Thursday, December 27, 2012

John: Apostle, Evangelist, Memoirist

Yesterday, on the feast of St. Stephen, I spoke for the first time in many years with a friend named Stephen.

There, quite unexpectedly, was his message on my mobile phone. I had fifteen minutes to wait before my daughter’s flight arrived, so I thumbed the link to his device, and there he was: the voice, the kindness, and now with the years the wisdom.

Today is the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, and I take today’s readings from John’s letter and John’s gospel the way I took that phone call from my friend Stephen. They have the same immediacy, goodness, wonder—and personal relevance.

Stephen and I shared a series of striking events, just as John and Peter did, and I was in many ways closer to those events than anyone else now living. Now I am writing about them.

Many years have passed since Mary Magdalene rushed to tell the apostles that the tomb was empty. By now, the time of writing, Peter has founded the Church of Rome and has been martyred. John, once young and beloved, has cared for the Blessed Mother as his own and is now old.

John writes to his own beloved followers of things he and the apostles heard, saw, and touched, so that one generation may have fellowship with the next, and so that his own joy “may be complete.” He recalls the events of Easter morning: Mary Magdalene’s words, their running together, his own speedier arrival at the tomb ahead of the older Peter, the burial cloths, the head cloth rolled up in a separate place. “He saw and he believed.”

This strikes me as a model for evangelization, and also for memoir, if in my Christian life at this late stage there is now any difference, and there shouldn’t be. In evangelizing, we create a fellowship, and our own joy is complete.

The connection between evangelization and memoir is especially strong for me this morning because of something my friend Stephen wrote in his e-mail. He was writing about the events he and I shared many years ago.

He wrote, “I always used to tell friends, that I was still connected to, that the story ought to be told, the real story. And if anyone were to do it justice,” he added, “it would be you. I have in my own way spoken out as honestly and compassionately as possible.”

As did Peter. And certainly John himself, the beloved one, so close to Jesus, must have grown old with the conviction strengthening in his heart that if anyone were to do justice to The Story, it would have to be him. As have I.

The coincidence of my friend’s unexpected message, coming as it did on Stephen’s feast day and the day after Christmas, which is always for me like the start of a new year, now that the shopping and feasting madness is over and we can all reflect on one calendar while looking forward to the next, seems too great to ignore.

These days give direction to my year. The work I am doing on my memoir, which God give me the strength to complete in the next twelve months, must be an act of evangelization—one that tells “the real story.” This way lies fellowship, and the completeness of my joy. This is oddly true for me, as for John, though my story is not anything like The Story.

John writes with a simplicity and immediacy that convince me he has seen great things. Now I would like to do the same.

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