First Mystery of God . . . “In the beginning . . .” 1:1
Those opening words of John’s Gospel put us back with God when there was nothing but God. Books touting atheism have been prominent in 2009 and 2010, but 2010 has also seen a fine anthology with the title “Belief.” In it Francis S. Collins puts before us the God experiences of Plato, St. Anselm, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and G. K. Chesterton, and other notables.
Collins, a microbiologist who was chairman of the group that mapped the genome, recently wrote to the New York Times, differing with a recent book on their Best Seller list. In it the author had asserted that only the laws of nature were eternal. Collins, who was well acquainted with those laws, could not agree. He said he could not believe that those laws could have assembled themselves into the world’s smoothly operating mechanism. The way I see it, that would be like dumping the 99 letter tiles of a Scrabble game on to a table, and having them arrange themselves to spell out the Gettysburg Address.
You might use thoughts like these while praying over the mystery of God as he was alone in the beginning. Or you might pray, saying, “Dear Lord, John has told us that you are love. I believe that everything I have loved in my short life was with you from that beginning.”
Second Mystery of God . . . “was the Word. . .” 1:1
The Word is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but John had a good reason for calling him the Word, or in Greek, the Logos. He did that because the Greeks called our Mother Nature the “Logos.” In John’s time most of the Greeks had given up on honoring the old Greek gods. They took their popular religion from people called the Stoics, who were followers of third century B.C. philosopher Zeno. They recognized no god other than the Logos, whom they conceived of as a divine spirit pervading all of nature.
John opened his Gospel by surprising his Greek audience with the news that their Logos, which they took to be just the soul of all living things, was also a person who always had a separate existence outside of nature.
Third Mystery of God . . . “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God” 1:1
A true poet bends meanings to express the inexpressible, and that is what St. John did here in saying the Word is with God at the same time he is God. He is speaking of the Second Person of the Trinity of whom St. Paul writing to the Colossians said, “He is the image of the invisible God,” (Col. 1:15) and of whom the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said, “He is the very imprint of the Father’s being.” (Heb. 1:3)
St. Thomas Aquinas humbly offered us a possible explanation of those verses from John, Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews. He told us that God, as an intelligent being, needed to be thinking of something. And, since there was nothing outside himself, he thought of himself. And, while our ideas of ourselves are incomplete, God’s idea of himself was his very imprint. Then, where no idea of ours is pleasing enough for us to hang on to it, God’s idea of himself was so completely satisfying, that it was a permanent reality. Using a cliché, we might see the Word as “God’s brain child.”
Fourth Mystery of God. . . .“All things came to be through him. Without him nothing came to be.” (John, 1:3)
The Scriptures hint at various ways in which the Word has influenced creation. To get at those ways requires us to parse the prepositions the sacred writers used. John said, “All things came to be through him.” Paul in Colossians said, “For in him were created all things. All things were created through him and for him.” Paul there went on to say, “In him all things hold together.”
In attempting to get some of that across to the Eighth Grade I drew a tall, elongated oval on the board, saying it stood for God the Father. To represent God’s inner make up I drew a few squiggly line in the oval. Next, opposite the Father’s oval I drew an oval representing the Son. He is the mirror image of the Father, even having the same squiggles.
Then, to represent all creation I drew a flat oval across the board below the Father and Son. I put in the same squiggles, but I improved on them, making them resemble hills, lakes and trees.
Finishing off the demonstration, I drew a big angel over to the side. He points one wing at God, and the other at creation, and he says, “Samo-samo.”
Fifth Mystery of God. . . “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.” (John, 1:3)
This verse goes further than the one that said all things were made through him. That verse said the Father saw in the Son the model for everything he created. This verse says that the life of God the Son gave the spark for the energy for all functions of the world. To say he is the wind beneath our sails is a gross understatement.
Biologists tell us that every human body is made up of ten trillion cells, and each of them has a life of its own. John was here saying that life is sparked by the Word.
The Five Jesus Mysteries
First Jesus Mystery . . . “And the Word became flesh” (John, 1:14)
When you have been meditating on the Word as the image of the invisible God, who is the Father’s model for everything in our limitless universe, who sparks all the energy in this limitless universe – when you have been trying to imagine that unimaginable greatness; then, to be suddenly told that the Word became flesh – that he is that baby whom Mary held on her lap -- well, it’s astounding!
What a come-down! What immense consideration God was showing to us imperfect beings! In his sharing of our human nature our human nature came to share in his divine nature.
Second Jesus Mystery . . . “and dwelt amongst us” (John, 1:14)
The Greek word John wrote, and which we translate as “dwelt,” was eskenaison. It means “set up his tent.” In the Book of Exodus we read that the Israelites set up tents for themselves at every stop on their journey through the desert. What is more interesting, God had them set up a separate tent for him. It was the Meeting Tent. Moses and others could go there to discuss things with God. In this verse John tells us that the human personality taken on by the Word is a tent. We are meant to make private there to discuss the things that matter to us and that trouble us.
Third Jesus Mystery . . .“We saw his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son.” (John, 1:14)
In Chapter Forty of the Book of Exodus when Moses set up God’s Meeting Tent it was immediately filled with God’s glory. That glory, called the shekina, was the mysterious cloud of God’s presence. The Bible says at night “fire was seen in the cloud.” You might picture it as giving a rosy glow to the walls of the tent.
But what was the comparable glory that St. John and the others saw in Jesus? People might think of his glory as being the wonderful miracles he worked, but was not his real glory his generosity? In giving his young life for us he said, “If it is possible let this chalice pass from me.” But then he gave himself away, saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Fourth Jesus Mystery . . . “While the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John, 1:17
Here John initiates his major theme. Everything that the Father did in a physical way leading the Chosen People to the Promise Land, Jesus does in a spiritual way, leading us to heaven. Reading through the chapters of John’s Gospel we will come across a dozen instances describing how what Jesus did was a spiritual echo of a physical occurrence in the desert years, as when Jesus gave us the true bread from heaven
In evoking a comparison between Moses and Jesus Christ, John was pointing out the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. All the Old Covenant could offer was the Commandments, but Jesus in the New Covenant gives us the grace to do what is right, and he lets us see the big picture. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is about. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”
Fifth Jesus Mystery . . . John said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” (John 1:36)
We wonder what John had in mind in not calling Our Lord by his given name of Jesus, but calling him the Lamb. Steeped in the Old Testament, John might have been thinking of the Lamb of Isaiah that would go meekly to his slaughter. He might have been remembering how Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the Lamb for the sacrifice. It is noteworthy that in the final scenes of the Book of Revelation John sees the Lamb in the New Jerusalem.
John the Baptist was to say he had not at first recognized Jesus, but the one who sent him baptizing said he would recognize him when he saw the Spirit come down and remain on him. Now, I wonder how was that message conveyed to John the Baptist? Do you imagine that he heard a voice from heaven speaking to him?
I like to fantasize about this. I can imagine a young John the Baptist’s attention caught by a solitary white lamb. Then as he gazed at the lamb he saw a dove come down and rest on it. And, he took that as his sign for recognizing the Messiah.
The Five Mysteries for Our Lives
First Mystery for Our Lives . . . “Jesus turned and saw them (Andrew and John) following him and asked, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)
If Jesus were to turn to you, asking, “What are you looking for?’ what answer would you give?
I met with a man who faced that big question on a Saturday in 1982. I was at a tennis match between Crissy Evert and Martina Navratilova, and I had slipped out to my car to give thought to Sunday’s homily. Hearing my name paged over the P.A, I went back to the stadium where I found the play halted by one of the patron’s having had a heart attack. Kneeling next to the slobbering guy I felt sorry for his embarrassment. His daughter and her new husband dressed so nicely were standing over him.
I later heard that the man was doing alright in the hospital, but I imagined he was very ashamed over the ugly display he had made of himself. When I went to the man’s hospital room three days later he surprised me with a different reaction. He said, “Father, that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had been lost in my schemes for getting ahead at my business and my club, and years had gone by since I gave a thought to what I should really be looking for.”
Second Mystery of Our Lives. . . “They stayed with him that day.” (John, 1:39)
In his Gospel St. John uses the verb “to stay” or “to remain” over fifty times, usually in the context of remaining with Jesus or Jesus remaining with his followers. Thus, remaining in Jesus and his remaining in us become the core religious idea in St. John’s Gospel.
From September into December of 1950 my seminary class had an hour a day studying the Grace Tract. When I got home in January I asked my Dad what his understanding of God’s grace was. He said, “It’s something like a spiritual vitamin pill to help you do what you’ve got to do.” That answer of his condemned him to listening to my explanation of the Catholic teaching on Grace.
We feel there are two distinct types of Grace, Actual and Sanctifying. My Dad was getting at Actual Grace , which is a momentary assistance from God helping us to understand things and to do what we must do.
Sanctifying Grace, the central theme of John’s Gospel, has two parts to it. It is first of all God dwelling in us and we in him. It is what Catholics mean by being in the State of Grace. Secondly, Sanctifying Grace is the divine life God within us communicates to us. While meditating on this mystery of the rosary we treasure our oneness with God.
Third Mystery of Our Lives “You are Simon, son of John; you will be called Peter.” (John 1:42)
When you think of Jesus calling Simon by the name Peter, or the rock, you might think of how authority is needed for the smooth running of all organizations, even Christ’s church. I think of God’s first comment on us humans. He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” If we are not to live alone we need rules like America needs its Constitution. It needs its courts to interpret it, and its executives to enforce it.
We should look closely at the image of a shepherd that Jesus most often used to explain the role of church leaders. The principal role of Our Lord’s shepherd would be to keep the flock together. This involved policing both the sheep in front and those behind. The young ones in front needed to be kept from running off ahead, letting themselves become prey to wolves. The old ones in back had to be prodded to keep apace less they fall prey to wolves. The pace the flock moves at would not be what any of them wanted, but it kept them together.
Many church rulings are not the ones I would make, but to fulfill Christ’s wish that we remain one I go along with them, honoring church authority.
Fourth Mystery of Our Lives “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” (John, 1:47)
The first disciples brought a man named Nathaniel to meet Jesus, and Jesus greeted him by saying he was a true Israelite, there was no guile in him.
Jesus was there alluding to the Old Testament’s Jacob who was later given the name Israel. He had been a tricky man, and Jesus was saying this man Nathaniel had a better right to the name of Israel, because there was no deceit in him.
Anyway, in using this as a mystery of your rosary, you could use it to check yourself on honesty. Is there any hypocrisy that is sickening your role as a disciple of Christ?
Fifth Mystery of Our Lives. “Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding.” (John, 2:2)
Close readers have noted that St. John has intentionally made a comparison between the first chapter of his Gospel and the first chapter of Genesis. Both open with the phrase “In the beginning.” Then, where the first chapter of Genesis describes six days of creation, the first chapter of John’s Gospel narrates Our Lord’s doings on the first six days of his public ministry. Finally, where Chapter Two of Genesis opens with the Father resting in heaven on the seventh day, Chapter Two of John’s Gospel has Jesus resting on the seventh day at a banquet, which is a Biblical mage for heaven.
In meditating on this mystery you might urge yourself to increase your belief in the reward Jesus says there is waiting for the just. You would resolve to amass treasures for yourself in heaven rather than on earth where rust and moths consume.