New Year 2021 Boarbank Hall
The Prologue to `st. John’s Gospel describes Jesus as "full of grace and truth"…. "He dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (1:14). This is a compelling description of a person! The author of The Fourth Gospel had grown up a pious Jew trained in Jewish values. He already knew what grace and truth were. Grace was God's loving kindness shown to his people. And truth meant unyielding fidelity to promises and commitments.
Grace and Truth
These are ideals to be pursued. We are often not gracious, in defeat, for instance. A gracious person is a treasure, always good, patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not insisting always on his or her own way, not irritable or resentful, not rejoicing at wrong, but always rejoicing in what is right, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. So wrote St.Paul in 1 Cor 13. This vision of human excellence inspired Saint John Henry Newman when he wrote: "The Apostles were gentlemen…not that they made a good bow, wore kid gloves, or spoke Attic Greek, but their minds and their hearts were refined. I have always maintained that St. Paul, as seen in his Epistles, was the first of gentlemen- and if you would look for the precepts of courtesy and grace, which the world so much admires, you must go to him for them" (LD.XII.p.159). This was entirely consonant with pursuing the ideals of Christianity. What Newman found in Paul was the ideal of human and divine virtues lived out every day as discipleship. Behind St. Paul, of course, was Jesus himself: for me to live is Christ, he said (Phil 1:21). Saint Luke recounts St. Peter’s words to the Gentile convert Cornelius, in the Acts of the Apostles: Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38). The whole world was thus being given a very simple and accessible summary of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, with the invitation to follow him, and realize human potential to the full.
‘The Word was made Flesh’ was St.John’s presentation of the historical experience of Jesus as Good News This especially stimulates our imagination at the beginning this New Year, worried as we are by the corona virus, and how ‘to be full of grace and truth’. Like the Word made flesh, in which heaven and earth meet in ordinary experience, we too are invited to live out our every day. We surely thank God when we meet the reality of goodness in other people. What a difference it makes when we go to the doctor’s surgery, or deal with assistants responsible for the post office, or the bank, or transport. When people have some grace of disposition, and sensitivity for the truth, it relaxes the tensions in our life. As for believers: ‘The Church should be the shrine of all the decencies’ Rose Macaulay wrote in The Towers of Trebizond. Decency characterizes the community in which people show each other sensitivity and kindness and live the truth with respect and affection. Hopefully during this pandemic crisis most people are making a big effort to be really kind and understanding. The massive attention given these days to the sick and poor, to the homeless and migrants, to prisoners and those with broken lives, evidences this concern and encourages us. Human beings really are capable of, and often do show love and goodness to each other. Most reasonable people are appalled when people flout the common interests and endanger others by refusing to honour the directives publicly asked for in the interest of the common good.
Help from the Bible
Our efforts in this respect can be much helped if we follow the encouragement of the Pope and Bishops to study the Bible this coming year. The Second Vatican Council (1962-5) urged all Catholics to know the Scriptures ever better. The immense commitment of Christian scholarship to Biblical study over the last two hundred years is bearing fruit daily in the life of the Church. The Council said repeatedly that Scripture is the soul of theology. It is obviously foundational in liturgy. And the study of Tradition, that is the lived experience of the faith across the centuries, means that the treasures of the past will never be lost. Such treasures figure importantly when the divine office is recited daily by priests, religious and lay people. Every aspect of human nature, good and bad finds expression in the Scriptures. The atrocities committed by winners and losers are noted in the biblical narratives. For every John the Baptist there is a Herod, for every Jeremiah there is a shocking heir to good king Josiah. There are saints and sinners everywhere in the Bible, with one perfect person in the New Testament- Jesus himself. The NT writers show what a gauntlet he ran to protect goodness from the beginning to the end of his life. The Scriptures reflect a series of traditions. And all the major Christian churches who are seeking Christian unity- and trying to help each other to find it, observe traditions. The Bible Alone slogan once used often, was unhelpful for Christian discipleship. Christians in general, now formed ecumenically do interpret the Bible in the light of Tradition. For the lived experience of the faith with all its variety is integral to the formation of the Bible itself. Holiness has many faces.
The present pandemic displays how persons of all beliefs and none show publicly and privately the dignity of being human, and contribute to honouring it. There are some major constants in human nature accepted by all. Out there now many of the abandoned lost and lonely are being cared for. The pandemic is the stimulus for love, and love is a name for God (1 Jn 4:80), and for salvation. We are brought back to the realism of grace and truth. This New Year is just beginning and it is perfectly obvious that present difficulties are not going to be easily resolved. However universal sensitivity for common suffering humanity can alleviate the suffering. Nobody asserts now that some class, nation, creed or colour can evade it. Does this give us a glimpse into what St.John meant : God is love and he who abides in love abides in God (1 Jn 4:16)? We all need each other! Amen.
Rev. Richard J.Taylor