Saint John by Sir Ninian Comper, Lady Chapel of Downside Abbey Church. Thanks to the ever gracious Father Lawrence, O.P. for the use of his photo.
The Logic of the Liturgy
The liturgy has a marvelous logic all its own. On this third day of the Christmas octave, Mother Church gives us a Resurrection Gospel, taken from the very last chapter of Saint John! While we are yet at the manger, the liturgy compels us to gaze into the face of the risen Christ! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved is there before us. Indeed, it was he who arrived first at the sepulchre, preceding the Prince of the Apostles. Saint John’s virginal love gave wings to his feet. “Draw me in thy footsteps,” says the bride of the Canticle, “let us run” (Ct 1:4). John is the first of those who set out in search of the Body of Christ; arriving even before Peter, and yet deferring to him.
Peter and John
The Petrine authority in the Church is firmly established by Christ on the solid rock of Peter; it continues through the successors of Peter: teaching, reproving, testing, correcting, forgiving and calling together in unity. The Johannine authority in the Church is not hierarchical, but belongs, rather, to the order of graces freely given for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ; it speaks with the voice of love, with the inimitable accents of direct experience. It is the authority of the saints and mystics, the authority of holiness, the authority of the greatly loved and of the great lovers. “I belong to my love, and my love to me” (Ct 6:3).
What We Have Seen and Heard
The Church has need of both voices. She needs the strong, unwavering voice of Peter; she also needs the many-voiced Johannine chorus of those who sing: “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have contemplated and touched with our own hands: the Word who is life–this is our theme. That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony. . . . We declare to you what we have seen and heard, so that you too may share our life” (1 Jn 1:1-3).
Love of Things Invisible
The Johannine chorus speaks with the unmistakable authority of those who have gone into the wine-cellar and rested beneath the banner of love (cf. Ct 2:4-5). Their breath is fragrant with honey and with the honeycomb, of wine and of milk: that is with the imperishable sweetness of the Holy Ghost, with the Blood of the Lamb and with the pure milk of the living Word of God. These are the ones who have eaten and drunk, drunk deeply (cf. Ct 5:1) of the streams of living water that flow ever fresh from the pierced Heart of the Bridegroom (cf. Jn 7:37-38). These are the descendants of Saint John the Beloved, those to whom the Father has given the eagle’s vision, those who are little enough and poor enough to be borne aloft and carried away into the love of things invisible, as the Preface of Christmas puts it.
Those Who Dwell in the Cleft of the Rock
All through history the spiritual offspring of the Beloved Disciple have, like so many doves, found refuge in the cleft of the rock, the pierced Heart of Jesus. They are found everywhere in the Church and are needed everywhere in the Church; very often they are desert-dwellers, lovers of solitude, hidden away behind enclosure walls that are but the symbol of a deeper desire: “to be hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). But they are found as well in all sorts of other places: in city apartments and in fashionable suburbs, in conditions of extreme poverty and in places of great suffering. When they speak, their word is uttered out of silence and returns to the silence whence its springs. More often than not they sing, for words alone are poor and inadequate; song, at least, lifts words above themselves, breaks them open and allows their fragrance to fill the whole house (cf. Jn 12:3).
The Authority Born of Adoration
The Johannine authority of the Church comes to birth in adoration: in the contemplation of Jesus’ Holy Face, shining with the glory of the Father in the bright cloud of the Holy Ghost on Mount Tabor. It is nourished by the Bread of Life containing in itself all sweetness. Its place of preference is close to the altar, in the radiance of the Most Holy Sacrament. It is instructed in secret: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me. . . . It is written in the prophets: They will all be taught by God; everyone who has listened to the Father and learnt from him, comes to me” (Jn 6:44-45).
The Johannine authority is one of love; it flows out of the Heart of Jesus into the heart and mind of whosoever rests his head upon Jesus’ breast. It is purified in Gethsemani where it enters into a bloody struggle with the powers of darkness and of sin. It is steadfast on Calvary where, opening its mouth it inhales the gift of the Holy Ghost, handed over in the breath of the Bridegroom, and where raising its eyes to the Pierced One it contemplates a stream of blood and of water. The Johannine authority of the Church is inseparable from the Virgin Mother, has taken her into its home, lives day by day and hour by hour in her intimacy, learning from her things long cherished in the silence of her Immaculate Heart.
Friends of the Lamb
Finally, the descendants of John — friends of the Lamb — see beyond what is now into a new heaven and a new earth where God will wipe away all tears, where there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain (Ap 21:3-4). On their faces shines already the radiant glory of God and the Lamb himself is their lighted torch. They make their own the cry of the Spirit and of the Bride: “Come! Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”
Disciples of John
By the infinite mercy of the Word made flesh, may we who want to listen to Peter and defer to him in all things, be numbered among the least disciples of John. Amen.