Sight and Vision

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
27 December 2020, Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Patron of our Parish
1 John 1:1-14 >><)))*> John 20:2-8
Our Parish Patron, the beloved disciple of the Lord, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist (Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Sept. 2018).

Today we celebrate in our Parish the feast of our Patron Saint, John the Apostle and Evangelist also known as “the beloved disciple of the Lord”. Although it is a Sunday in the Christmas octave when the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated by the universal Church, parishes and dioceses with the beloved disciple as patron as exempted. Perhaps, it is St. John’s gift to me before I move to my new assignment in February next year that I celebrate his feast for the last time this Sunday.

I tell my parishioners to love St. John; that is their first task as parishioners, to love and support their Patron Saint. Moreover, I have always stressed to them how St. John the Apostle is so special, and not an ordinary saint or Apostle. Next to his being the beloved disciple of Jesus, he is the only Apostle to have not died a martyr but grew old to witness the growth of the Church; he was the one who took care of the Blessed Virgin Mary as per instruction by the Lord Himself before He died on the Cross on Good Friday; and though there are only a few parishes dedicated to him, mostly are Cathedrals like the one at Dagupan-Lingayen in Pangasinan, at Naga City in Camarines Sur, and of course, the Cathedral of Rome, the St. John Lateran, the Mother of all churches in the world.

He is often symbolized by the eagle for his sharp and incisive way of looking at things and events in the life of teachings of Jesus that he is the only one able to tell us about the wedding feast at Cana, the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus as well as the more detailed account of the teachings after the feeding of five thousand people.

The great American writer Helen Keller, a blind woman, said it so well, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

I wish to reflect on that vision of St. John, on what had he seen in our Lord Jesus that hopefully we may always try to look into in our own lives.

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2020.

Seeing Jesus, a real man among us

I used to say in my wedding homilies that women should always look for men who not only has sights but also vision. We all have sights but not everyone has a vision, the ability to see and look beyond what is on the surface, on what can only be seen but also perceived further.

St. John the Evangelist had a great vision of who Jesus Christ is. No wonder towards the end of his life while a prisoner at the island of Patmos off Greece, the Lord offered him a vision of heaven which he had recorded to us in the most difficult book of the Bible, the Revelation; his other four writings, the Gospel and three letters are also difficult to understand due to the different layers of meaning that only the beloved disciple was able to perceive.

Such is the kind of the vision of St. John said to be like the eagle, believed to be the only creature that can stare directly into light without getting blinded — very sharp and keen, as we say in Filipino, “matang-lawin” or eagle sight.

Being the only Apostle of the Lord to have grown old and spared from dying a martyr like the rest, St. John witnessed the first errors or heresies of early Christians concerning the humanity of Jesus Christ. They could not accept the Son of God took on a genuinely human body so that in a mistaken zeal for spirituality, they condemned everything material as evil, claiming the humanity of Jesus was just an appearance. As a result, these heretics like the gnostics taught that to be fully united with God meant to withdraw as much as possible from everything material.

St. John wrote his letters primarily to address this wrongful and erroneous views (which would persist for 400 years, still echoing in our present time), insisting that Jesus Christ is true God, and true man. We have heard him declare that on Christmas day when his prologue was proclaimed when he claimed “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us” – that Jesus Christ fully entered into our humanity and material condition by blessing and making it holy!

Today St. John insists on this contact with the real, bodily Jesus, repeating the words “seen” and “visible” about five times in four verses, emphasizing contact with a real, bodily Christ.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible…

1 John 1:1-2

Here we find what St. John tells us also after the Resurrection in his gospel account how Jesus invited the doubting Thomas to touch and feel him, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your your hand and put it into my side, and do be unbelieving, but believe” (Jn.20:27).

It is this physical, truly human, touchable Jesus that the Church proclaims every Christmas. Yet, how tragic that through the ages, we in the Church had always had that tendency to withdraw from the material that perhaps had led to so many problems with the human body and sexuality so that we have all these sex scams happening even long before.

Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is for us to be at home with our humanity like Jesus our Lord because everything God had made is good. Mention SEX, even in seminaries or Catholic schools, you hear for sure that rising crescendo of whispers and impish laughters.

Everything that God made is good. That is why Jesus became human to show us it is good to be a human being, it is the path back to God, into heaven. If we cannot accept Jesus as truly human, how can we truly love God whom we do not see? Hence, we find this beautiful flow of reason and reflection of St. John in his first letter:

No one has ever seen God. Yet if we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought o perfection in us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:12, 16, 19-20
Photo by Mr. Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, Christmas 2020.

In short, to love God and to love others, we must first love our very selves, accept our “human-ness” like Jesus, a real man in everything except sin. The more we accept each other, the more we “see” God among us as a community, as a Church, the Body of Christ.

The Church, the Body of Christ

This vision of the Church as the body of Christ by St. John came from the empty tomb of Jesus at Easter, when the Lord was paradoxically not in sight!

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.

John 20:6-8

What did our Patron Saint “see” that he believed, not like Simon Peter who was the leader of the Apostles?

Photo by author, August 2020.

This is the best example of St. John’s vision, of seeing beyond the physical, of seeing the significance of the folded cloth that covered the Lord’s face that has its basis in the story of Moses who had to put on a veil whenever he would converse with God face to face (cf. Exodus 34) due to the immense brightness of God, of His overwhelming presence. This the Israelites have seen every time after Moses had spoken with God, his face shone so brightly.

With the cloth that covered the head of Jesus folded and separated from the burial cloths, it meant that Jesus had met the Father, the veil to cover His face was no longer needed.

At that instance, everything became clearer for St. John – from the cleansing of the temple to His conversations with that Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well – convincing him that Jesus had risen to new life, to new level of existence. Years later, we find Jesus appearing to Saul on his way to Damascus, asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?(Acts 9:1-5)” to indicate that whatsoever you do anyone, you do unto Jesus (Matt. 25:40).

In His glorified body, we are now able to look at God also in the new body of Jesus, the Church. It is in this aspect that we have to learn so much from the beloved disciple, St. John. Our lack of any sense of community like the collective effort in stopping the spread of COVID-19 shows of the great need for us to have wider and sharper vision of Jesus among us especially in the Church. May we strive to love more Jesus to find Him in our humanity. Amen.

Photo by author, Malolos Cathedral, September 2020.

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