2nd Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - Cycle A - 2004-2005
First Reading - Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm - 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Gospel - John 1:29-34
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “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.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain un him. I did not know hi, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
A few months ago, a friend of a friend was driving in Los Angeles and was stuck in traffic on one of the freeways there. Not paying attention to traffic, she fender-bendered the car in front of her. Both she and the car in front of her pulled-over onto the shoulder. The other driver got out of his car to inspect the damage to his vehicle. It was Jim Caviezel, who plays the role of Our Lord in the movie The Passion of the Christ. The woman who hit him didn't know it at first. Caviezel calmly told the woman not to worry about the incident - the damage was so insignificant that he wouldn't bother filing a claim. As he and the woman were about to part ways, she finally figured out who he was. She asked him, "Wait a minute. Are YOU Jesus?" Caviezel smiled and said, "No, but I know what you mean. . ."
Apparently, Caviezel has experienced these similar types of occurrences since The Passion came out. In a way, he's not too unlike the person depicted in our Gospel today - St. John the Baptist. Like Caviezel, the Baptist was constantly being confused for being the Christ. On several occasions in the Gospels he is asked if he is the Christ or should the people expect another person to come onto the scene. It must have been frustrating at times to be John the Baptist. He spends his entire life witnessing to our Lord and people keep mistaking him for the Christ, even if his whole desire was merely to deflect attention away from himself and onto our Lord.
In our Gospel today, note that the speaker is John the Baptist, not our Lord. This is an unusual Gospel passage in that the vast majority of the Gospel narratives usually depict our Lord doing most of the speaking. Today, we are presented with John the Baptist's testimony about Jesus through the eyes of St. John. This passage asks us to consider two basic aspects of our Catholic faith: what baptism has done for us and how we are witnessing to our baptismal dignity.
Most of us here were baptized as infants. For that reason, we don't even remember the event. Our parents and Godparents spoke on our behalf that day and they committed themselves to form us and to teach us the Catholic faith. But what exactly happens at a baptism and why is this formation so essential? We know that at baptism, we are freed from original sin - the sin we all inherited from Adam and Eve, through no fault of our own. Later in life, when we reach the age of seven, we begin going to the Sacrament of Penance - to Confession so as to forgive our actual sins. (We say that before the age of seven or the age of reason, children don't commit actual sins. That's a very generous allowance to give children because I have known many children who are quite capable of telling the difference between right and wrong long before their seventh birthday.) In baptism, we also become adopted children of God in the order of grace. But there is much more. At the moment of baptism, our souls are infused with a special outpouring of sacramental and sanctifying grace. Into our souls are poured the virtues of faith, hope and charity (the theological virtues) and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. It means that our souls are now equipped with every grace we need to become saints. So, it's not as if our lives of faith are merely our initiative. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Our lives of virtue are what they are only because God has given us the capacity to believe, trust and love Him as HIS INITIATIVE or FIRST MOVE, given to us as gifts in baptism. The gifts of the Holy Spirit work with the virtues in our soul to help us become holy. The role of the parent and Godparent is to draw the saint out! The role of the parent and Godparent is to help the child actualize their potential.
Perhaps a couple of analogies would help us understand this better. I recently received a very nice gift of a Palm Pilot. It's a real fancy one - a model that I could never afford myself. It does all kinds of things. It has fullness of "Palmness." Everything that I need to be organized and technologically savvy is in the Palm Pilot. However, I retain the prerogative to use or not use the various features. I've needed someone to show me some of the features and I even have a book to help me along. In the same way, a newly-baptized person has everything needed to be a saint. They need parents and Godparents and a parish family to help nurture the gifts they have received. They need their Catechism and their Bible and other spiritual books to help them along. In time, it will be their choice as to whether or not to continue developing in the Faith. In the meantime, parents and Godparents need to help that child desire further growth.
Another analogy may help. Michelangelo was once asked how he envisions the plan for executing a statue that needs to be carved out of a block of marble. Michelangelo said that the statue is already in the marble. He only need pull it out of the block of marble and set it free.
Given this reality and the essential role that parents and Godparents play in forming a baptized child into a saint, we do well to consider our own lives of witness to the Faith. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah proclaims God's testimony that it is too little for us to be His servants - we must be a light to the nations so that His salvation may reach the ends of the earth. St. Paul echoes this idea when he says that we are called to be HOLY, not merely nice or pleasant.
So, we ask, "At home, how well-equipped are we to teach the Faith? Do we reduce our witness of Faith to only giving a good example or is our witness one that is thoroughly involved in the Faith-formation of our children based in DOCTRINE?" After all, anyone can give good example. But only a conscientious Catholic parent can give doctrinal formation. Religious education classes are merely ancillary to this effort - compliment to the work of the parents, not a replacement for it.
How do we give witness outside the home? In school - are we ashamed to pray before meals in the cafeteria or to stand up for the name of our Lord when it is blasphemed time and time again? At work - do we stand up for the Faith when it is attacked or vilified? I remember some years ago, one of my best friends who works on a team in a consulting firm that is predominantly Jewish, had to stand up for his Catholic faith. The Jews wanted him to come into work on Sunday because they didn't work on Saturday, which is their Sabbath. My friend refused. He said that his Sabbath was on Sunday and that he would be happy to work alone on Saturday so that both religions represented on the team could be respected. He was courageous and his claim was well-received. He could have rolled over and played dead, like so many Catholics do. They refuse to stand up.
For too long now, Catholics refuse to take a stand. We don't make fun of Jews and we shouldn't and we don't make fun of Muslims or Hindus and we shouldn't do that either. Yet, make fun of a Catholic and we don't do a thing! Is this the kind of witness that is setting the world on fire with the Gospel? Is this what the Second Vatican Council envisioned when it challenged lay people to sanctify the world? The two largest groups of persons in this country who claim a religious affiliation are practicing Catholics as #1 and non-practicing Catholics as #2. Can you imagine what a country this would be if every Catholic gave witness like they can and in the manner that our baptisms have equipped us for? We'd be unstoppable!
Our readings today, then, challenge us to consider the high dignity that our baptism calls us to - to be nothing short of a saint! We have everything that we need in order to accomplish this mighty goal. The virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit that we received at baptism have already made it possible for us to give witness at home, in school and in the workplace. The Pope reminds us, "Man, become who you are!" - meaning, become the saint that is already inside of you! Let us never lose hope that this can be done, for the Lord Jesus has already accomplished the victory that our lives of faith must reflect.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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