Opening the Word: In Christ, know God

One of the great gifts of my upbringing in an Evangelical “Bible chapel” was a constant immersion in Scripture. I recall standing up in front of the congregation, with several others, quoting Bible verses from memory — as a 4-year-old boy! A personal favorite was John 14:6, heard in today’s Gospel: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It highlights another gift of my upbringing: a conviction that Jesus Christ really is the way, the truth and the life.

It also tells us something about the Father. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his first Jesus of Nazareth book (Doubleday, $16.95), reflected often on the relationship between the Son and the Father. Writing about the Lord’s Prayer, Benedict quotes German poet Reinhold Schneider, who says of the word “Father”: “This one word contains the whole history of redemption. We are allowed to say ‘Father,’ because the Son is our brother and has revealed the Father to us; because, thanks to what Christ has done, we have once more become children of God.” As Benedict notes, many people struggle with this, in part because so many human fathers have proven lacking, hurtful or even missing. Which is why we must be attentive to what Jesus teaches us about the Father, especially that the Father is love, and he offers himself to us in love.

Jesus is the perfect son, the “new Adam,” who reveals the way to the Father — and that way is in Jesus and through Jesus. “You have faith in God,” he tells the disciples, “have faith also in me.” This faith requires faith in Christ, a humble trust in his guidance. “As the way,” said St. Hilary of Poitiers, “he will guide us to the truth. As the truth, he will establish us in the life.” And that life is not merely a good life here on earth, although that is to be sought and treasured, but the divine life. The many dwelling places — I memorized it as “mansions” as a boy — are part of the kingdom of God, which continues to grow.

To dwell in the house of God is to abide in perfect communion with him. That was the deepest desire of King David, a man after God’s own heart: “One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the Lord’s house all the days of my life ...” (Ps 27:4). David’s greatest accomplishment, fulfilled through his son Solomon, was the construction of the temple. Jesus is both the son of David and the Son of God, and he is, as St. Paul wrote, the “head of the body, the church,” for “ in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:18-19). As Jesus told the disciples, the Father dwells in him and Jesus does the work of the Father: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me ...” But the Father’s work, astonishingly, is not to just to reveal God as perfect communion — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — but to redeem mankind by drawing us, through love and mercy, into that saving communion.

“He calls together all men,” the catechism explains, “scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church” (CCC, No. 1). The Son established a new family, the Church, the “household of God” and “the pillar and support of truth” (1 Tm 3:15). Or, as St. Peter puts it in today’s Epistle, we are being “built into a spiritual house;” we are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own ...” Jesus is the new and everlasting temple, and those who enter this temple will find everlasting rest and peace.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.