Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Today’s Antiphons in the Divine Office
There is no doubt that the antiphons given in the Divine Office for this feast of Saints Philip and James are among the most beautiful of the Paschaltide liturgy. The Church takes the dialogue of the Gospel and, with an artistry inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents it anew in a series of antiphons interwoven with alleluias:
The first antiphon is Philip’s bold request: “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us, alleluia” (Jn 14:8). Philip’s prayer echoes that of Moses in the book of Exodus: “I pray thee, show me thy glory” (Ex 33:18).
The second antiphon is Our Lord’s astonishing reply. He presents Himself to Philip as the icon of the Father: “Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).
The third antiphon is a poignant complaint of the Heart of Christ. It is addressed not to Philip alone, but also to each of us: “Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known Me? Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).
The fourth antiphon is a gentle reproach; it ends nonetheless in a triple alleluia. The reproach becomes a promise full of hope: “If you had known me, you would also have known My Father. And henceforth you do know Him, and you have seen Him, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:7).
The fifth antiphon is an appeal to love. Like the fourth it ends in a triple alleluia: “If you love Me, keep my commandments, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:15).
There are two more antiphons to be considered. At the Benedictus it is Our Lord himself who sings in the midst of His Church: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me, alleluia.” The Church cannot but reply: “Yes, Lord, you are the way, and the truth, and the life. Behold, I come to the Father through You.” There is no better preparation for today’s Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Church coming to the Father through the Son, united to Him as His Body and His Bride.
At Vespers the Magnificat will be framed by the words of the Lord: “Let not your heart be troubled or afraid. You believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:1–2). These are words of comfort, words of hope for every situation of fading light and for those moments when darkness descends over the human heart.
Toward Ceaseless Prayer
By means of these antiphons, the various fragments of today’s Gospel are clothed in melodies that make them easier to assimilate and remember. One is gently compelled to linger over each word, holding it in the heart. Today’s liturgy is a perfect example of how the Divine Office spreads the radiance of Holy Mass throughout the day, moving us in the direction of ceaseless prayer. This is meditatio at its best: the repetition of the Gospel, sustained by simple melodies that allow it to be stored up in the secret tabernacle of the heart.
Show us the Father
Saint Philip’s request is one that, secretly, we all burn to put to Jesus; “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14:8). This is the desire that the Finger of God (the Holy Spirit) has inscribed deep within the human heart. We were created to see God. We can be satisfied with nothing less. “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God” (Ps 41:2). And to this Philip adds: “and then we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14:8).
The Face of God
Ultimately the Face of God is the only reality that can satisfy the yearnings of the human heart. The eyes of the soul were created to feast upon God. To see the Face of God is the craving that tormented and delighted the friends of God in every age: from Moses, Elijah, and David to Philip and James; and from the apostles to the saints of every age. I am reminded, in particular, of two holy priests of our own time, both ardent adorers of the Face of Christ: Saint Gaetano Catanoso (1879–1963) and the Servant of God, Benedictine Abbot Ildebrando Gregori (1894–1985). Both priests burned with desire to contemplate the Face of Christ. They found the Face of Christ veiled in the Eucharist. The found the Face of Christ in every human being marked by suffering, especially in needy children, in the poor, and in the sick. Pope John Paul II said that the basic task of every Christian is to become, first and foremost, “one who contemplates the Face of Christ.” Am I that Christian? Are you?
Christ: the Icon of the Invisible God
The drama of today’s Gospel is that Philip is face-to-face with Our Lord and doesn’t realize who He is. In the Prologue of Saint John we read: “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18). To contemplate the Face of Jesus Christ is to know God. Saint Paul says to the Colossians: “He is the image, the icon of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb 1:3).
A Divine Reproach
And so, Jesus says, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? (Jn 14:9). Our Lord addresses the same question to each of us: How long have I been with you? How long have you been baptized? How long have you had the sacraments, the liturgy, the Scriptures, the Mother of God, the friendship of the saints? And not without a divine sadness, Jesus says: “And yet you do not know me?” (Jn 14:9).
The Holy Face of Christ
We know Our Lord when we experience in the bright darkness of faith that to contemplate His Face is to see the Father. Christ would have us gaze upon his Face with the eyes of faith; he would have us experience, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that He is in the Father and that the Father is in Him (cf. Jn 14:10). One who contemplates the Holy Face here below with the eyes of faith has begun already to participate in the joy of the blessed in heaven.
The Face and the Heart
To all who seek His Face, to all who gaze upon it through the lattice of the Scriptures, and hidden beneath the sacramental veils in the Most Holy Eucharist, Our Lord makes this promise: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). Contemplating the Face of Christ emboldens us to ask, and to ask confidently, in His Name. One cannot look into the Face of Christ, the human Face of God, and remain paralyzed by fear. The contemplation of the Face of Christ is liberating; it is the secret of living in the love that casts out fear, the love of His Sacred Heart.
The School of All Right Asking
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the school of all right asking in the name of Christ and in the light of His Face. In response to the Church’s sublime “Eucharistic Asking” the Father will pour forth the Holy Spirit on our gifts of bread and wine, and on all of us. In that asking in the name of Christ and in the light of His Face the Father will be glorified. “Look upon us, O God, our protector, and behold the Face of your Christ” (Ps 83:9).