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 first reading’s clear echo of a divided faith-community has resonance for today’s Church, and also offers us a stimulus to renewal. The language of the epistle suggests that John’s small Christian community had been badly shaken by recent events. Their membership has dropped, and no doubt some bitter words were exchanged about former members who had turned away and left. But while these desertions made it seem 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 badly-shaken group (called by Raymond Brown The Community of the Beloved Disciple) did not disappear. The final chapter of the fourth Gospel is a clear hint that they re-built their links with the other Christian churches under the revered leadership of Simon Peter (“Feed my lambs”)– 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 upon another, so that we can all become what we are meant to be, children of God.

We pray that our church, under the pastoral leadership of pope Francis, may begin our new year with renewed trust in the guidance and animation of God’s Holy Spirit.

***

In retrospect

New year’s eve is often a time when we look back on the past year. For many, the past year will have been a difficult one. The economic situation of the country has left many without a job and forced others to emigrate whose preference would have been to stay at home. Some will have lost a loved one during the year and are struggling to come to terms with the loss. As well as looking back on the struggles and pains of the year, new year’s eve can also be a time to look back in thanksgiving, a time to name the graces and gifts that have come our way and have enhanced our lives. No matter what we have been through, we all have something to give thanks for; we have all been graced in one way or another. It is that graced dimension of our lives that today’s gospel draws attention to. The greatest grace and the source of all other graces is the Lord’s presence to us. That grace is memorably expressed in today’s gospel as, “The Word was made flesh and he lived among us, and we saw his glory.” Jesus who was God became flesh as we are flesh, and as risen Lord remains with us until the end of time. The gospel reading also declares that “from his fullness we have, all of us, received — yes, grace upon grace.” We are invited to keep drawing grace upon grace from the fullness of the Lord’s loving presence. That realization keeps us thankful for the past and gives us confidence as we face into the future.