The beginning of a New Year invites new beginnings. Not necessarily something completely new. For much in life remains unchanged: the same routine, the same problems, the same wrestling with conflicts within. Nevertheless, the New Year’s invitation is there with a slice of hamon Serrano and the uncorked bottle of sparkling champagne! “Happy New Year!” – as years have passed that have been less than happy! “A prosperous New Year!” – as years have passed that have been marked by want. “A blessed New Year!” – as years have passed with no consciousness of blessing from above.
“In the beginning was the Word…” (Jn 1:1). So, the first line of today’s Gospel. In the Church the invitation to new beginnings is welcomed with a reminder of the beginning. We don’t normally think about this beginning. How think what is before the creation of the world? How think what is before the creation of our galaxy – which is not a Korean celfon, but the Milky Way, the constellation of billions of stars, which is itself but one of many galaxies in the universe? How think earlier than the beginning of the universe, whose mystery we encounter through specks of light, themselves billions of years old?
“The beginning…” Some philosophers even called this unthinkable. For if we think “the beginning” with the limited categories of our mind, we cannot help but think of “before the beginning.” From this perspective, the great concerns of our daily routines, all those bottom lines which toggle from red to black to red, our daily needs for food and clothing, our abiding hope for a home, our daily struggles with the pimples on our face, or with the arthritis in our joints, or with the darkness within, seem so insignificant in the context of the unthinkable beginning. All seem so hopelessly marked by a shocking shortness, a dreadful limitedness – like the grass, here today, and gone tomorrow, like the forests, here yesterday and gone today, like the majestic mountains outlined against a setting sun, here today eternally and gone tomorrow. What is today’s treasure, is tomorrow’s refuse, what is today’s monument is tomorrow’s ruin, metamorphosed in human rationality that is often mindless and human creativity that is often sadly destructive. But, in the long term, does it at all matter?
In this context, we are reminded, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (ibid). We are not the beginning. The beginning was the Word. The Beginning is God. The Premise is not our word, our Babel of babbling words, our logic of commerce and consumerism at the cost of our Earth, our rationality that kills to preserve life and wages war to preserve peace, our genius in crafting gadgets of communications technology that however fails to communicate a son’s fear to his parents, and a mother’s concern for her daughter. The Beginning is God.
That is not an easy message for people today. The God-mystique has become jaded, the rituals have become tired, the ministers compromised by their helpless forays into forbidden love, their homilies filled with tiring words about forbidden love, dismissive of appeals for understanding and compassion. God-talk is not In-talk, and since the talk is not walked by those who talk it most, the urgent message is lost and unrecovered in the talk shows, and psycho talk shops, and the posh studios of fashionable fortune tellers.
The beginning was a Word of God, and the Word is necessarily true. But of the truth of that Word was the Love without which which this world would not have been made. Of the truth of that Word is its perfect expression of the compassion of the God the Father turned to us in love. That is the mystery we are wont to forget in the busy-ness of our daily business. We are wont to close ourselves in on the horror of our pimples, or the pain of our arthritis, or the foibles of our quality nation, or the hopelessness of our interior brokenness, or the sum total of all our personal labors and dreams ending in the fires of a bargain crematorium, and think that that’s it. In our darkness we are unable to appreciate that from “the beginning” God cares.
In the beginning was the Word of God’s compassion – who unfathomably “suffers with” us. Darkness does not comprehend this Word. But those who in the truth of this Word accept it, accept the empowering Word of compassion, receiving the love of God gratefully, allowing his love to express itself from the heart of one’s life in the concreteness of one’s loving, one’s serving, one’s working. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling upon us” (Jn 1:14) is the reality of his Compassion now expressing itself in our life, our work, our love, our acts of compassion. The Word from the beginning disputes the surmised meaningless of human existence and concerns. It disputes the permissibility of wrong and the license of evil to exist. It disputes this in the Word spoken in love from the Cross. It disputes this in the gift of unimpeachable life won through the conquest of death.
The beginning was not a human premise. The beginning is the Word of God, whose Truth is larger than any human grasping of truth, whose Love is larger than any human giving of love, whose distance from us is surpassed only in his intimacy with us pinching our pimples in hope or ruing our moral brokenness in despair.
This is why, at the outset of this calendar year, after a year of bruising debate and debilitating discord, it is good that we recall: In the beginning was God. Perhaps, even for us who are always right in matters doctrine and law, we may appreciate God’s compassion for us who are often wrong in doctrine and remiss in law. Perhaps, even for us who are bearers of authority, we may appreciate the humility of those who through our authority have often suffered needlessly; may we now act effectively to mitigate their suffering. Perhaps, even for us who are bearers of high academic degrees, we need recall: the Word was made flesh not only in the palaces of bishops nor in the halls of academe, but in the poverty of countryside, in ghettos teeming with the hovels of the urban poor, and in the hearts of harried people hungry for love. Truth was incarnated not only in liturgical vestments in a sanctuary, nor only in academic garments on a pedestal, but in swaddling clothes, lain in a borrowed box where animals ate. Truth was not only incarnated in the celibacy and chastity of vowed religious, but also in the vulnerability of persons suddenly locked in an embrace of passion. In truth, from the beginning this God who is totally other, cares in a manner that is intimate, totally with us. “His Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). He is with us. He is “Emmanuel” Mt. (1:230). Even where we do not expect him. “For nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37; Mk 10:27).
A happy, prosperous and blessed 2013!