Commentary on the Gospel of
Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist
John starts his gospel (Chapter 1) with the words “In the beginning.” His first epistle also commences with similar words today – “What was from the beginning.” This construct harkens back to Genesis 1 – “In the beginning.” And the reading today from Chapter 20 is similar in tone, in that the holy women (where were the men??) visited Jesus’ tomb on the first day – the beginning – of the week. This use of the same phrase/meaning in a variety of writings has been the focus of my reflections for these readings.
We have many beginnings in our lives, some more eagerly anticipated and welcomed than others. We await the birth of a child or grandchild with joy and love, we anticipate the beginning of a new life without a loved one who is in hospice with some feelings of sadness, discomfort and perhaps dread. We look forward both positively and negatively to changes in our work environment, to major life events such as marriage or retirements, to the changing of the seasons.
But we also have beginnings every day when we awaken. We have beginnings every time we encounter a person in the office, or on the street, or in a store. We have beginnings when we answer the phone (even if it is an aggravating robocall or telemarketer). We have beginnings when we drive to or from work, or attend a Christmas play, or gather as family for a special dinner. We have beginnings when we shower, or dress ourselves, or pay our bills. We have beginnings when we visit a friend who is ill or incapacitated. We have beginnings when we witness at funerals and pray for the deceased. We have beginnings when we follow the cycle of the liturgies through the seasons of Advent and Lent. In preparation for each Christmas and for each Easter we have a beginning.
Each beginning is an opportunity. A beginning is something new, or a repeat of something we have done before. But if we think of each recurring event as a new beginning (is that redundant?), we have an opportunity to improve from our last “beginning.” There is a wonderful movie from 1993 titled “Groundhog Day.” In the movie the protagonist, Bill Murray, is inexplicably caught in a time loop in which every new day starts the same no matter what happens during the day. At first Murray engages in all sorts of selfish and bad behaviors with no lasting consequences, because the next morning his slate is wiped clean and he starts again unaffected by the actions of the prior day. It is not until he realizes that this loop is perpetuating, and he can choose to be better himself or be selfish, that he actually starts to change his life in each of these one-day increments and a path out of the loop becomes feasible and eventually he is freed from the loop entirely.
I think in each of our many beginnings we have a gift from God to try to get it better this time around. I think each day, each encounter, each moment is a gift from which we can learn to be more faithful in loving God and God’s creation, or more selfish in putting ourselves first. Each re-start is an opportunity to reflect on what we have done, and what we could do, and what we didn’t do. In each moment we have a choice to move closer God by following the example of Jesus, or to move farther away by focusing on ourselves.
And so my prayer today is to express my profound gratitude for the freshness that each new beginning can bring, and also for the strength to learn from my mistakes and weaknesses, so I can use each beginning as a generous response to God’s gifts and not as a selfish focus on my own desires.