31st December. Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

Saint Sylvester, pope.

Sylvester (250?-325) was born in Rome and served as a priest under pope Marcellinus before the persecutions of Diocletian. He saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312 and succeeded Melchiades as bishop of Rome in 314. Later that year, he sent four legates to represent him at the church council held at Arles, France. Because of old age, he was unable to attend the Council of Nice in 325 but sent his legates, who headed the list of its signatories, preceding the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch. Saint Sylvester was pope for just over twenty years and was buried on 31st December, 325, in the Catacomb of Priscilla. In German-speaking countries his name is popularly given to New Year’s Eve.

1st Reading: 1 John 2:18-21

A Christian community in crisis, yet still trusting in the Holy Spirit.

Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth.

Gospel: John:1-18

The magnificent prologue of Saint John’s Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.


Reviewing the Situation

The reference in the first reading to a very divided community has lessons for today’s Church, and offers us some hope of renewal. The language of the epistle suggests that Saint John’s small Christian community had also been badly shaken by recent events. Their membership has dropped, and no doubt some bitter words have been exchanged about former members who had turned their backs and left. But though these desertions felt so critical that it seemed the last hour had come, the author still puts his trust in “the anointing that comes from the Holy One.”

In the event, John’s shaken group, the “Community of the Beloved Disciple” as Raymond Brown memorably called it, did not disappear. The final chapter of the Gospel suggests that they re-built their links with the other Christian churches, under the symbolic leadership of Simon (“Feed my lambs”) Peter–and they went on to provide the highest and noblest theological understanding of Christ, the Author of our salvation. The magnificent prologue of John’s Gospel–and fruit of the contemplative mind and heart of the Beloved Disciple–is proof that even after a severe crisis in the Church a new and greater flourishing can emerge, if we simply listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. For “from his fullness we have all received,” and one grace is heaped in place of another, so that we can all become children of God. We pray that our church, under the pastoral leadership of pope Francis, may begin 2015 with renewed trust in the guidance and animation of God’s Holy Spirit.

Positive Thinking

Tomorrow we begin the new year 2015. There is something hopeful about the beginning of a new year. It is a time of new beginning. Nature itself is on the verge of a new beginning. Even though we are in mid winter, we know that each day is now that little bit longer than the previous one. With the lengthening of the daylight, there comes an emergence of new life. today’s gospel reflects this moment of new beginning with its growing light. The gospel reading’s opening words are ‘in the beginning.’ It then goes on to speak of a light that shines in the darkness, a light that darkness cannot overpower, a true light that enlightens everyone. The gospel reading, of course, is referring, not to the light of the sun, but to a different quality of light. It is the light of the Word who was with God in the beginning. Because this Word became flesh, his light has become accessible to us. This is a light that envelopes all our living. We live and move in this special light. Later on in John’s gospel, Jesus says of himself: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ Most of us have known our own personal experiences of darkness. A darkness of spirit or mind or heart can engulf us; we can be suddenly plunged into some dark and difficult situation that we had not anticipated. It is to these kinds of situations that today’s gospel can speak most powerfully. ‘A light shines in the darkness, a light that darkness could not overpower.’ Our faith declares that there is no darkness in our world which the light of Christ cannot penetrate. [Martin Hogan]

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