Monday December 27, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Saint John the Apostle
Reading (1 John 1:1-4) Gospel (St. John 20:1a, 2-8)
In the first reading from the beginning of the First Letter of Saint John, Saint John talks about what they have seen, what they have heard, what they have touched, and then tells us what it is; he says that it concerns the Word of life and this life was made visible. We have seen it and we testify to it. In this he is talking merely about Jesus in the most generic sense, but we also see an almost identical point that is made in the Gospel reading as Saint John, speaking about himself, says, The other disciple also went into the tomb – this is, of course, after the resurrection of Jesus – and he saw and believed. When he is talking about Jesus just in general, he is talking about the Word of life, the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, as he tells us in his Gospel. And he says that he has seen and he testifies to what he has seen.
Now there is no way that anyone can see with their eyes that Jesus Christ is God, just as when Saint John went into the tomb and he saw and believed, there was no way that one could see with one’s own eyes in that situation that the Resurrection had taken place. Jesus was not there; all that was there were the burial clothes. So the fact that he was able to believe is the point of the greatest interest because it was an act of faith. He was seeing with more than just his eyes. Even though what he is talking about at the beginning of his first letter when he talks about what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and touched with our hands, he is telling us, “Yes, we have seen Him in the flesh. He is real. We touched Him; we heard Him; we spoke to Him,” all of the things that we would look at with a human being. But then he turns around and says, The life was made visible, and that he proclaims this eternal life. So while it was certainly possible to see and touch the human form of Jesus, it was not possible with human eyes to see the life of Jesus, just as it is not possible to look into the mirror and see your own life. You can see your body; you cannot see your life. It requires an act of faith to be able to recognize that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, that He is the Second Person of the Trinity, and that He has risen from the dead. These are things that cannot be proved intrinsically. We can give all kinds of reasons as to why we believe it, but we cannot prove it in an absolute or scientific sense. Yet what Saint John is telling us is that he has seen and he has believed.
And because he believes, he is spreading this word so that their joy may be complete. In other words, the only way we are truly going to have the joy that we desire is, number one, if we have the faith, and number two, if we are trying to help other people to do the same. It is not enough just to sit back on our own and say, “Well, thanks be to God, I got it!” Well, yes, thanks be to God, we do. But it is not about what we have; it is about what we are doing with what we have. As the old saying goes: Use it or lose it. If we are not putting the faith into practice and if we are not trying to bring it to others, we are going to lose the little bit we have, as Jesus tells us. But if we put the faith into practice, if we are praying, if we are growing in holiness, if we are being an example to others, if we are bringing Christ into the world, then it is going to deepen within us. The joy that we have in Christ is going to be compounded and it is going to be brought to others so that they too will have joy in Christ, which will make our joy even greater, even to the point, Saint John says, of being complete.
We have right in front of us the Word made flesh. We can see what looks like a piece of bread. We can taste what tastes like a piece of bread. We can touch what feels like a piece of bread. But only with the eyes of faith can we see and believe. Only with a heart filled with love can we worthily receive Him so that His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.