Who Am I to Jesus?
In the United States:
The Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop.*
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I John 3: 11-21.
• Psalm 100: 1-5.
• John 1: 43-51.
…or, from the proper:
• I Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-23.
• Psalm 96: 1-3, 7-8, 10.
• John 10: 11-16.
…or, any lessons from the common of Pastors for a Bishop.
Outside the United States:
The Fourth Day after the Octave of the Nativity.
Lessons from the feria as above.
The Fourth Day after the Circumcision; and, the Commemoration of Saint Telesphorus, Pope & Martyr.**
Lessons from the feria, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Titus 2: 11-15.
• Psalm 97: 3, 4, 2.
• Luke 2: 21.
10:19 AM 1/5/2019 — Whenever the Missal presents to us this lesson about our Lord’s first meeting with Nathaniel, I can’t help but think about John Chrysostom’s homily on the first chapter of John's Gospel, in which he focuses on something that the Evangelist reports in today's Gospel lesson almost in passing: after our Lord tells Nathaniel how He saw him under a fig tree—how He saw the purity of his soul—Nathaniel says to Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Chrysostom points out that the first part of that statement—”Rabbi, You are the Son of God!”—is, word for word, exactly what Peter says to Christ after the miraculous catch of fish; but Peter is responding to a rather impressive miracle. When Nathaniel says it, he hasn’t seen any miracles—unless you want to count Jesus seeing him under the fig tree, which certainly doesn’t rise to the level of raising Lazarus from the dead or giving sight to the blind or even the miraculous catch of fish. Jesus’ public ministry has not yet begun at this point; He’s still collecting His apostles around him. Obviously, when Peter calls Jesus the Son of God, he means something very different than what Nathaniel means.
Nathaniel adds to the end of that statement, “You are the King of Israel!” We will never know exactly what Nathaniel meant by that: whether it’s a political statement or reference to a sort of spiritual kingship we don’t know. Certainly, recognizing Jesus as King of Israel—whatever it means—is a far cry from recognizing Him as God; and Chrysostom points out that this is an important point for us: Nathaniel sees Jesus as he is able to see Jesus, having had no previous experience with Him.
Practically speaking, Nathaniel disappears from the Gospel after this; we know he is there, but what he may have said or done after this point is not recorded. It’s safe to assume that his understanding of exactly Who and What Jesus is grew and developed over time, as it did for all the apostles. Some, like Peter and John, knew early on that Jesus was God;—they had figured it out—some of the others didn’t realize it until after our Lord had risen from the dead. Judas began where Nathaniel may have begun, seeing Jesus as a political figure with spiritual overtones; but when he realizes that there isn’t going to be a revolution to overthrow the Romans, he becomes disillusioned and betrays our Lord. He does realize it at the end, after his betrayal; and that realization drives him to suicide.
What we have to figure out is how we choose to recognize our Lord; and we are all at different stages in that process. Those who cling to a purely secular and social interpretation of the Gospel would see Jesus as a social and political teacher who inspires us to be concerned for the poor and the downtrodden and the oppressed; but I doubt they would see Him as any kind of god to whom is owed worship and some form of personal, moral commitment. By contrast, in a previous life I once had a Buddhist coworker who saw in Jesus a spiritual guru with great mystical teachings to impart, but with no understanding of Jesus having any kind of message beyond being at peace with ourselves. The bottom line is: we do not have a right to invent Jesus Christ: He is who He is regardless of what any of us think of Him.
The Epistle to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ: yesterday, today and the same, forever.” We do not define Christ. He defines us. Saint John probably said it best: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But to those who did receive Him, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:10;12). So, the question we must ask ourselves is not “Who is Jesus to me?” but “Who am I to Jesus?” Am I Cain, being asked by God, “Where is your brother?” Am I Elijah, looking for God in the magnificence of nature, and missing Him standing right there next to me? Am I Judas, looking for Jesus to solve the world’s problems? Am I Peter, looking for God to save me as I sink into the sea? Am I Nathaniel, who doesn’t know who Jesus is, but only knows, at this point, that He is something different?
The first step in the interior life is to let Jesus define Himself. The next step is to then let Jesus define us.
* Born in Bohemia, Neumann (1811-1860) followed a desire to labor in the American missions and was ordained a secular priest in New York in 1836; later, he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, for which he established many parishes and parochial schools. In 1852 he was consecrated Bishop of Philadelphia where he is remembered for—among other things—introducing the Forty Hours Devotion to this country. He was the first US citizen to be canonized.
** It is a pecurliarity of the Missal of St. John XXIII (1962) that January 1st is designated as "The Octave Day of the Nativity" and not called the Circumcision, while the ferial days following are listed as "Ferias after the Circumcision."
Telesphorus, the 7th Vicar of Christ, was born in Greece around AD 125. According to St. Irenæus, he suffered a glorious martyrdom on this day, probably around the year 136. It is commonly believed that he was one of the first popes to celebrate Easter always on a Sunday, but without cutting off communion with other communities which had not yet taken to this custom. The Greek Church observes his feast on Feb. 22nd. His commemoration is made by an additional Collect, Secret and Postcommunion added to those of the feria; no Mass for him is permitted on this day.