“Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (John 14:8). God alone suffices, and all we need to possess him is to see him, because in seeing him, we see all his goodness, as he himself explained to Moses: “I will make all my goodness pass before you” (Ex. 33:19). We see all that attracts our love, and we love him beyond all limits. Let us join St. Philip in saying with all our heart, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” He alone can fill all our emptiness, satisfy all our needs, content us, and make us happy.
Let us then empty our heart of all other things, for if the Father alone suffices, then we have no need for sensible goods, less for exterior wealth, and still less for the honor of men’s good opinion. We do not even need this mortal life; how then can we need those things necessary to preserve it? We need only God. He alone suffices. In possessing him we are content.
How courageous are these words of St. Philip! To say them truthfully, we must also be able to say with the apostles: “Lord, we have left everything and followed you” (cf. Matt. 19:27). At the least we must leave everything by way of affection, desire, and resolution, that is, by an invincible resolution to attach ourselves to nothing, to seek no support except in God alone. Happy are they who carry this desire to its limit, who make the final, lasting, and perfect renunciation! But let them not leave anything for themselves. Let them not say: “This little thing to which I am still attached, it is a mere nothing.” We know the nature of the human heart. Whenever a little thing is left to it, there the heart will place all its desires. Strip it all away; break from it; let it go. To own things as though one had nothing, to be married as though one were not, to make use of this world as though one were not using it, but as though it did not exist, and as though we were not a part of it: this is the true good for which we should strive. We are not Christians if we cannot say sincerely with St. Philip, “Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
It is from the very depths of faith that these words are spoken, and it is in a certain sense from the very foundation of nature itself. For in the depths of our nature we sense our need to possess God, that he alone is capable of fulfilling our nature, and that we are anxious and tormented when separated from him. When, therefore, surrounded by other goods, we sense this inevitable void and something tells us that we are unhappy, it is the depth of our nature that, in its way, cries, “Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” But what good is the sick man’s desire to be well while he lacks every remedy and while death lies within him, without his knowing it? Such is the condition of human nature itself. Man, abandoned to himself, does not know what to do, nor what to become. His pleasures carry him off, and these very same pleasures destroy him. With each sin of the senses he gives himself a killing blow, and he not only kills his soul by his intemperance, in his blindness and ignorance he kills the very body that he would flatter. Since the Fall, man is born to be unhappy. The infirmities of a body in which he places all his good make him so. How much more unhappy is he made by the great mass of errors, lawless deeds, and vicious inclinations that are the maladies and the death of his soul! What a miserable seduction reigns in us! We do not know how to desire or ask for what we need.
St. Philip’s words teach us everything. He limits himself to what Jesus taught us is the one thing needful. Lord, you are the way. I come to you to find myself again and to say with your apostle, “Show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
The Truth and the Life
“I am the truth and the life” (cf. John 14:6). I am the Word that was “at the beginning,” the word of the eternal Father, his concept, his wisdom, the true light that enlightens every man (John 1:9). I am the truth itself and consequently the support, the nourishment, and the life of all who hear me, the one in whom there is life, the same life that is in the Father.
It is in and through faith that we must consider these things, for if they were not necessary to our salvation, Jesus would not have revealed them to us.
I am the truth and the life, he says, because I am God; but at the same time I am man. I am come to instruct mankind by bringing the words of eternal life, and together with this teaching I have given the example of how to live well. Yet as all of this remained only an outer work, it was still necessary to bring grace to men, and so I made myself their victim in order to merit this grace for them. Men can approach God and eternal life only through my doctrine, my example, my merits, and the grace that I bring to the world. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ . . . [and] we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:17, 14). Let us enter by this way, and we will find truth and life.
It is astonishing to think that one could be both means and end together at once, the “truth and life” which are the terminus and at the same time the “way” that is to be traveled. Yet Jesus explains this mystery to us. What can lead us to truth, if not the truth itself? The truth is sovereign. No one can force it or move it in any way; it must give itself to us freely. It is when we possess the truth, that is to say, when we know it, when we love it, when we embrace it that we really live. God forbid that we imagine we have arms to encompass it! We enjoy it as we enjoy the light: by seeing it. The truth convinces all those who see it as it is, for the truth reveals to us everything beautiful and is itself the most beautiful of all the objects that it can reveal to us.
To see light, all we need do is open our eyes; the light comes in by itself. There is no other path that we need to take to light. Now truth is more light than light itself, so nothing can take us to truth other than truth itself. It must approach us, humble itself, and make itself lowly. And what is Jesus if not this very truth which comes toward us, which hides itself under a form that accommodates itself to our weakness, to show itself as much as our weak eyes can stand to see? And so, in order to be the way, he also had to be the truth.
Come then, O Truth! You yourself are my life, and because you come close to me, you are my way. What do I have to fear? How can I be anxious? Do I fear that I will not find the way that leads to truth? The way itself, as St. Augustine said, presents itself to us; the way itself comes to us. Come then and live by the truth, reasonable and intelligent soul! What light there is in the teaching of Jesus!
This light is all the more beautiful for shining amid the darkness. But let us take care lest we be like those of whom it is written: “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Of what use to me is a light that reveals only my ugliness and shame? Retire from me, Light; I cannot endure you. Holy doctrine of the Gospel, eternal truth, all-too-faithful mirror: you make me tremble! We cannot change the truth; let us then change ourselves, for we exist only by a ray of the truth that is within us.
Let us love the truth. Let us love Jesus, who is the truth itself. Let us change ourselves so that we may be like him. Let us not put ourselves in a condition that will oblige us to hate the truth. The one who is condemned by the truth hates and flees it. Let there be nothing false in one who is the disciple of the truth. Let us live by the truth and feed ourselves with it. It is for this that the Eucharist is given to us. It is the body of Jesus, his holy humanity, the pure grain that nourishes the elect, the pure substance of truth, the bread of life, and it is at the same time the way, the truth, and the life. If Jesus Christ is our way, let us not walk in the ways of the world. Let us enter into the narrow gate through which he walked. Above all, let us be mild and humble. Man’s falsehood is his pride, because in truth he is nothing, and God alone is. This is the pure and only truth.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Bp Bossuet’s Meditations for Lent, available from Sophia Institute Press.