Throughout my adult life, doubts have plagued me–doubts about the Church, about certain mysteries regarding the Church, and, especially, the goodness and good intentions of the institutional Church and her hierarchy. I have never accepted the idea that the hierarchy is the Church and the Church is the hierarchy. The hierarchy is a sacred (mostly) means to an end, that end being the wellbeing of the Church over and across time. My praise and faith in these things remains strong, over all, and especially in comparison to my questions. But, the hesitations remain, linger, and hover around the edges of my beliefs.
For the most part, I have accepted these uneasinesses as crosses to bear.
Always, though, my respect and love for St. John has remained. Most importantly, for me, I think of St. John as the most loyal male friend in the history of the world. While nearly everyone of Jesus’ male friends deserted Him in His most horrific and trying hour, St. John stood fast, defying the pressure placed upon him by those who commanded and oversaw Jesus’ death. Should we surprised, then, that some of Jesus’ final words are to the beloved, entrusting His previous mother, Mary, into his house, his care, and his protection?
Tradition has it that John lived the longest, the only one of the 12 to escape martyrdom. His writings were also the last of the New Testament to be written. Solid scholarship dates his Apocalypse to sometime during the decade after the year 85, his three pastoral letters to around 98, and his gospel to around 100.
That his dream of the end of all things–an inspiration to much of the West’s fiction, philosophy, theology, and poetry–came first in his writings would be a fascinating topic in and of itself, but it’s not the purpose of this post to explore this.
Instead, this post is merely to thank St. John for being the witness that he was and is, the patron of writers.
To this end, I can’t help but think of three passages, all inspired by John, that have touched me deeply.
The first from G.K. Chesterton:
Out of the mouth of the Mother of God
Like a little word come I;
For I go gathering Christian men
From sunken paving and ford and fen,
To die in a battle, God knows when,
By God, but I know why.
And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world’s desire
`No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.’
From T.S. Eliot:
And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home),
Takings its place to support the others
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious
An easy commerce of the old and the new
The common word exact without vulgarity
The formal word precise but not pedantic
The complete consort dancing together.
And, finally, Russell Kirk from his mostly forgotten 1955 work, Academic Freedom:
The principle support to academic freedom, in the classical world, the medieval world, and the American educational tradition, has been conviction, among scholars and teachers, that they are Bearers of the Word—dedicated men, whose first obligation is to Truth, and that a Truth derived from apprehension of an order more than natural or material.
There are numerous other Johannine examples one could give–perhaps most readily in the figure of Sam Gamgee in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. (Tolkien’s patron saint, by the way, was John).
Regardless, it is safe to assume that St. John will continue to inspire. Our job, then, is to be open to the Word of John, that Word that enlightened him and that enlightens every man, past, present, and future; that which holds the universe together–all of time, space, and eternity–through Love.