by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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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 him, 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.”
There is an old joke repackaged for our time. It is the story of three accountants interviewing for the position of chief financial officer of (the now notorious) Enron Corporation. In response to the interviewer's question, "What is two plus two?" the first two candidates correctly answer, "four." The accountant who lands the job, however, responds, "What do you want the answer to be?" Enron by all appearances was a successful organization - some would say a great organization - with comfortable and shiny office buildings. But its appearances were deceiving. The collapse of the company because of its dishonest accounting practices is now the stuff of government investigations and university studies. Reality matters.
Why is it so easy to deny reality, even the most obvious of realities? We might begin to answer the question by examining our capacity for vainglory. Having experienced the adulation of others, we rarely find it easy to relinquish our position as the center of attention. Presidents, priests, politicians and entertainers, in craving attention, often do all in their power to chase the limelight and remain in it. Witness the behavior of record-breaking NFL quarter-backs and former American presidents. Achieving great celebrity status has the warm effect of a narcotic that can mask the cancer of arrogance and narcissism.
Unless checked with a desire for humility, that cancer can metastasize quickly. Leaders, secular and religious, are particularly susceptible to the sin of vanity. Adulation, deserved and undeserved (i.e., flattery), can easily corrode a man's character. Hence politicians dispense monies from the public treasury in the name of "compassion" when the real reason is accumulation of power and desire for re-election. Religious leaders too often cloak their desire for approval in the false humility of "tolerance" and fail to confront a collapsing culture that surrounds them. In 50 years, with the rise of a culture of narcissism, there has been a secular redefinition of "normal." Abortion, gay marriage, pornography, "test-tube babies" and cohabitation have become the new secular norms. "Leave it to Beaver" has given way to "Sex in the City."
While we all have the sprouts of narcissism and arrogance within us, John the Baptist is a magnificent exception. By his own testimony, he is not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet. He is rather a "voice crying out in the wilderness" who would "prepare the way of the Lord." He testifies, "A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me." John is merely the precursor of the "one who is to come." John is humble and recognizes the reality of his relationship with Christ. Precisely because of his humility John receives the highest possible praise from Christ: "No man born of a woman is greater than John."
As a great man, John in his personal austerity and powerful preaching brought many to the Jordan River for a baptism of repentance. Despite his considerable personal appeal, John recognizes himself as a mere advance man, acknowledging in humility that he is "not worthy to untie the sandal strap" of Christ. John is completely devoid of the narcissism that usually accompanies celebrity status. Hence John at once shows us the way to Christ as well as the reward of humility: true greatness.
John's ministry and the testimony of Christ reveals there is no shame in aiming for greatness. Without great men, there would be no advances in religion, science, medicine, business and even sports. The Church joyfully refers to popes as "great" and hopes that there will be more "great" churchmen in our lifetime. Humility and true greatness are inextricably linked. Humility does not deny one's attributes. Humility is the virtue that allows us to look at ourselves as we truly are in relation to the Lord.
A genuinely humble and great man faithfully witnesses to reality and truth. Our quest for greatness begins by attentiveness to the basic realities of life. Despite the many claims to the contrary, two plus two equals four.
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