Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Light to the Nations

June 24, 2009

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist - Mass During the Day

For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, That Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; And I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength! It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:5-6

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:66


(From the “Canticle of Zechariah”)

And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1:76-79


(Note: As we move back into Ordinary Time, we also now begin the parade of saints throughout the summer, celebrating some of the most vibrant witnesses in our faith tradition who help point the way back to God. How else to begin these lessons than by starting with the man who not only answered the clarion call from within the womb, but also then sounded the trumpet for all of us to hear?)

“What, then, will this child be?”

This was not just an idle wonderment of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. It is a refrain woven into the hearts, minds and souls of every parent and parent-to-be. What new parent has not thought that thought and hoped for a crystal ball to see the future?

How do we know if that baby in our arms will grow up to discover a cure for cancer or AIDS or world hunger? How do we know if that baby in our arms will grow up with cancer, or AIDS or hunger?

How do we know if that baby in our arms will grow up to prepare the way of the Lord in the modern world? Is there a mustard seed of Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day or Paul Farmer ready to sprout like a shoot from the heart of this child? Or will this child need the guidance of a modern-day saint disguised, Joseph-like, as a simple and loving sandal tying parent?

Who are we to mess with God’s plan? No more can we stop the sun from rising or the rain from falling. If we try, we know that we will be called before the Lord to answer for our actions. God promises us nothing but the best. Doesn’t he promise that his tender mercy “will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace?”

Yet how often do we want to place something else before God’s desires? How often do we put our consumerism before our Christianity?

God is with us. Emmanuel. That was what John came to unveil. Before the curtain on the temple was torn asunder, John lifted it up to give us a glance at the morning sun. While the birth of Jesus was an act of history, it also was a timeless act of love. It is an act repeated with the birth of every child every where on earth.

God is with us through Jesus. God is with us through the holy Spirit. God is with us through each other. No sonnet from Shakespeare can say it better than the Psalmist:

Darkness and light are but one. You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity. Psalm 139:12-18


Are we being consumed by God or are we letting the world around us consume us?

John the Baptist was the First Vice President of Marketing for Christianity, Inc. He was the public relations director, speechwriter, adman and market researcher. He was so totally detached from society that his clothes and his food were the simplest items so nothing distracted him from his mission.

What is your big distraction? What part of your house needs an “extreme makeover” in order to be ready when Christ comes knocking on your door?

In “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire,” William T. Cavanaugh reminds us that St. Augustine said that human desires are endless. “Desire is not simply negative; our desires are what get us out of bed in the morning. We desire because we live. The problem is that our desires continue to light on objects that fail to satisfy, objects on the lower end of the scale of being that, if cut off from the Source of their being, quickly dissolve into nothing.” The solution to the restlessness of desire is to cultivate a desire for God. The Eternal, in whom our hearts will find rest.”

How can you follow the example of John the Baptist and shift your desires from things to the people around you? How can you attach yourself to a greater desire to follow the precious designs of God?