Second Sunday of the Year A (16 January 2011)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
From Tucson to Tunisia we learn something about the gospel. In Tucson someone killed for a version of the truth, albeit a personal one that few people find makes sense. In Tunisia a leader fled after an unprecedented uprising of its people rejected the leader’s iron-fisted way of ignoring their situation. In one place a person killed for a skewed version of truth; in another place a leader fled because common wisdom rejected the leader’s version of truth.
These events, and others, teach us an uncomfortable truth, at once divine and human. The gospel of Jesus, our Messiah and brother, critiques human cultures. Because you and I live in our culture, Jesus invites us to open ourselves to how the gospel aids us in evaluating our culture. The gospel offers the vision of Jesus and those who came to see with his vision. That is not always easy, and human vision always needs conversion. Let me offer a contrast to help us appreciate the gospel’s call to convert culture.
The 1960s saw an upheaval of cultural norms, which earned the decade the name of counter-culture. Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll remain in the imaginations of those of us who grew up or raised families in the 60s. For some Catholics a rejection of what the 60s embodied blinds them to the ways increasing disparity between rich and poor—already scandalous—as well as violence, war, money, power, dishonesty, re-surging militarism and disregard for natural resources absorb us and reshape our imaginations and redirect our affections.
The gospel, Jesus’ voice in his church, calls us to conversion, which is being turned inside out more than it is a genuine nod to beliefs. If certain aspects of our culture absorb us, reshape our imaginations and redirect our affections differently from Jesus and his disciples, then being absorbed by Jesus and putting on his attitude slowly converts our culture. Pope John Paul, quoting the Second Vatican Council, expressed this neatly: “Since culture is a human creation and is therefore marked by sin, it too needs to be ‘healed, ennobled and perfected.’”1 Conversion begins in the process of baptism, which the eucharist sustains, and to which the gospel, the voice of Jesus in his church, returns us. Conversion always is linked with baptism.
Our celebration of the baptism of Jesus has us ponder our baptized lives: are they absorbed more by Jesus and his disciples; or are we taken with elements of our culture, elements which need to be “healed, ennobled and perfected?” More crucial is this question: Who is Jesus, who we desire to embrace us and whose attitude we desire to adopt?
John the Baptizer identified Jesus with a shocking phrase, the Lamb of God. It is shocking because Jesus was not a messiah, who would only be servant, a shock in itself. Lamb of God was a sacrificial title, which Jesus proved to be a true identification. Lamb of God returns us to the current events which opened my reflection. The Lamb of God did not run away from his truth. Nor did the Lamb of God kill for the truth. Jesus, our Lamb of God, died for the truth and as the truth, the truth who from the beginning was with God and was God.2
Being shaped by the Truth, who is Jesus, is our daily conversions. Being shaped by the Truth, who is Jesus, liberates us. Conversion liberates us from our fears flowing from our compulsions, our need to be at the center and our need to control. Being open to the gospel, Jesus’ voice in his church, frees us from those fears and offers us new ways of serving the truth, who is Jesus, our Messiah and brother.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause in the creative love of the Trinity. Invite John the Baptizer to present you to Jesus. In your words ask Jesus to learn him better, to see yourself with him and embraced by him. Ask Jesus for his attitude for you to adopt as yours day to day. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. His words, on earth as it is in heaven, on our lips give voice to our desire to be reshaped by Jesus and his gospel, “to be ‘healed, ennobled and perfected’” one day, one hour, one moment at a time.
- His little-read encyclical in the developed world, Redemptoris missio, 54 (= the mission of the Redeemer).
- See John 1.1 and indeed the entire prologue, 1-18.