2nd. Sunday of Year (A)
(Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6; 1st. Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1: 29-34
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, John the Baptist spent most of his life in the desert, and Jesus Himself lived for round about 25-28 years in the quiet town of Nazareth unknown to the world; both, in relative silence and solitude, listening for and learning from God speaking to them and preparing them for their individual ministry and fulfilment. Surely then, if we are serious as Catholic Christians, who want to recognize Jesus in truth and learn from Him, we too must, in some measure, try to distance ourselves from the ever-louder noise and clamour of modern life in society in order to learn for what purpose God has brought us thus far in our life.
God made us, and because He loves us above the rest of creation He made us in His own likeness that we might be able to relate personally with Him. He is still willing, He still endeavours, to speak with us for our good, but He is Spirit and He is Truth, and many have more or less lost the ability recognize such a Person or understand words that express such Truth. His manner, His approach to us, is spiritual, His purpose is transcendent love, and His message concerns the very meaning and purpose of our present being and ultimate destiny.
Notice what John said about Jesus:
I did not know Him myself, but He Who sent me said to me, ‘The man on Whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the One Who is to baptise with the Holy Spirit’.
You see that even John the Baptist – though sent to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ -- could not recognize the true Jesus, the truth about Jesus, until the Father revealed Him to him; as Jesus Himself said:
No one can come to Me unless My Father draw him.
Dear People of God, life, our life on earth, its meaning as a whole and our own individual life-purpose therein, is a divine and most wonderful mystery and, as such, is both sublimely uplifting and most deeply humbling for our human understanding and appreciation. That is why people can, in our days and even at the highest echelons of Church life, get embroiled in or disturbed by apparent differences between Pope Francis’ personal emphasis on God’s mercy, and Mother Church’s traditional emphasis on God’s holiness, in and for Catholic spirituality.
Holiness is the very essence of God’s goodness, and as children of His in Jesus, empowered by His most Holy Spirit, we are called to follow our immaculate mother Mary above the angels. Now ‘the doors’ to such sublime heights of heavenly bliss and divine beauty are not thrown open for any but those who are truly holy; a truth confirmed most emphatically by St. Paul who, in our second reading, expressly declared our vocation as Catholics and Christians to be a call to holiness:
Paul, called to be an Apostle, to you in Corinth who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy.
At the same time however we must recognize, from both our first reading and today’s Gospel, that God’s supreme desire when sending His Son to become man was:
That His salvation may reach the ends of the earth and take away the sins of the world;
and therefore His great goodness, expressing Itself on earth as mercy, is deeper and wider than any sea and embraces the whole of striving humanity … the whole of humanity, that is, who are searching for, striving towards, that goodness of beauty and truth most fully revealed to us in Jesus.
Now, since the heart-felt sincerity of those actually striving (no merely imaginary or emotional liking or wishing) towards Jesus is of far greater moment than any measure of visible success they may -- or may not -- attain, and since our spiritual understanding of God's ways is often so tardy, we can find ourselves at times (such as now) having to hold -- as has often been remarked – onto the two ends of a chain of unknown length. On the one hand, divine Holiness is absolute and no one must ever try to make it, or offer it, cheap for others, let alone lead others to think it can be got, or that they can get it for themselves ‘on the cheap’. On the other hand, the fact that God’s mercy towards men-of-good will is whole-hearted (so to speak) and everlasting, cannot in any way be denied.
Now, all this may well, and indeed should, lead us His People to recognize that we can only come to know God our Sovereign Lord and appreciate His ways more fully and truly by following more closely the examples of John and Jesus by listening, praying, and reverently waiting -- perhaps for even a considerable time -- before we can, in Jesus, humbly receive God’s blessing and enlightenment, by His Spirit, and through His Church.
The need for prayer is obviously so very important for us in Church life today, but also it is of the utmost importance for us in our individual lives and personal witness to Jesus before the world, because indifferent Catholics – seeking themselves and their own worldly purposes with nothing more than a perfunctory gesture towards Jesus and His will for us -- have too long abounded in and now most deeply wounded Mother Church as we can clearly see and hear around us today.
Therefore, we can’t merely seek information from the Scriptures, or admire mere logical arguments in Mother Church’s dogmatic teaching. The historical, physical, factual, Jesus, about Whom scholars used to talk so much until quite recently, was actually seen by His contemporaries -- even by John the Baptist himself -- but that wasn’t enough for them to recognize and believe in Him as their Saviour; for that they needed a special light, an elevating grace, from God. And we, in our turn today, need a similar special light and grace that we might recognize, appreciate, and respond to God’s Personal love for us -- you and me individually -- in Mother Church’s Scriptures, that we might drink deeply of the divine-life-for-human-living bestowed ‘physically’ and in total profusion in her Eucharist, and also to be found and experienced in the divine grace available and so redolent in her teaching and spirituality.
Let me now, to close, draw up some of the characteristics of a Catholic Christian as learnt from today’s Gospel:
A Catholic Christian seeks peace so as to be able to listen:
first of all, to his own being which will tell him that nothing in this world can fully satisfy him;
secondly, to God, in order to find hope, meaning, purpose, and fulfilment for his life as an individual human being become a child of God.
A Catholic Christian is, has to be, fundamentally humble, because he knows and fully accepts that he cannot even seek salvation, let alone embrace it in Jesus, without the Father Himself, showing us something of the beauty of His beloved Son and the goodness of the News He brings and the gifts and graces He offers us.
A modern Catholic therefore embraces the doctrine of Mother Church and frequents her Sacraments (above all the Eucharist); he readily prays, seeking ever more intimate guidance, and personal communion with God, in and from the Scriptures of Mother Church; and, finally, such a disciple of Jesus does not disdain to make grateful use of human wisdom and learning in so far as they help. He knows how to trust himself to the God Who made him, Who originally called, carried, and still leads him; and he most ardently believes that such Fatherly love will never fail him, needing only his own personal response of loving trust to glorify him, in Jesus, by the Spirit, for Himself.