In the footsteps of the beloved disciple

In the footsteps of the beloved disciple

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon (Jn. 1:35-39).

One thing that has always perplexed me about the Gospel of John is how he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn. 13:23, 19:26, 21:7, 21:20). He does this at least four times! Why insist so much? Were not the other disciples loved just as much and just as uniquely by our Lord? Does it really need repeating? It is only upon reflecting on my own personal encounter with the love of Christ that I am able to better understand his insistence.

Like John, I still remember the date and time in which my eyes met the gaze of Christ. For both of us it was about four in the afternoon. For me, it was a Thursday — the sixth of December, 2012 to be exact — when I found myself in the Hannigan Chapel at St. Mary’s Catholic Center in College Station, Texas. Also like John, I was young (19) with little to no clue of the adventure I was about to be invited on. In some ways it was a day like many others, yet in my heart it will remain forever the day that changed all others.

What happened that day? Perhaps something similar to what happened to John. “…As he watched Jesus walk by, [John the Baptist] said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.” It was as if for the first time I truly beheld with my own eyes – and heart – the Lamb of God before me, not in human form but under the appearance of a small and fragile piece of bread. Locked in this tender and intentional gaze I believe John and I discovered the same words inscribed upon our hearts: Cherise (John), before all else, you are loved. There I was before a Love so immense that loved me not just in what I did well or if I became better, but right then, just the way that I was for the very fact that I was. I found myself posing the same question of John in my own words: Who are You? (“Where are you staying?”).Burning within me was a new flame of the desire to know this God who loved me in this way, and under His gaze I was finding the courage to even risk loving back without fear of hurt or disappointment.

“Come and you will see.” Jesus is constantly inviting us to respond to His love and to discover it in an ever new and deep way. He desires not just that we receive His love but that we be changed by it. We must remember however, that we cannot know everything before we decide to respond and follow Him. If John had known the great struggles he would have had to face, such as being with Mary under the cross, perhaps he would have hesitated. I too would have hesitated knowing the difficulties that I have found so far along the way. But then we both would have missed out on the even greater joys and incredible beauty that the Lord has led us to after our “yes”. Let us trust in Jesus’s promise as He assures us: Come and you will see.

“So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him…” When we have the great fortune of meeting someone who understands us, loves us for who we are, and still pushes us to grow and become better, we naturally desire to stay in his or her company. God is that Person for us before whom we need not (and cannot) hide any aspect of ourselves. Seeing us in our innermost being, He tenderly gazes upon us and loves us as we are. We have the opportunity to experience this intimacy with Him every time we come before the Blessed Sacrament and in a particular way after we receive Holy Communion. In receiving Holy Communion we are receiving the Real Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ. He enters into us breaking down all barriers that separate us in His desire to be one with us, as the Father is one with the Son (Jn. 17:21). Let us not rush off after receiving Him but remain there in communion so as to sit under His gaze and simply let ourselves be loved.

Like John, that day in the chapel I recognized myself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I allowed this truth to surprise me and enter into me, touching my heart which I had previously always tried to keep well-guarded. I was immediately and immensely filled with a joy and peace that can only come from God and that has not left me since. Because of this experience I think I might understand the frequency of this expression in John’s Gospel. To discover oneself loved in such a way — a way that deep down all human hearts desire — cannot but inspire great wonder and awe. It is in this state of marvel that John writes these words and I share my story, over and over again.

This truth of my identity as being loved by Love Himself is that which has animated all of my life choices since. In spending more and more time in prayer with our Lord I began not only to know Him better but to also better know myself. I discovered within myself desires and dreams I never knew I had, and I saw before me a future full of exciting and fulfilling possibilities I would have never expected. Possibilities to experience a deep and lasting joy. Possibilities to grow in my ability to love and let myself be loved. Possibilities to make of my life a gift and yet always have a cup that overflows (Ps. 23:5). Under His loving gaze I continue to have the courage to really see and accept myself for who I am with the openness to discover who He created me to be.

In reality, we are all beloved in God’s eyes. In Isaiah we are told: “You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you” (Is. 43:4). But until we look up to meet this tender gaze of the Father constantly upon us, we risk missing out on the great adventure that He has planned for us from all eternity. John, a young fisherman looking to simply follow in the footsteps of his earthly father, dared not dream of a future walking side by side with the very Son of God. Similarly, I, a shy country girl, never dreamed of moving to Rome, studying philosophy and theology in Italian, and being formed to become a consecrated with the Apostles of the Interior Life: a community dedicated to evangelization and spiritual formation. I think John would second me when I say that, even if completely different than any and all plans I had for my life, I have never been happier than after I met the gaze of Christ and chose to follow Him. I also know that I could never do it on my own. For in this life, it is His grace accompanying us and His Spirit guiding us, ever reminding us that before all else we are loved.

 

Suggestions for a concrete resolution (for adults):

  • This Sunday, I will remain in the church longer (at least 10 minutes) savoring this moment of intimacy with Jesus after receiving Him in Holy Communion.
  • I will stop by the church sometime this week and before the Blessed Sacrament (exposed or in the tabernacle), I will let all masks fall and pray to the Lord: “I come to You Lord just as I am. Let me experience Your love for me.” Then I will wait for His response in silence.
  • I will take the time to review my life and with gratitude recognize the great adventure He has led me on thus far. Seeing where He was particularly present, I will thank Him, and seeing where I failed to let Him in, I will ask forgiveness.

Suggestions for a concrete resolution (for youth):

  • I will set aside a moment for silent prayer in which to be “uncomfortable” before God in vulnerability and honesty. I will let Him see me as I really am and ask Him to let me experience His loving gaze.
  • In thinking about my future do I trust that God is guiding me? Today I will take a moment to say a simple prayer and await His response: God, what do You desire for my life?
  • This Sunday, I will remain in the church longer (at least 10 minutes) savoring this moment of intimacy with Jesus after receiving Him in Holy Communion.

 

December’s meditation is written by Cherise Klekar,

young woman in her second year of AVI formation in Rome.