The Gospel of John: Where the Catholic Sacraments Soar
The young apostle John referred to himself as the beloved disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. He was definitely gifted as a thinker and as a writer. A patient mystic, he had eyes to see, literally the Lamb of God sacrificed on the cross and later, mystically the Lamb of God worshiped in heaven. So much of our uniquely Catholic theology and imagination is driven by the writings of John. His masterpiece, a God-breathed inspired work of the Holy Spirit acting in and through John, was his Gospel. But when taken as a whole, his letters, his Gospel and the Book of Revelation all reveal the deepest, richest mysteries that only a brilliant, quasi-angelic mind could organize and produce.
Where Saint Paul, often called the greatest biblical era theologian, gives us applied theology, Saint John gives us the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, the role of Mary, the newness of life, that divine life that we are born into in Baptism, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the miracles of the transformation of love in Holy Matrimony, the power of the divine breath, the Holy Spirit, acting as the Lord, the Giver of Life, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Saint John provides the Catholic theology of the Sacraments more than any other biblical mind.
The Wedding at Cana in John 2, teaches on many levels, various truths of the Faith. The miracle itself as a transubstantiation from water to wine points to the Eucharist. On a different level it points to the transformation of love in the life of the Christian. What we can provideo to God on a natural level, eros, philia, storge, he takes and infuses grace so that it produces surprising fruit on a supernatural level to agape. “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now” (Jn 2:10). It is no coincidence that this happens at a marriage, to be more precise, at a wedding feast. Other than what Jesus says about the indissolubility of Holy Matrimony in Matthew 19, this story provides the rationale and theological foundation for marriage to be considered one of the seven sacraments.
Then we have John ch. 3, the Nicodemus and Jesus meeting. In the dark they met to discuss the light of divine life that we experience when we are born again…(wait for it) of WATER and SPIRIT. “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”(Jn 3:5). The reference to water guarantees that he is referring to the sacrament of Baptism. Whereas Saint Paul refers to our adoption into Christ and into the Body of Christ the Church, Saint John speaks of a new birth. We are born in water like little fish and then we are anointed. We become one with the ICHTHYS and the Anointed One.
Next, we have John chapter 6 which features the super-abundance miracle of the loaves and the fish which anticipates the inexhaustibility of the Holy Eucharist which the Church has been feasting on for over 2000 years. This is followed by the Bread of Life Discourse which more than any other biblical verse or chapter or book, gives us a clear and rock-solid foundation for the Catholic teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:53-55).
At the end of his Gospel, we have the institution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus scandalized the Pharisees when he demonstrated that he had the power to forgive sins, especially when he healed the paralytic in the synoptic gospels. Since John leaves no doubt about Jesus, the Logos, as the Divine Son of God it goes without saying that he can forgive sins. What is truly scandalous is that he passed that authority on to mere human beings. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:21-23). Here Jesus gives the Church the gift of a renewal of life, a re-grafting of the branches to the vine. We can come to life again in the great Sacrament of Reconciliation after having lost that life to the jaws of mortal sin.
Anointing of the Sick and Confirmation
The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and Confirmation are implicitly present in the many healings and the reference to the coming of the Paraclete. Without the Gospel of John, our understanding of the depth of meaning and the richness of the Catholic Sacraments would be incomplete.
John’s vision of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb helps us to see that our participation in the Paschal Mystery and in the life of the Sacraments is a foretaste of our heavenly home and our eternal call to be holy and grateful before the Lord.Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7).