Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday word, 24 Jun 2012

Growing into Our Messiah
Birth of John the Baptizer (24 Jun 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
When certain solemnities fall on Sundays they replace the Sunday worship. Most of them celebrate the Lord or Mary, but Saints Joseph, Peter and Paul and John the Baptizer are most important for the Christian message and life. Today, I would like to reflect with you on the Baptizer’s role of making Jesus known and how we may profit from him in our baptized vocations to make Jesus known to others.
Baptism has united us to Jesus in a vital way: it incorporated us into our risen Messiah. Our Savior, we profess, is seated at the right hand of the Father.1 That is his normal location after his wondrous resurrection and ascension.2 Yet he abides with us in a different and no less real way so we may allow him to nourish and lead us in our lives of faith. Jesus’ sacramental presence invigorates us to be his witnesses everywhere we are.

To witness to Jesus was John the Baptizer’s role. His role had two functions: to prepare and to step aside. John is well known for his desert life. The end of today’s gospel selection recalled it: he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. That is no throwaway line. In biblical language the desert was the place of formation for the Hebrews escaping Egypt on their way to the land of promise. Many a prophet—and the Baptizer was last in the line of prophets before Jesus—also went there. Why? Because the desert, more exactly, the wilderness,3 was an uninhabited, uncultivated place. Suited to deep thought, it also allowed raw creation to work its power to awaken us anew to God.

Seclusion is good preparation for anyone about to undertake a new role. The church has and continues to ask people to make a retreat; think of knights of yore as well as people about to undertake new roles in church and life: engaged couples; those to be baptized; those about to profess vows as religious; those to be ordained deacon, priest and bishop. For John time in the wilderness helped John prepare himself. By proclaiming a baptism of repentance John readied the way for Jesus. People flocked to him,4 out of need, and because they felt John walked his talk: in the wilderness John faced his frustrations about his vocation—Isaiah’s words surely took root in his heart: [What if] I toil[] in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spen[d] my strength? In the wilderness, too, John faced his demons and his inadequacies. As he did John counted on God, who called him.
Preparation times end as do efforts for which they ready us. That leads to John’s other charge. Again the gospel’s final verse: John was in the desert until the day of his manifestation5 to Israel. St. Luke used language of ancient public election to say God propelled God’s chosen prophet to action. John acted until Jesus, his contemporary, appeared after his time of wilderness temptation and faced frustrations about his vocation. When Jesus appeared John stepped aside, saying, [Jesus] must increase, I must decrease.6 John left his popular stage so Jesus could fulfill what John began for him. 
John’s willingness not always to be the center is good for us to imitate. We can grow satisfied with ourselves as witnesses to Jesus; worse, we can grow smug. John’s willingness to play his part did not overshadow Holy Spirit, who filled him from his mother’s womb.7 We are frequently tempted to block Holy Spirit. To give Holy Spirit freer reign in our lives allows us to increase, that is, to grow in every way into [our] Messiah.8

In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in the Trinity, who creates and redeems you.
  • Ask John the Baptizer to present you to Jesus, so you may converse with him.
  • In your words: Praise Jesus for sharing his Holy Spirit with you to make you his witnesses. Ask Jesus to free you from what keeps you from giving his Spirit freer reign in your life.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to announce the good news of his gospel with greater freedom and generosity.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. On earth as in heaven reminds us that what we do on earth—our witness to risen Jesus—the Trinity will fulfill in heaven, that is, in the divine presence, in whom we hope to dwell and increase forever.
Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Nicene CreedRoman Missal.
  2. Eucharistic Prayer III, Roman Missal.
  3. The word is more accurate in description.
  4. Luke 3.7. Later verses name groups in the crowds.
  5. The word translated as manifestation is different from the epiphany of Jesus. Because God elects and makes known God’s prophets, the effect is also divine.
  6. John 3.30.
  7. Luke 1.15; part of the gospel for the Vigil Mass.
  8. Ephesians 4.15. St. Paul used the same word, meaning to increase / grow.
Wiki-image by Юкатан of the Baptizer’s birthplace used by CC BY-SA 3.0. Wiki-image of the appearance of Jesus to the people is in the public domain.

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