The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homily: Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent)

Readings: Is 35:1-6,10; Ps 146:6-10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11
Back in the seventies the wife of an acquaintance of mine just upped and left him and their children, saying that she had to “find herself.” There was a lot of that going around back then – men and women leaving their families and their seemingly settled lives in search of something else, presumably something better. I suspect that most of you have known someone who did the same.

Personally, I’ve always found their rationale a bit odd. They go off into the world in search of themselves, when what they really seek is right there in front of them and within them. You see, no one can fully understand their own identity until and unless they discover the identity of Jesus. We Christians know this, or at least we should.

Who is this Jesus? Is He God? Is He man? Is He both? These questions have been asked for 2,000 years. Ultimately, our answers to these questions determine whether we accept or reject the truth of His teachings, whether we acknowledge that when Jesus speaks, God Himself speaks.

This changes both our entire worldview and how we view ourselves. For once we accept Jesus for who He is, identity crises disappear. In a word, we find ourselves. When we find ourselves in Jesus, He becomes the very center of our being. It’s then we begin to experience the distance between who we are and who we’re called to be.

In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist has his disciples ask these same questions of Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

I’ve always thought that John knew full well the answer to this question, but that his purpose was to release his disciples, to turn them into Jesus’ disciples. After all, wasn’t John the one who said, “He must increase, and I must decrease”? And didn’t John, as an unborn infant, leap in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrived at his mother’s doorstep? If the infant knew who Jesus was, then surely the adult knew as well. And hadn’t John, as he baptized Jesus in the Jordan, watched the Spirit descend and heard the voice of the Father praising the Son?

No, John he knew his mission was ending. And now, locked in Herod’s prison awaiting execution, John had only to convince his disciples of this same truth. Indeed, this would be the final act of his mission: to send his disciples to Jesus, the one who must increase.

And so his question is not about himself; it was about Jesus. John didn’t need to find himself; he simply needed to help others find Jesus. For that had been His mission all along.

How fitting this all is. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had just sent out his disciples to evangelize the world, to bring His saving presence to others. And then John sends his disciples to Jesus, seeking from Him the fullness of revelation. Is Jesus the One revealed by the prophets?

This is the last thing John teaches his disciples: to go to Jesus. “Ask Him yourselves,” he’s telling them, “and you will see.” “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

Jesus’ answer, neither “Yes” nor “No”, likely disappointed some who heard it. But John no doubt understood. For in answering the prophet’s question Jesus turned to Isaiah, another prophet.

The passage, originally written to celebrate the return from the Babylonian Exile, is also a revelation describing the reign of the Messiah. And so, calling on Isaiah, Jesus testifies to the signs that are taking place…by Him, in Him, and through Him. The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk; the poor—those who are outcasts, those without hope—hear the Good News. The Kingdom of God has come. And Jesus adds a beatitude, a blessing: tell John that those who take no offense at me, who are not disappointed in me, are blessed.

And with this answer we hear no more of John. Stripped of his disciples, his mission complete, he dies at the hands of Herod. “He must increase. I must decrease.”

The Gospel tells us that the Messiah has come, but, we are, in a sense, still waiting in anticipation. Certainly Jesus is present and working through His Body, the Church, but He still has to come more fully into each of our lives. Jesus heals. Jesus cleanses. Jesus brings back to life that which was dead. Jesus brings good news to those who despair.

In today’s Opening Prayer, we asked to "experience the joy of salvation" - that power of healing and wholeness which Jesus can bring into our lives. This is something we each must do, individually and as a Catholic community. For so many, Christians included, have yet to know the deep joy of becoming whole in Christ.

You see, our Christian vocation is not unlike John’s. We’re called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our hearts, and into the hearts of others. We’re called to prepare others so that they, too, may "experience the joy of salvation", that healing, wholeness and holiness we all long for and which alone give real meaning to our lives. 

What will be the message others receive about your life and mine? Do our lives bring hope to others? What answer will they hear when they ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”

Do we give the answer Jesus gave? Is there light in our lives, a light that helps the spiritually blind see, a light that points to hope, a light that reveals the presence of God’s salvation in our lives?

What about those who listen but cannot hear, those for whom Jesus is simply a name…those who search in vain, looking in all the wrong places, seeking themselves, but finding nothing. Will our voices open their ears to the Word of God?

And the lame, those crippled by hatred. Or today’s lepers – the ostracized, the cast-offs, the forgotten – those filled with self-hatred. Will you and I bring them Jesus and the hope of salvation, or should they look for another?

Believe me, we’re also sent to raise the dead back to life. But don’t look for them in the cemetery. No, to find the dead, the spiritually dead, go to the prisons and jails. Go to the nursing homes, the soup kitchens, the shelters. Bring hope where there is despair. Bring the good news to those who know only bad news.

Put all that is hurting, stained, dead and impoverished in our lives in front of the Lord. Let nothing come in between us and Jesus Christ. Shame and sin paralyze, brothers and sisters. Only the love of Christ brings healing.

This is our vocation: to be prophets, to be interpreters of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Our lives must reflect God’s Love within us, so the world might experience conversion, and know that the Kingdom is here, in Christ and in His Church!

Christmas is a time of gifts -- both giving and receiving. And so let’s ensure that among the gifts we offer to others is some of the Christian joy we ourselves have received, that joy we celebrate today on Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy.

Especially today, also the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe…may the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, help us bring the love of God to the world.

The world doesn’t need to find itself. It needs only to find Jesus Christ. And we are the ones sent by God into the world so those in search of Jesus need not look for another! Blessed are those who are not disappointed in us.

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