) is the “rock” upon whom Christ would build his church “and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” 

Strengthened by the mercy of his threefold “yes” to Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit nine days after the Ascension, Peter took up his task marvelously with his first homily at Pentecost.

The ever active and ardent Peter will get his wish fulfilled to die for Christ. With his martyrdom foretold, the beloved Peter hears the happy words of his Lord, “Follow me.”

-GMC

“…that the world may believe that you sent me…”

John 17:20-26

As the Father sends the Son, so the Son sends the disciples into the world. From one little band, the seed of the Body of Christ sown into the earth blossoms into the Church.

“I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

Seems like a tall order, doesn’t it? Did Jesus consider the messiness of church politics, and how violently minds differ and tend toward disagreement? Of course he did. It’s not a “tall order,” but a heavenly mandate with the promise of a Paraclete. The fact that politics can and have been messy does not get us off the hook. Rather, it reflects the glory of the Trinity who respects our freedom and human dignity to work towards the love that fulfills our prayer to the Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As noted earlier, friendship and love are not forced or automatic. 

How are the children of the Father to become one, as the Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father? More may be accomplished by deep silence and prayer than by any other action. The Blessed Virgin Mary brought heaven to earth by her hidden “yes” to God, and her life of silence, love, humility and obedience. She nurtured the Son of the Father for thirty years before his public ministry. Mary is truly the Mother of Apostles given to St. John the Beloved at the foot of the Cross. Jesus knew that the disciples would face hostility and gave them his Mother to love them as sons in the Son. That includes all of us.

“And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me…”

Our journey back to the Father begins with Christ’s initiative to become one with us, “I in them.” The Father who dwells in the Son by nature (“you in me”) adopts us through Christ Incarnate.

“…that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” Through and through, Jesus is relentlessly ad Patrem (toward the Father) in all that he says and does. It really is astounding—a point so blatant, yet so easy to miss.

“Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

With Christ’s Ascension, the way is open to fulfill his wish “that where I am they also may be with me.” Our Body, the one Body of Christ, has an “upward” inclination to be transfigured and transformed for union and communion in the Trinity, rejoicing in their eternal glory.

“Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”

The world could never know the Father unless the Son revealed him. So singularly unique is the revelation of the Trinity that it exceeds all human philosophy. One is stunned into silence at the thought of it. 

-GMC

“…that they may be one just as we are one.”

John 17:11b-19

“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.”

What’s in a name? In the Old Testament, names stood for the character and mission of a person, as when Abram became Abraham, or Jacob became Israel. The divine name given to Moses at the burning bush, “I AM WHO I AM,” was so sacred that no one pronounced it except the High Priest once a year in the Holy of Holies. 

In Jesus, the great and all-holy “I AM” steps into our world and reveals himself as the Son of the Father, both of whom are “I AM.” When he taught the disciples to pray, “Abba, Father,” he overturned centuries of unapproachability surrounding the four-letter name, YHWH.

Abba, keep your dear ones in your name, in your heart, in your person, in your womb—that they may be one just as we are one. “We”—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their self-emptying Love—is the model for our personal communion. Jesus’ prayer to the Father reveals that the oneness of the Three Divine Persons is rooted in the Father. Union and communion of persons have a personal principle.

“When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

Friendship is not forced or automatic. Even a close disciple of Christ has the freedom to leave him. 

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One (or ‘from evil’). They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.”

We are pilgrims and sojourners in this life. While forces of disunity and opposing personal wills pull the earth into disintegration, Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father who is Truth, opens the door to reintegration. Every heart consecrated in their truth radiates the energy of divine grace to heal the world. Veni Creator Spiritus!

-GMC

“All mine are thine, and thine are mine”

John 17:1-11a

“…everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.”

Contemplation of divine truths requires deep silence and listening. One does not come before these mysteries expecting to “settle” conundrums or untie knots once and for all. Wonder and awe grow progressively as we allow the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts, more often blank and speechless than filled with insight. Much is accomplished by simply admitting, “I have no idea what you are talking about, Lord.” He likes our honesty and will help us. We are like Jacob wrestling with the angel when we read Scripture. 

Today we are given the exceptional privilege of listening in on a divine dialogue, for Jesus is praying aloud to the Father. What do Divine Persons talk about? What do they do all day? Since they do not live in a world of means and ends, their action is not directed towards anything outside of themselves. They glorify one another, take delight in one another, and overflow with superabundant Love, Light, Energy, Goodness, Joy… And since there was never a time when they were not, their triple Glory is Ultimate Reality.

If there is nothing outside of the Divine Persons, what is Jesus referring to when he says, “All mine are thine, and thine are mine?” 

He is not saying “I am Thou” and “Thou art Me,” because he makes it clear that they are distinct Persons. But he uses the possessive pronouns, “mine” and “thine.” Since divinity has no parts, what is possessed must be nothing other than what they are (“having” is “being”). What the Father is, the Son also is, yet the Father is not the Son. 

The mystery is far deeper than our concepts. Recognizing the oneness of the Divine Persons does not reveal the content of their oneness. It is like seeing the surface of the ocean, but not the thousands of feet beneath with all of its wild, wonderful, and colorful life forms. 

If an ocean is so full of life and variety, what must life in the Trinity be like?

-GMC

“I am not alone”

John 16:29-33

After two thousand years, we are still grappling with the depths of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. Yet after only a few minutes, the disciples come forth with the glib response, “Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God.”

The disciples are so far from understanding Jesus’ words, St. Augustine once commented, “that they do not even understand their own lack of understanding his words.”

Real conviction is not only in words but in deeds. Later that evening, Peter will declare with false confidence that even if he has to die with Jesus, he will not deny him. We know the outcome of that statement. Jesus knows our hearts better than we do. He tells them that the hour has arrived when they will scatter and leave him alone. 

“But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” Whether Jesus is praying in the mountains in solitude, or tied up like a criminal in a mob, he is not alone. His eternal Sonship is primordial, immutable, and interminable. Remaining ever in the Father’s Womb, he began to be in time in the Virgin’s womb at the moment of conception. The mystery of the Incarnation is ensconced within the mystery of the Trinity. 

“Show us the Father,” Philip had asked earlier, but the only answer he received was, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” The Divine Persons dwell within one another in an ineffable manner beyond space, time, and all categories of thought. The amazing thing is that Jesus has come to bring us also into this communion. If this is taken seriously, at no moment are we ever alone. To be a person is to be in communion, even in physical solitude. The indwelling of the Trinity is wholly interior—we are “temples of the Holy Spirit”—though its love radiates and can even be visible as at the Transfiguration.

“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” 

The last thing the disciples expected of their great hero and conqueror was his crucifixion. 

-GMC

Who is the Father?

John 17:1-11a

“Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.”

The word “glory” rings several times in this passage, evoking an unfamiliar and unworldly milieu. Jesus asks the Father to reveal to the disciples the splendor and brilliance of their love, a glimpse of which was given at the Transfiguration. The hour has come in which the Son will be glorified by being disfigured on the Cross. How can glory be manifested in such opposite ways—in light (Transfiguration) and darkness (the Cross)? The clue is in Christ’s constant turning to the Father. Jesus does nothing on his own, but only what the Father wills. The bodily eye may “see” disgrace on the Cross, but the spiritual eye sees divine love and glory.

“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” Eternal life is knowing the Father through the Son. Revelation alone opens this path to the hidden Person of the Father, about whom we know so little. Since Jesus cannot seem to speak enough about him, it must be worth every ounce of our energy to seek him.

“I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept my word.”

Some translations have “from the world” instead of “out of the world.” In any case, the Father is neither in nor out of any world. He is uncontainable. The meaning seems to be that the ones given to Jesus originally belonged to the Father. Thus they are given to him. As the Son is begotten of the Father, so is each one of us. The inviolability of persons created in the image of the Son is rooted in the Father. 

“I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours…”

Is there a line of division between “the world” and the children of the Father? Perhaps “the world” might be understood as the emptiness of separation from the Father—the tendency toward nothingness. Outside of the Father, there is nothing.

“All mine are thine, and thine are mine,” in the elegant English translation. These are mysteries too deep. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our hearts and minds to know the Father and the one he sent, Jesus Christ. 

-GMC

Mysteries Too Deep

John 16:23-28

“On that day” of rejoicing, Jesus says, “you will not question me about anything.” But on this day, “whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

At this hour, Jesus speaks to us in figures. But “the hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father.”

One possible reading of these statements is to understand Jesus’ use of time words such as “day” and “hour” in the light of eternity. The time for asking, questioning, and dialogue is now while we are living in the state of earthly division. When we see the Father “face to face” on the day of eternity, words will no longer be necessary. We will be of one mind and heart with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, distinguished only by the uniqueness of each person within the communion. 

“On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you.” In multiple translations, Jesus says that he will not ask or pray to the Father on our behalf on that day. Why not? 

The implication is that the Father will embrace us directly, when we are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ. Christ came to unite what was divided to free us to be whole persons. Unlike the present state of division in which persons experience one another as parts outside of parts in material extension, in that hour of communion in the Trinity, each person in the Eternal Womb of the Father will be whole and entire, rejoicing and enjoying the unique and unrepeatable gift of one another. 

Communion will be radically wholesome and self-giving, unlike the atomized, individualistic condition in which we now find ourselves. Matter itself will be transfigured, with spiritual properties as witnessed in Christ’s resurrected body. “All mine are thine, and thine are mine,” as in the life of the Trinity, save each unique identity. Divine Love is diversity-in-unity.

The Father receives us with open arms through the Son whom he sent, for “he who has seen me has seen the Father.” We who follow in the footsteps of Christ also go back to the Father.

Thus ends this reflection in limping figures. Where concepts fail, may the love of the Trinity lift us up on eagle’s wings.

-GMC

Your Hearts will Rejoice

John 16:20-23

Gaze upon a flower for one minute and observe its movement. It appears to be still, but it is constantly changing, growing or fading. The wind blows and it sways. Light and shadows flicker continuously so that it appears in a slightly different shade every second. A moment passed cannot be recaptured. Impermanence is the mark of our human experience.

Yet “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (St. Augustine). We yearn for permanence and eternity, which Jesus now promises to his grieving disciples: “But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take that joy away from you.”

At the Ascension, Jesus takes our Body—humanity and the cosmos transfigured—into communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In Christ we are destined for a joy that nothing on earth can destroy.

-GMC