At World Youth Day in Santiago de Compostela, the Holy Father gave a homily on John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth and the life. But before I jump into that, we need to put John chapter 14 in theological context.
John 14 is an extended discourse that takes place at the Last Supper. But it is also an event not recorded in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke. For instance, one would think that Matthew the Tax Collector (if he were the author of Matthew’s Gospel), would have recalled the discourse from John 14. As Matthew wrote his Gospel perhaps fifteen years before John, he (and/or his community) may have felt that the words of Jesus at the Last Supper were private conversation… words not intended to be repeated publicly.
In the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus refers to himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Light.” This imagery is specific to John’s Gospel. While Jesus may have said similar things in the other three Gospel accounts, he is never heard saying “I am the Truth” in Matthew, Mark or Luke.
John the Evangelist develops his own account of the life and Passion of Jesus that glosses over the sayings and parables, since John knew these sayings to have been recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Instead, the Fourth Evangelist emphasizes seven miracle stories that gradually reveal Jesus to be the Son of God. Then, at the Last Supper, John discloses to us what Benedict XVI has described as a “Farewell Address” in John 14 to 16, and a “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17. Of the four Evangelists, only John records this two-part discourse for posterity.
Saint Francis of Assisi sees in the words of Jesus in John 14 the early outlines of Eucharistic theology. Jesus tells the Apostles gathered that if they have seen Jesus, then they have seen the Father (Jn 14:9). Jesus furthers says, “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do” (Jn 14:12). Broadly speaking, these words connect faith and works for the believer who accepts that the mission and ministry of Jesus is tied to his very close relationship with God the Father.
A deeper meaning of John 14 suggests that the words of Jesus are not just a farewell speech, but an explanation of the Last Supper as proto-liturgy. For instance, Jesus tells the Apostles in John 14:7, “From now on, you know the Father and you have seen him.” In John 14:11, Jesus speaks in the present tense, “or else, believe in the works themselves.”
It is worth reflecting on the real possibility that Jesus is speaking not only of his resurrection on Easter morning when he refers to a belief in “the works themselves.” He is also referring to the enduring ability to make present the work of the cross in the liturgy. In fact, this is the opinion of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who wrote
Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations… Christ indeed always associates the Church with Himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. (SC 7)
Given that the Last Supper is (by definition) proto-liturgy, then it makes sense to interpret the “work itself,” and the ability to see the Father in Jesus, as a commentary on the ability of the liturgy not only to recall, but to make present the salvific work of Jesus on Calvary.
Jesus implicitly confirms that the liturgical work of the priest – performed across the ages – accomplishes what it says because the liturgy is rooted first) in the actual words recited by Jesus, the High Priest, at the Last Supper, and second) in the victory that Jesus won over the cross in his resurrection, which is an actual, historic event.
As a free and unmerited gift to humankind, Christ affirms his perpetual love by making himself present among us – as person – in the liturgy, when the priest recites the words handed down by Jesus. Jesus himself promised to remain among his people “until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19). Where the bread becomes the body of Christ, one can not only encounter Jesus, but also “see the Father, ” since to “see” Jesus is to “see” the Father (Jn 14:9).
When Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he is saying that man’s encounter with God runs through Jesus Christ himself. And we can still, today, make present the encounter between Jesus and the disciples (and in fact, make present the entire passion of Christ – “the one sacrifice”) through the work of the liturgy.
Now let’s get to John Paul II. Can you see traces of Eucharistic theology in this excerpt from his homily at World Youth Day?…
– Have you already discovered Christ, who is the Way?
Yes, Jesus is for us a way that leads to the Father – the оnlу Way. Whoever wants to reach salvation must set out along this way. You young people very often find yourselves at a crossroads, not knowing which path to choose, which way to go; there are so many wrong paths, so many facile proposals, so many ambiguities. In moments like this, do not forget that Christ, with his Gospel, his example, his commandments, is always and alone the safest way, the way which leads to full and lasting happiness.
– Have you already discovered Christ, who is the Truth?
Truth is the deepest need of the human spirit. Young people especially are hungry for the Truth about God and man, about life and the world. In my first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis I wrote: “The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly – and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being – must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ” (n. 10). Christ is the Word of truth, uttered by God himself, in response to all the questioning of the human heart. He is the One who reveals fully to us the mystery of man and of the world.
– Have you already discovered Christ, who is the Life?
Each one of you is so anxious to live life in its fullness. You live with great hopes, with so many fine plans for the future. But do not forget that the true fulness of life is to be found only in Christ, who died and rose again for us. Christ alone is able to fill in depth the space of the human heart. He alone gives the strength and joy living, in spite of any limit or external impediment.
Yes, discovering Christ is the finest adventure of your life. But it is not enough to discover Him just once. Discovering Him becames every time an invitation to seek Him always more, to come to know Him still better through prayer, participating in the sacraments, meditating on his Word, through catechesis and listening to the teachings of the Church. This is our most important task, as St Paul had well understood when he wrote: “For me, indeed, to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21).