John McClane and John of the Cross

Today God speaks to us of four men.  And since we are near Christmas,  it is unsurprising that today’s readings remind us of that classic Catholic Christmas movie, Die Hard.  As in our readings and the life of today’s saint, Detective John McClane faces difficult circumstances:- his Christmas reunion with his wife is interrupted by German terrorists; he has to take out all the terrorists by himself; he has to run over a floor of broken glass without shoes; and, worst of all – he has an argument with his wife.  He is just one policeman, a poor sinner – what can he do?

And this, brothers, is the key to the whole movie, and to the meaning of life: that the problem of life is not so much the situation we find ourselves in – but rather how we react.  And there is no more obvious example of this than in Die Hard.  Detective McClane could simply have taken that typical option of post-modernity – give up and live like the others.  Certainly it was the safest option – except they all would have died in the end, and we would have had no story at all. Instead, despite the difficult odds, John draws upon his years of practicing the virtue of fortitude and, even more importantly, the love of his wife, and does what he can with all his heart.  It’s only in this way we have the blockbuster hero he becomes.

But this is only the first John we speak of today.  The second John is John of the Cross.  And funnily enough, he becomes that eternal hero – which is what a saint is – through doing exactly the same thing.  John of the Cross was not a physically heroic person, but an artist.  God called him to a more radical form of religious life, which he in fact desired to do, but which those around him didn’t like and we so insecure they started to stop him.  Eventually they kidnapped him – this is priests mind you! – and locked him in a cupboard for nine months.  Like John McClane, John of the Cross chose not to be deterred, and drew on on the virtue of fortitude within him, and on the far deeper power of the love of God, writing the most beautiful Christian literary works in history before escaping and changing history.

Which brings us to John number three for today: John the Baptist.  He does not have a promising start: he seems to do a Hakuna Matata – running into the wilderness living off wild honey and eating insects which were presumably crunchy, but satisfying.  The elite put intense pressure on him to stop living as a follower of Jesus.  But, in the same way, drawing on his inner fortitude, and on the unceasing love of God for him, John is thus able to continue his work unto the most beautiful and noble thing a man can ever do: to lay down his life for the one he loves.

Which brings us to the fourth man spoken of in today’s readings: you.  The reason it is called the Word of God is because these are his own words to each of you.  And so he says to each of you: you too have these gifts.  I have given you the fortitude you need.  I have given you the love, and so the security you need – unending, perfect, pure love.  So do not be afraid.  But he also asks each of you today: so I have given you these gifts – what will you do with what I have given you?  How will you live your holidays – and, when you have died, what will you have done with your life?  Let us pray for each other, my brothers, that we live the next weeks well, as the noble men we are made to be, and so also the rest of our life.