Embrace the living Christ

Father John A. Kiley

Certainly, St. John the Baptist had plenty of time and much family history to be able to proclaim in the very first chapter of the Gospel of St. John, “Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God (Jn.1:34).” His years spent pondering in the desert, talk among family members when he was young, and graces allowed him by God, certainly led to this judgment on the Divinity of Christ: “…He is the Son of God!(Jn.1:34)” On the other hand, the disciple Nathaniel’s quick acknowledgment of Christ’s Divine Sonship is, with all due respect, rather premature. Nathaniel’s initial encounter with Christ had taken up all of two minutes when the newly recruited follower declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel (Jn.1:34).” The evangelist employs these initial bursts of faith-filled enthusiasm to set the tone for his entire Gospel narrative as a litany of testimonies of faith, introduced by the Baptist and later culminated by St. Thomas.
Some early attestations of faith in Christ are hesitant. After Cana’s wedding miracle, John simply notes that “…the disciples began to believe in him (Jn.2:11).” The Samaritan woman likewise starts in the right direction after her well-side dialogue with Jesus: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah? (Jn.4:29).” The woman’s fledgling faith was soon outdone by her townsfolk’s more resolute protestation, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world. (Jn.4:42).” After the multiplication of the loaves, the well-fed crowds make a similar corporate avowal, “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world (Jn.6:14).” But their act of faith is not nearly as significant as the celebrated confession from the lips of St. Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God (Jn.6:69).”
The evangelist continues his catalogue of believing statements with Jesus’ dialogue with the man born blind, “When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him (Jn. 9:38).” Then St. John briefly notes the crowds’ incipient faith, “And many there began to believe in him (Jn.10:42).” He next recalls carefully the explicit words of Martha as her brother is returned to life: “She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world (Jn.11:27).” And the writer adds for good measure, “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him (Jn.11:45).” After the Gospel writer’s lengthy recollection of Christ’s Last Supper instruction, his passion, death and glorious resurrection, the evangelist climaxes his testimonies of faith by the heartfelt and celebrated words of the doubter, “Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God! (Jn.20:28).”
St. John frankly and honestly notes in his writing that not everyone was convinced of Christ’s Divine origin and his place in salvation history. “Nevertheless, many, even among the authorities, believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not acknowledge it openly in order not to be expelled from the synagogue (Jn.12:43).” A number of Christ’s initial devotees found his teaching on the Eucharist quite daunting, “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it? (Jn.6:60).” The well-intentioned but hesitant Nicodemus (cf. Jn. 3) only exercised a mature belief after Calvary.
At the conclusion of his Gospel narrative, St. John declares that his whole mission as an evangelist is to insist on a personal belief in Christ as Lord and Savior: “But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name (Jn.20:31).” An explicit act of faith in Christ as God’s Divine Son and humanity’s unique Savior is the root and foundation of all authentic Christianity. It is true that belief, that is, the structure of our faith, is vitally important. The articles of the Creed, the guidance of the Commandments, the comfort of the seven sacraments, the liturgical and devotional life of the Church, and the corporal and spiritual words of mercy are the framework of authentic Christianity. But these good works must be awakened and enlivened and sustained by an inner conviction and commitment concerning the person of Jesus. A personal embrace of the living Christ himself is the heart and soul of genuine Catholicism.