Reading St. John
Those who are in love delight in their beloved, want to know him or her ever more fully and intimately, the better to be one with the beloved. Those who love God delight in Him and want to know Him ever more fully and intimately, the better to be one with Him. “My beloved to me, and I to him” (Cant. 2:16). “He that loveth Me, shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him” (Jn. 14:21). This manifestation of the Son, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, will be complete, of course, only in the Beatific Vision where “we shall see Him as He is” (Jn. 3:2) “that God may be all in all” (I Cor. 15:28). It is for this that we were created: “This is eternal life: that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (Jn. 17:3). While this manifestation of God, and our corresponding love and union, will be complete only after our death here below and birth there above, “nevertheless, He left not Himself without testimony, doing good from heaven...” (Acts 14:16); and, moreover, “at sundry times and in diverse manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1) before, last of all, speaking to us by His Son (ibid.). “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (Jn. 1:18).
The disciple “whom Jesus loved” wants, in his turn, to make manifest to us also the One he had the great grace of knowing and loving, that we too might have part in this grace. “These are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing, you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31). “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life: for the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal which was with the Father and hath appeared to us: that which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (I Jn. 1:1-3) in the unity of the Holy Ghost, for “There are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one” (I Jn. 5:7).
Not only is it St. John (and the other Sacred Writers) who have wanted this for us, but it is the Holy Ghost, God Himself, who has moved and inspired them so to write. These scriptures are holy because they come from God, “contain” God, and incite towards God. It is God’s word: “When you had received of us the word of the hearing of God, you received it not as the word of men, but, as it is indeed, the word of God” (I Thess. 2:13). These words contain the life-giving power of God Himself: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn. 6:64). And it is God Himself who has wanted us to know Himself, that we might love Him and be His children. “No one knoweth the Son but the Father, neither doth anyone know the Father but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27). “I have called you friends: because all things whatsoever I have heard of My Father, I have made known to you” (Jn. 15:15).
The Sacred Scriptures being such, they are what we call a “sacramental”: something from the Church (it is hers to establish the canon of the Scriptures and give their authentic sense) which, with pious and reverent use, becomes a source of actual graces. How many times has not God used His word He left with us to speak to our hearts! Well known, for example, is the case of St. Augustine (and his son) who, when not yet baptized and in agony of spirit before the awful step, was inspired to regard a text at random from St. Paul, whose epistles he had at hand. “Not in rioting and drunkenness,” he read, “not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences” (Rom. 13:13). Immediately darkness gave way to light, and turmoil to peace. “The finger of God is here” (Ex. 8:19). His son Alypius read the next verse (“Him that is weak in faith, take unto you”) and, applying it to himself, would follow his father. Before them, the great St. Anthony, on entering a church, had heard being read: “If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me” (Matt. 19:21). He took it to heart, and literally. This he did, and became the father of a whole army seeking perfection in the desert. God used the same word to move in like manner St. Francis of Assisi. St. Norbert was a very worldly cleric when he had an accident that left him, for an hour, as if dead. He came to, with these words ringing in his ears: “Let him decline from evil and do good; let him seek after peace and pursue it” (I Pet. 3:11). His conversion was instantaneous and complete. St. Therese of the Child Jesus found her way of Spiritual Childhood in the Scriptures; notably: “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me” (Prov. 9:4) and “You shall be carried at the breasts....As one whom the mother caresses so will I comfort you” (Is. 66:12 ff.). “Never were words so touching: never was such music to rejoice the heart!” was her reaction. And so on, and so on.
Now, the Sower still goes forth sowing His seed, “and the seed is the word of God” (Lk. 8:11). What is required is that it fall into good ground; and a first disposition for their ground to be good is that all “receive...the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (II Thess. 2:10). This love of the truth will include a great veneration for God’s word, a reverent docility towards whatever God may be teaching us, and a humble acknowledgement of our limited understanding of “the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10); to read the Bible to learn what God may be saying to us [“Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth” (I Kings 3:10)] and not to vaunt our learning, nor yet to find proof for our preconceived ideas. The Gospel, you see, may be likened to a wood-print or etching that leaves its picture in outline form, in black and white. There are those who would color the picture in: a Calvin would use too many dark colors and find his morose religion of reprobation; others, only red, and conclude “Liberation Theology”; many, much pink, and see a very rosy picture of universal salvation or a religion of common good will with no structures or rules; etc. All green will give you the Gospel according to the Greens; all the colors of the rainbow, that of New Age. Others, wanting to give greater relief to certain aspects will go outside the lines and can too end up distorting the whole (the Gospel according to this or that “Mystic”? More of that, perhaps, later).
This love of the truth will incite us to do what we can to understand rightly the word of God. Firstly, of course, prayer [“Teach me goodness and discipline and knowledge” (Ps. 118:66)]; and then studying the Holy Scriptures (I Tim. 4:13-16; II Tim. 3:14-17).
Let us, for our part, endeavor to “search the scriptures” (Jn. 5:39), at least in an initial way for a part thereof: the writings of St. John, called “The Theologian” by the Greek Fathers for his deep understanding of the mysteries of God. “God helps those who help themselves” is a true idea, corresponding to the more theological: “Grace does not suppress, but perfects, nature.” We shall try to see how St. John’s works are to be read, that the Lord may Himself come to our aid and do what we cannot. May we be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus discussing together the divine events that had taken place, in such wise that Jesus might come in our midst to enlighten our feeble understanding, making us exclaim: “Was not our heart burning within us whilst He spoke in the way, and opened to us the scriptures?” (Lk. 24:32).
To call these few words a “Foreword” would seem to suggest there is more to follow: and that may well be the case, God (& the editor of the Angelus) willing, time (& inspiration) permitting—but surely irregularly.