In the Office of Readings for Advent, there is a very powerful reading from St John of the Cross in which he compares the “Old Law” with the “Law of the Gospel”. He is comparing the covenant made with the people of Israel to the covenant established in Jesus Christ. Under the Old Law, he says, it was entirely appropriate to seek visions and revelations from God. But, with the establishment of the Law of the Gospel, the need for such visions and revelations has disappeared:
“When he gave us, as he did, his Son,who is his one Word, he spoke everything to us, once and for all in that one Word. There is nothing further for him to say.”
It would be foolish and offensive, St John continued, to be putting questions to God and seeking specific answers. All we need to do is to fix our eyes on Christ but without seeking anything “new”. These are wise words containing a message that still needs to be received today. All of us, in fact, ask questions of God, whether implicitly or explicitly. Sometimes it just takes a news bulletin to make us cry out “why?” It’s not easy to learn the lesson that in Jesus Christ we have the inexhaustible source of wisdom, understanding and knowledge.
In St John the Evangelist, whose feast we celebrate today, we are presented with someone who directly encountered the fullness of life and truth that are in Jesus Christ:
“Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, that we have seen with our own eyes, that we have watched; this is our subject.”
John, like the other apostles, is the source of the Church’s “memory” of Jesus. From them flows the tradition of knowledge and understanding that is our Christian heritage.
In this Christmas season, we Christians proclaim the moment in history when things became forever different. As we heard in the Christmas liturgy: “A child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. He is Christ the Lord.” To some, the proclamation of that message means nothing. It is fanciful – a myth handed on from the ancient world. But for those who have received the gift of faith, and struggle to live by it, things are different. We cannot simply hear the message and do nothing about it. For the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ to be a source of grace, a source of wisdom and understanding, we, like the shepherds on Christmas night, must go to meet the Lord. We go to meet him in the scriptures, in silent prayer and very specially in the Eucharist which we see and touch. A life of prayer and of engagement with the sacraments of the Church takes us into a voyage of discovery in which Jesus Christ comes alive to us and we grow in personal knowledge of him.
St John the Evangelist is a kind of icon of progressive and intimate knowledge of Jesus. He laid his head on Christ’s breast at the last supper. He was present at the foot of the cross when he died. He saw blood and water flow from the side of Christ. Our journey to deeper knowledge of Jesus will take us to the cross but also to the source of living water.
All this is vital for those for whom we exercise priestly ministry. It must be pondered by those considering a vocation. All Christians bring Christ to one another but the priest,in virtue of his sacramental office makes the living Christ present in the world through the sacraments and most significantly through the Eucharist in the form of bread and wine. He makes it possible for people to “see” and “touch” the Risen Lord. He gives what no one else can, and what people most deeply need.
A vocation to the priesthood is a tough life but it is the best possible life for those who are called to it. The key to happiness and effectiveness in the priesthood is our personal, developing and growing relationship to Jesus. If that is in place, or moving into place, then we will receive the healing, the vision, and the confidence to minister to God’s people in a very special way of life – a road less travelled, marked by the cross, but full of beauty, of abundant life and of great rewards.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Archbishop's Homily on Vocations Day
On Wednesday 27th December the Archbishop joined us here in the parish for a Vocations Day which was attended by seminarians and young men thinking about becoming a priest. This is the text of his homily in which he presents St John, an 'icon' of progressive intimacy with Christ as a model for priests and those considering priesthood: