The First Epistle of the Blessed Apostle John (in today’s pedestrian parlance, the First Letter of John) is a profound reflection on the mystery of God. There’s only one point I want to mention here, though, something that was read at Holy Mass a week or two ago. It’s a very solemn pronouncement. Actually, the whole of the word of God is a solemn pronouncement, but I think we get desensitized to the grandeur and depth of it, since we read and hear it so often. Anyway, this is about as clear and black-and-white a testimony as you’ll ever hear from the Holy Spirit. St John prepares us for it by saying: “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.” So we know something big is coming. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life” (1Jn. 5:9-12).
Now it may seem to you that this is nothing more than Christianity 101. But think of it. God gave us eternal life. If He gave it to us, it means we didn’t have it before He gave it to us—which means if He didn’t give it to us we would have the only alternative: eternal death, i.e., Hell. God gave us this eternal life by giving us his Son, his eternal Divine Word made flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He gave Him first through Mary so that by assuming our flesh He could heal our wounded nature, uniting the divine nature to it in his own Person. Further, having assumed human nature, Jesus allowed Himself to be sacrificed on the Cross to expiate our sins and to make us eligible to receive eternal life.
So the gift of eternal life is inseparable from the giving of the Son to the world. That is why “he who has the Son has life,” and, the inescapable alternative: “he who has not the Son of God has not life.” Therefore the testimony of God is crucially important to us. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. We have to pay close attention to what the Son has said and done, not only as He walked the earth, but throughout history until the present day, for his Spirit still speaks through the Church.
What He has done in this world is reveal the Father to us. He has called us to faith and repentance, and to a life of obedience to the will of God, so that we might enter the Kingdom of Heaven forever. But He didn’t leave us detailed instructions concerning every time and every place and every question or crisis that would arise for however many thousands of years would pass between his first coming and his second. (You can’t use the Bible for this; some tried to, and that is why there are tens of thousands of denominations which came into existence over disagreements on what the Bible means. Once you split off from the Rock, you keep splitting and splitting and splitting, until it becomes impossible to recover the whole truth; history has borne this out.)
What Jesus did do was establish his Church for that very reason. The Church would be his presence and his voice throughout the ages. As the world grew and developed, the Church would apply the word of God as the Spirit would lead her, to meet every need that would arise, and to gradually manifest the hidden depths of the inexhaustible divine revelation.
The Catholic Church has ever been growing from its mustard-seed form in Jesus’ time to the large and mature tree that now is able to shelter all in its branches. Over time the Church’s theological reflection has deepened, and fresh fruit-bearing shoots have sprung up from that Single Grain which fell to the earth and died (see Jn. 12:24). Our understanding of, for example, the mysteries of the Sacraments, of the Mother of God, and of the Communion of Saints has become more profound and fruitful, enriching the souls of the children of the Church. All this is because God gave us eternal life, and this life in is his Son—and the Church, which has the Son, has life.
It is God’s will that we find life in Him through the Church. The Church is the minister of the sacraments, without which we cannot be saved. We are not saved merely as individuals who are following our individual way to God by believing in Christ. St John subtly makes this point in this same Epistle. When he testifies about the Word of Life, whom he has seen and touched, and the whole mystery of eternal life, he says this, which must seem quite strange to those who seek salvation outside of the Church: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have communion with us; and our communion is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1:3). Notice he did not say that he proclaims the Gospel so that the individual reader of his epistle might have his own communion with God, as if one could have this in an isolated or self-designed fashion, a do-it-yourself spirituality, according to one’s own interpretation of the Bible or of Christianity. No, he says, it is so that your communion may be with us, and our communion is with the Father and the Son. The Gospel is proclaimed so that we might enter into communion with the Church Jesus established, and it is through the Church that we have communion with God. You can’t legitimately make up your own brand of me-‘n’-Jesus religion. Jesus calls us to communion with the Most Holy Trinity through his Church, through which his saving grace is granted to us.
So hear the testimony of God. The gift of eternal life is in his Son. And this life is given to us through the Church, the one headed by the successor of St Peter, for this is the testimony of the Son of God: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” (Mt. 16:18-19). From and in and through the Church we receive the Son and eternal life. This is the testimony of God.