In the depths of our heart, each one of us longs to love and to be loved. We were created for communion, for intimacy, and our whole being cries out with longing until we find rest in the arms of another, yes, in the embrace of One who loves us totally and unconditionally and who is himself infinite Love. In him alone are our hearts at rest, and in him alone can we also draw near to others, our brothers and sisters, in the deep way that we truly desire.
The world has been born from love and it returns to love. The mystery that is inscribed in every fiber of our world is precisely the mystery of love, the reality of gift. In love alone, therefore, do we truly find ourselves—and not primarily as lovers, but as beloved. We are infinitely, eternally loved by a God who is Love itself, a God who is a Community of Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In allowing ourselves to be loved by him, in allowing his love to penetrate into our hearts, to touch them, heal them, and transform them, we also become loving in turn. Indeed, we become possessed by Love—Love that, in enveloping us, brings us a happiness that surpasses all that we could hope for or imagine.
You are my beloved. These are the words that echo unceasingly deep in the heart of each one of us. Throughout the Bible we sense them continually coming to the surface as a word of love spoken to us. The external words on the page speak more deeply than we could have expected. It is not so much we who read them, as they that read us. Or, rather, it is the One who has written these words of love who draws near to us again when we lay ourselves open to hear his voice. He speaks, yet he speaks in silence. He speaks in so many different ways—in our relationships, in our desires, in the unique story of our life.
By walking close to his beloved Son during his own journey of life, we begin to realize that, in this Man, we are all enveloped and embraced. He takes all of us into himself through the power of the Spirit—and he takes us so completely that he bears us even through the Cross to the light and joy of the Resurrection. And he does this so that he can free us from all that hinders us from receiving this gift of love from the Father and from returning into the Father’s embrace. Uniting himself to us in our own pain, our own darkness, our own fear, Jesus holds us close to his own Heart, healing and transforming us by his touch. And in this way, pressed close to his bosom, he carries us into the bosom of the Father, where we can feel and hear, with him, those beautiful and life-giving words: You are my beloved child, in whom my soul delights.
The Gospel of John is in a special way the Gospel of “belovedness,” in which we are granted an insight into the immense love that God the Father has for his beloved Son, and, with this same love, for each one of us. The Son himself tells us at one of the climactic moments of his life, at the Last Supper on the night before his death: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (Jn 15:9). And he also adds: “The Father himself loves you” (16:27). During this supper, one of the disciples, the one “whom Jesus loved” (13:23), leans against the breast of Christ. This is a beautifully intimate moment, for at this meal Jesus opens his Heart vulnerably before those who are closest to him, before his Apostles. He speaks to them of the Father’s love, of the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and of the deepest desires and aspirations of his own Sacred Heart. In their presence he addresses his heavenly Father in prayer, thereby drawing them up into the ineffable bond of love and intimacy between the Father and the Son, with the breath of the Spirit ever passing between them in their ceaseless dialogue.
Here, in this intimate prayer, they hear the words that unveil Christ’s deepest desire for those who believe in his name, who welcome the gift of love from God: “I pray, Father, that they may all be one; even as you are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us.” (Jn 17:21). Yes, the only-begotten Son of God has come into the world to unveil before us the Heart of our loving God, and to take us up into himself, as “children within the Son,” so that we may share in the innermost life of the Trinity, a life of perfect intimacy and eternal joy.
In this precious moment the disciple whom Jesus loved is present, resting against the Heart of Christ, as he speaks of all of these things, as he shares himself, not only in words, in affection, but in the Holy Eucharist—his very Body and Blood given to those whom he loves. This disciple, whom tradition has come to call the “beloved disciple,” rests against the bosom of the incarnate Son, just as the Son eternally rests “in the bosom of the Father” (1:18). He listens to the heartbeat of Jesus, to this heartbeat ever surging with infinite love and tenderness, ever flowing with profound compassion and concern for every human being. He listens to this heartbeat, and he feels the joy of the Son in being loved by his Father, the ineffable security that the Son has in the embrace of his Father—a joy and security which enable him to lay down his life for the salvation of all, to lay down his life in order to take it up again, and to bear those whom he has redeemed into the depths of his own intimacy with the Father.
Yes, the beloved disciple glimpses all of this; he experiences the enveloping Love of God spreading out from the Heart of Jesus and embracing him. And in this mysterious embrace, the beloved disciple’s eyes and his heart are opened to recognize that the whole world indeed is, and has always been, cradled in the arms of Divine Love. The Light of Love enfolds the world and irradiates it with its presence, but, sadly, human hearts have turned away from this light and “preferred the darkness.” This choice of sin is a choice to divorce oneself from the cradling arms of Love, and it brings into creation much evil and suffering, and the painful experience of loneliness, of isolation, and the sense of not belonging. Turned away from Love as we are, closed in upon ourselves in fear and sin, Love had to come to us, to enter into our resistance to God’s touch, our closedness to the gift of loving relationship. And he did come; Love drew near to us and “was made flesh” in order to be with us in our brokenness, and by his touch to restore us to the relationship that we lost. By his intimate presence with us, penetrating into our closed and walled-up hearts, he yearns to touch us, to heal us, and to gradually reopen us from within, so we may abide in an intimate relationship with Love once again.
This is what the beloved disciple felt, this is the Love that touched him and enfolded him from within the Heart of Jesus. And because this disciple allowed himself to be touched, cradled, and held in this way, he, alone of all the Apostles, was able to remain close to Jesus even through his Passion. He, with Mary the Mother of Jesus, stood at the foot of the Cross in loving compassion, receiving and reciprocating the gift of Christ in childlike and virginal docility. Finally, the beloved disciple was also the first to recognize and to believe in the signs of the Lord’s Resurrection, even before the Risen One had himself appeared to his Apostles in visible form. Love gave him a receptive heart, which was made soft by the gentle touch of God; and this receptivity, born of a filial trust, opened his eyes to see with a profound vision of faith and love.
All of this reveals to us the unique contours of the heart of this disciple: his receptivity, his constancy, his spiritual vision which allowed him to see God’s presence even where others did not. And all of this was fashioned within him because he allowed himself to be loved by Christ, and by the Father in Christ; he allowed Jesus to be his intimate Friend, and therefore he became a friend of Christ in return.
But why is all of this important for us, as we begin these reflections of the Gospel of John. Who is this beloved disciple? His name is never given to us, for he hides himself in the shelter of Christ’s loving presence, simply referring to himself as “beloved.” And he refers to himself in this way, both in gratitude and reverence for the unique love that he has received from Jesus, but also because we are invited to recognize that we are, each one of us, the beloved disciple of Jesus. Nonetheless, there is an indication of who he is, at the high point of the Gospel: after Jesus entrusts his mother into the care of the beloved disciple, he releases his life into the hands of the Father, and then a soldier pierces his side with a lance, and blood and water flow out. The writer of the Gospel then interrupts the narrative, and says: “He who saw this has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe” (Jn 19:35). Who could this eye-witness have been, if all of the other Apostles had fled, and the beloved disciple alone stood at the foot of the Cross? The tradition of the Church has always understood, from the earliest days, who this witness is, and he is none other than the Apostle John, who is the beloved disciple, the disciple who leaned against the breast of Jesus and stood with Mary at the foot of the Cross.
This is why this Gospel is called the Gospel according to John, for it comes from his own testimony, from the witness of his own heart, his own life, his own words. Yes, in the words of this Gospel we can hear the heartbeat of the beloved disciple; we can hear him inviting us to enter into the depths of his own spiritual contemplation, his own encounter with the ineffable beauty of the Crucified and Risen Son, and of the Father and the Spirit to whom he is eternally united. In a word, through the heartbeat of the beloved disciple, we are invited to hear, to feel, and to surrender to the heartbeat of the beloved Son, who rests always in the bosom of the Father.