Question: Is it not more accurate to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the…
Breathing the Word of God
I never thought about listening to the Gospel of John until the Broadway actor Ken Jennings gave me the opportunity on Bleecker Street in Manhattan. Though it seems wrong to pick a favorite Gospels, John is definitely mine. I begin and end my book “A Year with the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living” (St. Benedict Press, $44.95) with John. John captures what it means to live life in love with the Trinity.
At some point when I was feeling like I’d never get the book done — one of many times I felt that way — the Gospel of the day at Mass happened to be from John 17:20-26. Jesus prays to the Father: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”
He continues: “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”
After reading the Gospel that particular day, the priest at the Mass I happened to be at — and there are no coincidences, and this certainly wasn’t one — said he wasn’t going to bother to preach because the Gospel was too hard to understand, “it’s too mystical,” he said.
If words can pierce the heart, those happen to be some of the most beautiful words of Scripture, drawing us into the prayers of Jesus to his Father. What a powerful, intimate window into the life of the Trinity! I imagine the Holy Spirit communicating those words, as so often can happen in some of the most efficacious prayer. I certainly hope “A Year with the Mystics” helps anyone who has ever had similar thoughts to that priest. And Ken Jennings is a one-man counterculture to a society that tends to dismiss the more hidden as unreachable. We can fall into the trap of thinking that prayer isn’t action. And yet, in his show, “The Gospel of John,” currently running at The Sheen Center in New York, Jennings is presenting prayer. Like that aforementioned reading from Scripture, Jennings draws you into the prayer of the Gospel. The whole performance is one bold prayer — he even makes the Sign of the Cross before he begins.
Jennings, who is best known as the original Tobias in “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway, was Catholic-school educated and attributes his love for Scripture to the Jesuits who taught him. When he was going through a self-described rough patch a few years ago, he decided he was going to commit to memorizing the Gospel of John. He wanted to see if he could do it, having no idea if he would succeed or not. Well, a few chapters in, he realized it was sticking and so was the birth of a performance. With a run like this, I give thanks to The Sheen Center, a place that can celebrate excellence creatively with the word. Wherever we are, whatever we do, we should be breathing in and out the word of the Lord. Explicitly like Jennings there or with the way we love, like the Son with the Father for us.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.