This offering comes from a favorite author of mine. I will reveal his name at the end. This is a simple but deep excursus on the familiar phrase from the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel.
We are told in the beginning of the Holy Gospel according to Saint John that, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.”
That is a magical phrase, “the Word was made flesh.” “Word” has a great deal of meaning for us. Our memories are all tucked away in the shape of words. Our utterances to those we love are impossible without words, and even when we are thinking by ourselves and not speaking, we are somehow wording our thoughts for the hidden ear — which is the bliss of solitude.
Of all man’s achievements, perhaps the most astounding is his wording of a thing. When a little child cannot speak — when he has no words yet — one of the first things we do for him is to coax him into word land.
And so, when we are challenged with the idea, “the Word of God,” and are let know that one Word serves God for all utterance in eternity and is the perfect expression of all He is, we are very greatly impressed.
If you were to sit down and think for many years as to how you could best say that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became Incarnate — took our nature and dwelt in our midst, breathed our air and walked our roads, looked at our skies and listened to our sounds — I do not think you could possibly get a more chaste, clear, simple, inexhaustible-in-meaning expression of it than to say: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.”
“Word” leaves nothing out. And when you say “flesh,” you get in every single atom of our poor human frailty. If you said, “the Word became man,” or, “the Word moved into our scene,” or, “the Word became one of our children,” there would probably be left out of the realization — for the sake of more lofty, noble and impressive values — a great deal of what seems to be commonplace in us, of what is lowly and helpless, and yet of what God did assume.
But when you say, “the Word was made flesh,” the whole man is flooded in that utterance. There can be no doubt about what has happened. Nothing is left out. Our ears, our nose, our eyes, our hair, our hands — everything is conveyed to our realization of what the Word became.
It is a marvelous wedding, the Word of God and the flesh of man. They are one. Thought now has little elbows. Divine Thought has fingers. The Word of God has a human mind, a human soul, a human will, a human heart. God’s eternal Thought pauses, as it is uttered. It is filtered to suit our light. It is dimmed down to our pace. It has our ways.
Saint John’s phrase, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us,” is a beautiful challenge, and you cannot get away from it. You either have to accept its value the way it is expressed, or else you have to put it aside and go and study “Christianity” or “religion” — getting vaguer and vaguer in terms of some less challenging phrase, until finally your Faith has slipped away from you.
And here is the next point I am going to make: If ‘‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us,” that must mean that all God’s utterances to the world, from the time of the Incarnation on, were meant somehow to be associated and connected with the flesh. God has nothing further to say to man, except what a voice can speak, a head nod, and hand plead, a pen write, or a man topple over on the ground for, in martyrdom. God has nothing any more to say that is not to be said in terms of flesh and blood. All non-Incarnational communication with man by way of Revelation, has ceased.
When you want to know what Christianity means, therefore, and what God has to say to you through “the Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us,” the knowledge has to come to you through some flesh and blood utterance, — an Apostle, were you fortunate enough to live in the days of the Apostles, or from somebody whom the Apostles eventually made an apostle, in case you were born after the Apostles had died. For example, Saint Paul appointed Timothy, and Timothy, in his turn, appointed other bishops, and those bishops made other bishops, and so on and on. There has to be flesh and blood succession for the rest of time, because the Catholic Church is not only One and Holy, it is also Apostolic.
The author is Father Leonard Feeney. This excerpt comes from the last book he ever wrote, The Word Made Flesh, which was based on talks he gave to his religious family.