St John’s Day Mass 2014 (December 27)
Thirteen Days of Christmas
Tradition tells us that of the three first witnesses to the empty tomb, St. John lived the longest. That is not surprising, since Tradition also holds that he was the youngest, perhaps a teenager during Jesus’s ministry. If John is the same one who wrote the Book of Revelation, as well as the three letters that bear his name, he must have ministered during most of the first century. We know, also from Tradition, that he suffered what we can call a “soft martyrdom,” since he died on exile on the island of Patmos.
Jesus loved all His disciples, but He had a special agape for John, who in turn became the apostle of agape, the kind of selfless love that motivated Jesus all the way to the cross. Pope Benedict tells us that God’s love for us is so great, that He shows it to His own detriment. He forgives us in that love whenever we sincerely repent and intend to avoid sin in the future. We might go so far as to say that God loves us so much He appears to be a kind of chump. But this is the kind of chump who can give us the power to avoid sin and then spend our lives doing good for others. A divine chump who, in Jesus the Son, gave His life up freely for us on the cross, and in so doing became the way to eternal life and happiness for as many as will follow Him.
John went to the tomb, saw the burial cloths that had bound Jesus, and believed. I think that this was the first conversion miracle of the Holy Shroud, which we now call the Shroud of Turin. John would have seen the double length linen cloth that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had laid Jesus’s body on, and then with the second length covered it. Separate, and carefully folded, would have been the head band that was wrapped over the original shroud. The way the shroud laid on the stone outcropping, where we can today celebrate Mass, must have convinced John that Jesus had simply passed through the cloth at His glorious Resurrection. The image on the Shroud suggests a kind of radiation caused it. But that’s my own speculation. The reality is that John believed, and it transformed his life.
The first letter of John, later in chapter two, contains the line “he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” If we walk in darkness, we will stumble; that is biblical language speaking of the darkness of intellect that goes along with stumbling into sin. We know that sin is a spiritual illness, and it kills the supernatural life of the soul. It can drag us into a living hell right here on earth, because it becomes a bad habit that imprisons us, and to which we can be addicted. The most widespread vice in today’s society is Internet pornography. The sociologists tell us that porn is one of the biggest reasons the number of marriages is declining. The solitary sin, for both men and women, wraps us up in our own pleasure and keeps us from relating in a healthy manner to others of both sexes. It also kills prayer and any spiritual growth. We also have increasing evidence from medical research that perverse sexual expression changes the brain, just like drugs and alcohol. Sin is bad for us on every level.
But love is good on every level. We know that happily married people live longer than those who are single, divorced or widowed. The sole exception is the one who enters a religious community. These are not married, but their community life in service of God appears to help them live longer and healthier lives than those who have no community. Love turns us outward from ourselves and causes us to want the good of another even more than our own good. In fact, it makes us believe that the good of the other is our own good. In this way we share in the love of God through mutual self-sacrifice in pursuit of the good.
There is much more to glean from John’s Gospel and letters. The sermon on the Bread of Life has caused many conversions, of men and women who see the clear words of Jesus, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you will not have life” and believe them. The Great Sermon at the Last Supper, the washing of the feet or mandatum, and the scene with Mary and John and Magdalene at the foot of the cross are priceless stories that change lives. But in the end, it can all be summed up in John’s words from Tradition: “little children, love one another.”