Feast of Saint John the Evangelist
1 John 1:1-4
John 20: 1a and 2-8
It’s not about the Baby
I suppose if any of us were assigned the task of designing the liturgical year, we would not likely choose the feasts of Stephen, John and Holy Innocents to immediately follow Christmas. The folks in the pews are full of good food, friends and family, caressed with the warmth of tradition and soothing ritual practice…and suddenly we’re jolted by the story of the proto-martyr, Stephen, or the "son of thunder" John, and by a vocabulary of "blasphemy, infuriated, outraged…" Jesus tells his disciples, "You will be hated by all because of my name."
Yesterday, we were reminded that, "…they could not withstand the wisdom and spirit with which Stephen spoke." Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe calls this juxtaposition of experience the "endless fertility of God’s grace," viz., the intertwining of death and birth.
Clearly John’s Gospel is the most difficult to comprehend, with its mystical imagery and heady, sacramental theology at times. But it’s also filled with an intimacy and immediacy we don’t find in the synoptic Gospels.
These feasts are not only about Stephen, John, and other saints and martyrs; they’re about the birth of the Body of Christ, the Church… and how early Christendom struggled to piece all this together. This is the mystery of Incarnation. So, yesterday, while Stephen looks at God, Saul looks at Stephen. He sees a man who is against all he holds dear, who accuses his own people of being traitors, and attacks the Holy Temple! But Saul is also struggling against another perception of Stephen… His face is radiant like that of an angel. Saul has experienced the triumph of service over dominance, forgiveness over hatred, and he’s transformed. And in today’s Gospel, John the Beloved gazes into an empty tomb and BELIEVES. He, too, is transformed by Love.
I had a seminary professor who told us that the Feast of Christmas is "not about the Baby!" The Nativity is also about the rich mystery of God in our world in the most intimate and immediate way. Happy Feast of John the Evangelist!
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.