John 17: Written on Such Thin Paper

“Mystical Supper,” Coptic print, Taken from coptorthodox.ca

O Master, keep me constant and unshaken in the interior dwelling-place that you have made within me. Though dead, I live when I gaze upon you; possessing you, though poor, I am for ever rich, more wealthy than any ruler. Eating and drinking you, clothing myself in you from day to day, I shall be filled with blessings and delight beyond all telling. For you are every blessing and all splendor and joy, and to you is due glory, to the Holy, Consubstantial and Life-giving Trinity, worshiped and confessed by all the faithful and adored in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. — St. Symeon the New Theologian

As we near Pentecost have you noticed that the Mass texts, likely abetted by our present risky novena to the sky-rending Spirit, seem to almost be threatening to transgress the already breached and weakened boundaries that still hold at bay the dawning New Creation? I mean, as the Christ of St. John’s Gospel speaks, or the the detonation of God at Pentecost (aka “the Church”) roars out to the ends of the earth in Acts of the Apostles, it seems like our world simply cannot much longer bear the strain of so much disruptive novelty.  The Kingdom has come, how long can the world remain unconquered? But I say, Maranatha! Thy Kingdom come, O Lord — in me, in us, here, now.

Yet even as I say that so glibly, I still wonder, Are you really sure you want Heaven’s untamable Fire to come and unravel all your ego-incurvature by His selfless free-fall on you? 

17

Tuesday-Today’s Gospel for Mass, taken from John 17, has been the Church’s hushed and awestruck eavesdropping on the colloquy that goes on, from before the world began, in the inner recesses of the ineffable Trinity. It’s almost embarrassing to read it, or hear it proclaimed, because of its unequaled character as a disclosed secret of divine intimacy. It is a text of such great profundity and grandeur that it seems to take on an almost sacramental quality, as if the human words of God it contains have nearly been transubstantiated beneath the force of what Meister Eckhart called the ebullitio, the boiling-over of the Living Water that gushes from the wellspring of God’s threefold inter-indwelling love. The Sacred Page that bears John 17 has been so thinned out by the Spirit-who-makes-all-things-new that it’s been worn almost into new-being (Rev. 21:4).

St. John of the Cross claimed it as his most cherished text, and the many testimonials collected after his death agreed that John would recite its Vulgate rendering in a whispered voice almost ceaselessly as he would travel on foot, carry out manual labor or sit in the night silence beneath the vast starry dome. And if you read his most personal and (I would say) mystical text, Living Flame, the fluid rhythms and otherworldly textures of John 17 permeate nearly every line. For John, the heights of union with God mean nothing if not the unspeakable capacity of the soul — after the long and painful journey through the purgative dark nights — to speak of John 17 not as an outsider-interlocutor, but from within.

What has always struck me most forcefully about John 17 — and as I write this I’d rather share it in an old church whose walls have been thickly coated by incense, whose floors have been worn thin by pilgrims’ feet and penitents’ knees, and whose stained glass windows refract the hidden colors buried in the sun’s light — is that, as a revelation of the eternal dialogue coursing about to and fro in God, it reveals something that one fears even to believe for a moment could be true: from all eternity God thinks of us. Prayer, in its highest height, is hearing and receiving and singing back this text in, with and to God. That’s what liturgy must become for each of us. This revealed truth is wonderfully, astoundingly, awfully confirmed in the Incarnation as God has forever and forever made being human constitutive of what-it-means-to-be-God. God’s eternal Word will always know and love His Father in and through a human mind and heart.

For us…

Why would God make Himself so? The Creed says it beautifully,

Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem, “For us men and for our salvation…”

“For us.” That implies love, which is always about the other.

…in fide vivo Filii Dei qui dilexit me et tradidit se ipsum pro me, “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” — Galatians 2:20

This truth I understand, I salute and bow before, but still long to internalize and ingest into my heart of hearts. When someone really gets this whole mystery, really believes it from the epicenter of the soul, what might that sound like? Stealing from a saint now seems appropriate.

[Prayed after receiving holy Communion] O eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea in which the more I seek the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek to know You. You fill us insatiably, because the soul, before the abyss which You are, is always famished; and hungering for You, O eternal Trinity, it desires to behold truth in Your light. As the thirsty hart pants after the fount of living water, so does my soul long to leave this weighted body and see You as You are, in truth. — St. Catherine of Siena

This language, so lofty and passionate in its earnest yearning for the God revealed in Jesus Christ, reveals the secret to this woman’s superhuman capacity to love pauper and king, sinner and saint, pope and profligate: consumed with love, she knew she was loved by God, and so willingly submitted to His surgical grace. The coming of the Spirit is, in the end, not about speaking in heavenly tongues or doing miraculous deeds, but rather is about refashioning us in the image of the Crucified Christ. About allowing the God who has done all things “for us” to make us, in His image, into people who live life for others, i.e. those who can say of me, “He lived for us and for our salvation.”

A friend and fellow devotee of St. John of the Cross once said it well, “We want to luxuriate in the rhapsodic glory of St. John’s mystical poetry, we just don’t want to have to die to ourselves to get there.”

Written in blood

There was a man I knew years ago, who is now a priest, whose father heroically witnessed to the deep meaning of God’s wondrous love that holds us in mind. Here’s an excerpt from a 9.10.08 article about his dad in the Washington Post.

If you ever ran into Nokesville dad Thomas S. Vander Woude, chances are you would also see his son Joseph. Whether Vander Woude was volunteering at church, coaching basketball or working on his farm, Joseph was often right there with him, pitching in with a smile, friends and neighbors said yesterday.

When Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, fell into a septic tank Monday in his back yard, Vander Woude jumped in after him. He saved him. And he died where he spent so much time living: at his son’s side.

“That’s how he lived,” Vander Woude’s daughter-in-law and neighbor, Maryan Vander Woude, said yesterday. “He lived sacrificing his life, everything, for his family.”

Vander Woude, 66, had gone to Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville on Monday, just as he did every day, and then worked in the yard with Joseph, the youngest of his seven sons, affectionately known as Josie. Joseph apparently fell through a piece of metal that covered a 2-by-2-foot opening in the septic tank, according to Prince William County police and family members.

Vander Woude rushed to the tank; a workman at the house saw what was happening and told Vander Woude’s wife, Mary Ellen, police said. They called 911 about 12 p.m. and tried to help the father and son in the meantime.

At some point, Vander Woude jumped in the tank, submerging himself in sewage so he could push his son up from below and keep his head above the muck, while Joseph’s mom and the workman pulled from above.

When rescue workers arrived, they pulled the two out, police said. Vander Woude, who had been in the tank for 15 to 20 minutes, was unconscious. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

Joseph remains in Prince William Hospital with double pneumonia, and doctors are monitoring him for infection, said Erin Vander Woude, Thomas Vander Woude’s daughter-in-law. Joseph is in critical condition and on a ventilator, she said.

“He doesn’t know that his dad died,” she said.

For those who knew him, Vander Woude’s sacrifice was in keeping with a lifetime of giving.

“He’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back,” said neighbor Lee DeBrish. “And if he didn’t have one, he’d buy one for you.”

…hoc est enim Corpus meum, quod pro vobis tradetur, “for this is my body which will be given up for you…”

Living Text

My wife and I chose John 17 as our Nuptial Mass Gospel, and as in persona Christi Fr. Tom Collins proclaimed it, Patti and I experienced, in a way that can’t really put into words, the voice of the living Christ speaking these words to God the Father about us. The homily, in fact, was all about that. “Thomas and Patricia,” the homilist said, “these words Jesus spoke to His Father in the Gospel just now were not words from a distant and dead past. No. They were for you, for here, for now; for all your future friends, for your children and grandchildren, for all who fall under your influence. Till death do you part, these words of Jesus are to be the binding seal of your love. Cling to them. If you let go, you’re on your own…”

Still clinging.

…I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world… — John 17:20-24

3rd century papyrus fragment “P. Oxy. 4447” from the Gospel of John 17:23-24. Taken from wikimedia.org

4 comments on “John 17: Written on Such Thin Paper

  1. Ona says:

    Your sermon is much better than the one I heard this morning. 😉

  2. Victorious Love says:

    Oh my!!! This is so good for my heart!
    May we be drawn ever deeper into the heart of the eternal dialouge of the Holy Trinity!

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