St. John Neumann
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans
Listen Here (8.30 Mass)
Listen Here (8.30 Mass)
In his first letter, John writes, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” True love, to love truly, is a deed not a spoken word, a speech. John is warning us away from the lazy way of love, the way of speaking loving words and believing that our words are enough to love. It's important to keep in mind here that Jesus contested with the Pharisees off and on for the whole three years of his public ministry. Central to the contest between our Lord and his enemies ias the question of how a relationship with God is established and maintained. The Pharisees, following a strict interpretation of the Law, argue that a near obsessive attention to the picayune details of the Law—its rituals and purity codes—were essential to obeying God. Jesus always retorts by pointing out that the Law was created to serve God's children and not the other way around. For the Pharisees, it is enough to behave according to the letter of the Law written on stone. Jesus teaches us that the Law is written on the heart, that the first commandment of the Law is: “. . .we should love one another.” Not just speaking loving words, but doing loving deeds in truth. Caritas in veritatis. Loving deeds done for the love of truth. Notice that Philip does more than tell Nathanael about Jesus. He brings Nathanael to Jesus. When Philip says, “Come and see,” he's saying, “I can't tell you about him. You have to witness him for yourself. Follow me to Christ.”
When Philip delivers Nathanael to Jesus, he completes a loving act. Perhaps the only thing Philip can do greater than this is to die for Nathanael as his friend! Because Nathanael follows Philip to Christ, he's introduced to the only means of his eternal salvation. When they meet, Jesus greets Nathanael by saying, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him." A bit stunned by this greeting, Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus says, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” What was Nathanael doing under a fig tree? Later in his public ministry, Jesus will tell the disciples that they are not to pray as the Pharisees do: in showy, public displays. Rather, they are to go somewhere private and talk quietly to God. Jesus saw Nathanael doing just that—praying quietly in private, fulfilling the heart of the Law in love. Jesus' arrival in Nathanael's life is the answer to his earnest prayers; thus, Nathanael proclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Philip proves to be an useful instrument in Nathanael's search for God. But it is Nathanael's sincerity in searching for God according to the Law of Love that gets him recognized by the Christ. Had Nathanael followed the Pharisees and made his search into a public drama, would Jesus have called him “a true child of Israel”? Not likely. Nathanael searches for the truth in love and does so without pretense or covert motives. He loves his God and acts accordingly, drawing the attention of the Christ not a crowd. When Christ recognizes Nathanael as a true child of the Law, Nathanael recognizes Jesus as the Christ. And having seen the Christ, Nathanael is ready to follow him and lead others to him. But let's not minimize Philip's ministry in this revelation. Philip is the one who says, “Come and see.” Philip is the one who leads Nathanael to Jesus. Philip acts in love and presents a searching soul to his Savior. Without Philip's invitation, without his apostolic call, Nathanael might never have met the Christ. Make it your ministry—as an apostle sent out—to call those to Christ who are most in need of love and mercy.
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