To Decrease

Homily for the final Sunday Vespers at my original parish (1o.5 years of Vespers).
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In today’s Gospel St. John the Baptist reveals to us a great attribute of a Christian, one that enables us and ennobles us. Humility.  As he spots Jesus walking towards him on the beach he points to him and says: ‘‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. ‘He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’’[1] He effectively directs those who follow him to follow the Lord.  He removes himself from fame and importance because he knows the truth and it is the truth that is most important.

His ministry was extremely popular and most effective. He was able to bring many to the river for ritual purification and by doing so, prepared them for the advent of the Lord; prepared the soil of their souls so they could accept the truth.  His ministry is now fulfilled, and that was ok with him.  He had done what needed to be done, what God had prepared him for, which was: ‘to go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,[2] This was his calling from birth, his vocation was this and only this, no more no less – and that was ok to him.  When the time had come he resolutely decreased so the Lord could increase.

This is the way of our calling as well; we are given talents and time to affect our surroundings as the Lord desires. Ours is not to win the battle of salvation but participate in it and to move forward in the journey. Ours is to use what is given us and point to who is most important: the way, the truth and the light – Jesus. This doesn’t make us unimportant, it doesn’t reduce us; rather it shows how integral we are to the Lord’s plan and to each other.

Brothers and sisters, our greatest act in life is to listen to God, allow Him to guide us along the journey, a journey that only He knows the path. Our response to His love is to trust completely. He might move us from the comfortable to the uncomfortable but He will move with us. He might need to change how we participate with Him, allowing someone else to fill our place; but His grace will always be with us. Our part in His plan is to participate within Him, within Him. So, in all the things He calls us to, let’s remember St. John the Baptist’s words and make them our own. ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.[3]

I would like to close this homily and my part in our Sunday Vespers with words from John Henry Cardinal Newman.

God has created
me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me which He
has not committed to another.
I have my mission;
I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
I have a part in a great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. [4]

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[1] JN 1:29b-30
[2] LK 1:76-77
[3] JN 3:30
[4] John Henry Cardinal Newman, Meditations & Devotions Part III

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Along with St. John the Baptist

(In the past month my bishop has transferred me to a new parish. This is my first homily as their deacon.)

As you have already noticed our vestments are green again; it is now Ordinary Time.  This season will soon give way to Lent, the Sacred Triduum and Easter but will return after that. I like to think of Ordinary Time as the season of learning how to be a follower of Christ; it is, in a very real way, the School of Discipleship.  It is a time when Holy Mother Church proclaims the readings of Christ living His ministry among the people. The time in His life, from the River to the Cross, when he proclaims the Kingdom of God and reveals the Father’s plan; when He transforms those who follow Him to be living witnesses of His message.

It is most appropriate that this season starts with the words of our Patron, St. John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.[1]  Powerful words; words that we hear from our priests at every Mass while gazing on our Lord held high before Communion. Words that elicit from us the response: ‘Lord, I am not worthy…[2]’ which echoes the Baptist’s words[3]. These words are foundational in our walk with our Great Teacher. This proclamation is also a short description of our lesson plan for Ordinary Time as we start, once again, to reflect on just who Jesus is to us, what He does for us, what He brings us, and what He expects from us. It is obvious who Jesus is to St. John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.[4] Now it’s our turn to start to reflect on our understanding of Christ and our response. Maybe the best way is to make the words of St. John the Baptist our own.

Who Jesus is to us.
With these words we proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that we recognize Jesus as our savior. That He is the way to eternal happiness and salvation, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[5] He tells us in John.

What Jesus does for us.
With these words we proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that we follow God who humbled Himself, who lowered Himself, who offers Himself for us. God-made-man who is our sacrifice. His great sacrifice will be celebrated more intensely in the Lenten season, Holy Week, and Easter season, but we will witness to His daily sacrifices of living among us in this great Green Season. He shows us how our daily sacrifices bring us closer to holiness.

What Jesus brings to us.
We proclaim, along with St. John the Baptist, that Christ Himself brings the light of God; the light that shines love upon all creation. Indeed, Jesus is the Light, the light that will penetrate us during our reflections on the readings during this season. The light that allows us to see clearly the path of joy and peace, as well as the evil that is around us. The light of truth that can guide us through our choices.

What Jesus expects from us.
We need to proclaim Christ’s message by walking the walk that St. John the Baptist did. The Baptist’s witness was not so much his words, but more by how he lived his life within those words, how he lived the Word of God, Jesus Himself.  How he stayed within the light of Christ, warmed by it, guided by it, strengthened by it, even in his time of doubt. He witnessed by his life how he decreased so that Christ would increase, allowing God’s glory to radiate through him. In short, Christ expects us to follow the life of the Baptist. 

Our challenge
Our parish has taken as their patron the greatest of all the prophets[6], and with that selection comes the great opportunity and obligation to proclaim to the world all we will reflect on this year. To make our own the Baptist’s words: ‘Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.[7] by how we live our lives in the Public Square.  Our faith isn’t one of secrecy, we don’t live it in private, behind our doors. It is a public faith, one that everyone should be able to see. One that shines with the truth of God and brings hope. By living our faith in the open means that both successes and failures will be open for everyone to see, and that is ok; it is by how we move on from them, especially our failings, that will mark us a real follower. With heads held high we witness that: ‘I am not perfect; I am sinner and I am trying not be. Yes, I didn’t do what I proclaimed but I am trying to. But, I am loved nonetheless by God; who loves you too.’

Brothers and sisters, this can be a daunting, scary journey if it was left up to us alone. But, we are not alone, we have each other on this journey, we have the help of all the saints and angels, we have our Blessed Mother. But most importantly we have the Lamb of God who defeated death for us and opened the gates of heaven for each of us. Let’s take our strength and courage from our Patron and herald the Lord through our lives, and to do this let’s make this year’s Ordinary Time a spiritually fruitful season for not only us but those we witness to.

Let’s do this together, you and me.
Let’s help each other radiate our Lord.
And most of all: Let’s start now.
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[1] JN 1:29
[2] Roman Missal
[3] MT 3:11; LK3:16; MK 1:7; JN 1:27
[4] JN 1:29
[5] JN 14:6
[6] LK 7
[7] JN 1:34

Look to St. John the Baptist

Today, the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist calls us all to revisit our responsibilities as followers of Christ.  St. John leaped in his mother’s womb at the approach of his Lord. By doing so he announced to his mother something special was about to happen.  St. John entered the social consciousness by proclaiming repentance and conversion as our Lord was about to make His message known.  St. John the Baptist pointed everyone away from himself and towards who and what really mattered, Jesus and His Gospel message.  St. John the Baptist did not concern himself with how he was viewed by others; all that mattered was that his Lord’s message was made known.  He gave no regard for his physical comfort or safety in this realm because it was eternity that mattered.

We too go before the Lord as St. John did, to alert everyone about the Lord’s arrival; we herald His coming into the hearts of the people.  We will meet with resistance and hostility as we cause those we proclaim to to open their eyes, minds and hearts – we wake them from their self-centered sleep to reality.  Our love for our Lord should be like St. John the Baptist’s, where our concern for how people will react and treat us is not as important as our concern for their eternal welfare, their life with Christ. And our peace of mind should be as strong as St. John the Baptist’s. We should know in our hearts, as he did, that come what may from our proclaiming the Gospel, our Lord is with us always helping us and leading our tongues and hearts. St. John the Baptist witnessed to the words of Jeremiah:

“The word of the LORD came to me:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

“Ah, Lord GOD!” I said,
“I do not know how to speak. I am too young!”

But the LORD answered me,
Do not say, “I am too young.”
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.

Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you—oracle of the LORD.”[1]

St. John the Baptist pray for us and Happy Birthday!

 

 

[1] Jeremiah 1:4-8

A True Hero: St. John the Baptist

In today’s Gospel we are witness to a scene that takes place after the Baptism of Christ at the River Jordan. John the Baptist, in seeing Christ, proclaims to his followers, his disciples: ‘Behold the lamb of god…‘ He then goes on to explain why he made the comment. I find his proclamation an act of absolute faith and an act of supreme strength and courage.

Faithful people have varying degrees of courage and strength. In many, sadly, courage and conviction are missing – they simply are followers of the norm. Others, can espouse great thoughts and grand ideas that have no life except in their minds and those of the ones who discuss it with them. There is no actually hanging oneself out there. If it becomes too hard or the social pressures too great they recant, they submit to the corporate will. They reevaluate their position.

Then there are those who take the ultimate step and offer themselves totally to an ‘other’, something that defies their understanding, their concept, their ideal. Someone who transcends the capability of everyone. As with St. John the Baptist, they offer their life to God.

In this scene St. John proclaims to his followers that I am not the answer, I am not important. Look to Him coming towards us – He is the reason – He is what matters – He is meaning for all that I have done. St. John relinquishes his importance for the truth. Many of his followers then follow Jesus, and this is not only ok with St. John but it validates his mission. His life is affirmed when he is no longer the one people look to. His mission is fulfilled and completed and he recedes; his moment in the sun is passed as the true Son begins to light up the world.

In our world of self-promotion and desire for fame I can’t think of a more foreign concept than what St. John the Baptist gives witness to. To gain the importance and notoriety and then allow it to vanish, indeed to intentionally pass it on to another; it goes against the grain of what is popular in our society. But our society is one of desperate desires for attention and fame so that we can feel validated for a brief time. Judging our worth and success by how others adore us – all the time never coming to know who we really are. And though this sad path is filled with fears and struggles; it is the easy path to take. We can always lament of our failures as we comfortably settle back down into the rest of society and wallow in the desolation of an insensate existence.

St. John the Baptist witness shows us the heroic life of giving oneself over to God. To be brave enough to allow ourselves to be part of God’s plan. To understand that our true worth is not in how we make ourselves in our own image, but how we blend our uniqueness into God’s image of man. To be able to take the ridicule and buffets from those around us who either don’t understand or are aggressively against us because of fear of the truth. Every day many of my prayers are centered around this great choice. I pray that I have the strength and conviction of faith that St. John witnessed to. My hope is that all of us can allow ourselves to blend into Christ’s message, to be able to resist the me-first instinct and follow St John the Baptist example when he tells those around him: ‘I must decrease’.

Advancing

It seems very appropriate the at the start of our second annual Fortnight for Freedom we celebrate the Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas Moore and this evening start our celebration of the Solemnity of Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  Their actions, their witness are important guides for our activities as disciples. All three saints were active in the societies they lived in bringing the Gospel to those around them by their words and how they lived their lives.

Last year we were alarmed by the HHS mandate that intruded upon our first amendment rights; and people of many faiths rallied to protect what we perceive, and rightly so, as an attack on our constitutional rights of freedom of religion.  One year later, nothing has changed; the HHS Mandate is exactly as it was last year, it will affect religious institutions starting this August and we are awaiting the courts decisions.  This coming week we are expecting the Supreme Court to rule on two cases regarding so called ‘same-sex marriage’ and we pray worried – looking back 40 years to another Supreme Court case – Roe v Wade.

Our Bishops are calling each of us to vigilance; to proclaim our beliefs and to defend the constitutional rights of all Americans.  We are called to move forward as Christ’s disciples – witnessing to Christ’s desire for peace and love throughout the world with our works of social justice and charity.  But what does that entail, moving forward as Christ’s disciples – how are we to act? Today’s Gospel gives us some insight. Christ asks the disciples – ‘But who do you say that I am?’ and Peter replies for them ‘The Christ of God’.  This exchange is followed a strange sentence. ‘He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone’.

In today’s world of success by intrigue, deceit and subterfuge we might be tempted to think Christ is trying to hide his mission from the people, trying to quietly succeed by furtive means.  We are tempted to view this comment as proving that He is either worried or has ulterior motives. But if viewed this way, I believe we are missing the point; and by missing it we are failing to understand the true power of discipleship – humility.  His Holiness Pope Francis in his April 8th Homily told us ‘Humility is the “golden rule”. “Advancing”, for Christians, means “lowering themselves”.  He continued by telling those at the daily mass: ‘The whole history of faith is made of humility…It seems that God wanted every event ‘to be concealed, that it not be made public’, that it be , as it were, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.’(1)

Every action of Christ’s mission is shrouded in humility; God comes down to our level, He lowers Himself as the Pope put it, and humbly walks the path to the cross.  This path of Christ; this humble path of love, is what He teaches us, this is how we present ourselves, today’s disciples, to the world around us.  It is not a cowering; it is an honest humility that allows people to see love shine forth.  It is Christ on the cross who, while allowing his passion to proceed, turns to the good thief and ministers to him.  It is standing up for our rights (both constitutional and divine), not backing down; but also not pompous or aggressive, nor hateful and fearful – but loving and understanding, accepting all those in the public discourse with love even if we don’t agree with their ideas.  ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ is our mantra as we go forward with our part in the national discussion of events.  As Pope Francis mentioned we allow the Holy Spirit to overshadow events; so that our actions radiate the love, hope and peace that is God as we work from the level of those around us, bringing them up to our level of understanding – to God’s revealed truth.

So as we go forward as disciples, witnesses to God’s message, let us look to the great examples of humility and ask for their intercessions – St. John the Baptist who’s nativity we are celebrating and who proclaimed: ‘He must increase; I must decrease.’; St. Joseph who obediently accepted God’s plan; and of course our blessed mother Mary, who’s great hymn of humility, the Magnificat, we will proclaim shortly.

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(1)     L’osservatore Romano (English edition 4/17/2013 pg 10)