Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.
During this Christmas season we hear a series of reading from the First Letter of Saint John. Scripture scholars believe it was written to complement the Gospel, especially to clarify certain teaching amid the muddle and confusion of daily life. The Gospel had surely been welcomed but there was still controversy and disagreement.
The Divine Author appeals to his congregations to remember “what you heard from the beginning!” At that time they had enjoyed a singular insight and experience of purity; there was no confusion. One by one and as a single congregation they had welcomed the Gospel. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they had set aside their misgivings and hesitations to receive Baptism –a complete immersion in a lake or river – and emerged refreshed, confident and joyful. On that same occasion they broke the bread of fellowship and shared the cup of communion.
But life rarely ends at its most satisfying moments. There is always an epilog which seems to drag on indefinitely; the ecstasy of a Christmas or Easter settles into the humdrum of misunderstandings, mistakes with casual betrayal and occasional fractures.
Saint John urges his people to keep their eyes on the prize, “eternal life;” and to remember what you heard from the beginning.
I took an introductory course of karate some years ago and, despite my white belt, I worked alongside black belts. They didn’t regard my clumsiness, they had better things to do, like noticing where they needed improvement. The sensei was equally attentive to them as to me, as we all worked on the basic movements.
Children learn to crawl before they walk, and walk before they run. Having mastered one skill they move on to the next. But in karate and the spiritual life, we continually return to the fundamentals. There is no next skill. Christians learn the Our Father as children and yet we must continually relearn each word as we direct our gaze upon the Lord. Just to say the word our invokes the congregation in which I am immersed, and our covenant with the Father. If I have a grievance against someone that word will put my troubles in their proper context. I may have a quarrel with someone but it's not half as important as our communion.
Our aim, as Saint John describes it, is simply to remain “in the Son and in the Father.” Within that Divine Congregation we sing our Christmas carols, practice our Lenten penances, and perform charitable works.