Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 3:3b, 10-19; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a; Jn 1:35-42]
The stillness of night was broken by loud knocking on a neighbor’s door. Ludwig van Beethoven was trying to sleep, but the repeated, unrelenting insistence of that knocking, stirred his imagination. In his mind that knocking became the most famous musical phrase in symphony history, three quick notes followed by a fourth long one, da-da-da dumm. (It sounds much better when played by violins and trombones!) They are repeated many time in the Fifth Symphony, a persistent knocking announcing a great conflict between good and evil. The first movement of the symphony, so urgent and tense in the face of the enemy, is followed in the second movement by a resolute march of resistance in step with the beating of the four notes. Tension builds in the third movement until it finally explodes in an outburst of triumph, an emotional, joyful ecstasy.
During World War Two these four opening notes of Beethoven’s symphony that equal the letter V in Morse code, became a symbol for “Victory in Europe.” The Allies used Germany’s most famous symphony to galvanize their efforts to defeat the Axis war machine. Even more than World War Two, the Fifth Symphony could be called the history of salvation in music, dramatizing the whole conflict between good and evil from our earliest parents to our last descendants. Every year the liturgy comes knocking on our doors today to enter the struggle, to be saved or to be lost.
It happened one night to a young boy named Samuel. Three times he heard a call, waking him from a restless sleep. The fourth time he said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” A new movement in the history of salvation was beginning, the time of prophets. Samuel became the Lord’s voice, to raise up and to tear down. But the people wanted a monarchy, not the Lord, to protect them from enemies. So, the Lord said to Samuel, “They have not rejected you, they have rejected me from being king over them,” (1 Sam 8:7). In the music of the Fifth Symphony this is a tense moment. Evil is powerful. Will it prevail? What will the Lord do now?
Every year at the beginning of Ordinary Time, the liturgy turns to the Gospel of John to show us the Lord pitching his tent among us; not a tent of fabric as in the days of Samuel, but of flesh and blood; not to speak to us through another, but with his own mouth. The Lord who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve at twilight enjoying the cool evening breeze, once again walks among us looking so ordinary that we needed John the Baptist to point him out. Right here, today, John the Baptist comes knocking on our doors, crying out, “Look! Behold the Lamb of God.” In a culture where lambs were slaughtered daily in the Temple, those words foretold the painful sacrifice God would make to overcome evil, not by the blood of lambs and bulls, but by the blood of his Son.
Two disciples of the Baptist follow Jesus. Unknowingly, they walk with God. In God’s great symphony, the march against evil has begun. The Gospel tells us it was about the tenth hour, the approach of evening, the same hour when God walked with Adam and Eve. Jesus turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” Who are you seeking? Why are you here? That question about our motivation is of the greatest importance in the struggle between good and evil. Are we truly seeking God or ourselves?
The disciples respond by asking, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” On the surface, it’s the question of students asking a Rabbi where he lives so they might learn from him. But the Gospel of John is uncovering deeper mysteries. God is walking with his people again. Not as he did during the Exodus in a cloud by day and fire by night, nor as he did in the time of Samuel and the Prophets who were his voice, but as he did with Adam and Eve. So, when the disciples ask, “Where do you abide,” they are touching on the mystery of the Trinity, where the Word is with God, dwelling in the bosom of the Father.
Jesus replies, “Come and see.” In this ordinary event, Jesus reveals our Christian vocation: we are called to see God. Come to the Beatific Vision of God in infinite glory. “They came and they saw, … and they remained with him…” Right here, at the beginning of Ordinary Time, the liturgy—by which we participate in Christ’s life—shows us the gift that is at stake in this conflict between good and evil. Christ comes knocking on our doors, calling us to march with him throughout life until we reach the final, rapturous outcome of God’s great symphony, his total triumph over all that is evil that we celebrate on the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. It’s all here, and it’s all yet to come. What will heaven be like? This King who knocks on our door, with whom we walk, makes us his spouse so that we may become fully human and fully divine. And it begins now with God’s kiss in holy communion.
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 62:1-5; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1-11]
Brothers and sisters, we are, in today's gospel invited to a wedding. The church, is inviting you and I to attend and with our whole heart and mind, be present to a mystery; this mystery of a wedding between a man and a woman. Now, this is of course, a famous, and quite mysterious wedding: the so called: “Wedding at Cana”: which was the occasion of the first miracle of Jesus recorded by John. This is no ordinary marriage ceremony. Jesus is there; Mary and the disciples are there; a crowd of merry-makers have gathered, and we are invited to be there. But I wonder if you and I might find it difficult to attend and be truly present to this blessed wedding at Cana. We come from a different world; a world in which a wedding is often viewed more as a contract than a mystery; a world in which people don't even agree on the nature and meaning of marriage itself. To that young couple married at Cana in Jesus' presence, marriage was seen as something good in itself. Marriage was not just an individual making a lifestyle choice for herself. Marriage was an objective good. Another person might have no desire to marry at all, might feel passionately committed to avoiding marriage at all costs, and yet, hearing of a friend's decision to marry, doesn't consider him psychotic or perverse. He understands his friend's decision. Even as one repelled by the idea, he understands and acknowledges the good of marriage, because marriage is something good in itself whose goodness does not need to be explained or justified, no more than friendship, or improving your mind, or feeding the poor needs to be justified or explained. We don't need to search for reasons to affirm these things as good. We all know what they are.
But in our time, marriage is more and more conceived, not as something good in itself, but as an instrumental good, as a means to an end: as a means – to foster an emotional bond between two people; as an effective means to set up and organize a household, or to qualify for a tax exemption. But if marriage is simply a means to an end; an effective strategy for ordering one's life and securing certain things for oneself, if it's all about accomplishing this or that end for myself, then, in the case of the wedding at Cana, it is difficult to see what all those other people are doing there, and why they are so happy. What are they celebrating? If marriage is simply the means by which I secure something I desire for myself, what cause for rejoicing is there in that for my family, friends and neighbors? Again, if my marriage is only an instrumental good, useful for attaining certain ends good for me, does Jesus need to be there? And, if, at the reception, the wine runs out, who cares? The purpose of my wedding is to ratify a contract. But the terms have been spelled out; all parties are in agreement, and the contract has been signed. I've achieved my objective. Of what importance is it that other people rejoice or lament about any of this?
But at Cana, there is a celebration; loud, sustained, intensely felt jubilation, rejoicing and revelry. What are these people celebrating? Another, even more interesting question: Why has God put Jesus there? Jesus always and only does the will of the Father. Why does God want Jesus in attendance at this wedding? Well, maybe God just likes weddings. We might infer this from his creation of Adam and Eve, from his arrangement of the betrothal of Abraham to Sarah, the wedding of Isaac and Rebecca, and of Jacob and Rachel, from the words he put into the mouths of the prophets who so joyfully proclaimed that God had joined Israel to himself in marriage; from the joy of the Bride and the Bridegroom immortalized in the poetry of the “Song of Songs”. Brothers and sisters all these weddings are just so many variations on a theme of the one great mystical wedding which God, in the fullness of time, has entered into with his church which is the body of Christ. And so, in the Catholic church a wedding between a man and a woman is celebrated, (really celebrated!). Why? Because it is a sacrament that makes present the mystery of Christ's marriage to the church. Brothers and sisters, we are at the wedding of Cana, Jesus and Mary, the disciples, the prophets and the whole communion of saints are there with us, and they are all celebrating. Why are we celebrating? Because, in Jesus Christ, it has been revealed to us that the whole of salvation history from the first chapter of Genesis to the final lines of the book of Revelation is all one great wedding! What is Jesus doing at Cana? He's showing that to us. It is all one great wedding! The Eucharist we are about to celebrate is this great wedding banquet, offered us by Jesus Christ, and a seat has been reserved for you.
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 3:3b, 10-19; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a; Jn 1:35-42 ]
A word to the wise is enough, but fools can never be persuaded. One day someone on retreat approached Br. Conrad, a saintly and quiet lay brother who cleaned rooms and made beds in the guest house. He asked for advice on how to be a better person. Br. Conrad kept right on mopping the floor and replied with only two words: “Pray more.”
Only two words, but so full of wisdom, because prayer is loving awareness of God, and the greatest commandment is “to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:38). So, to pray more is the greatest commandment. Only two words, but they express the deepest desire of Jesus' heart for us.
The most important decisions of our lives are made with just a few words. When Jesus said, “Come and see,” two disciples of John the Baptist were wise enough to follow Jesus, and they stayed with him. Ever after St. John and St. Andrew remembered the day and the hour when their lives with Jesus began. John writes, “It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.” They heard three little words, “Come and see” and accepted his invitation. It changed their lives. A word to the wise is enough, but fools can never be persuaded.
Many years ago one of my nephews was visiting me with his fiance. She was a Christian, but not a Catholic. Knowing that the union between a husband and wife who pray and worship together, with one heart and one faith, will be so much stronger, I invited her to become a Catholic. The moment passed, but the invitation entered her heart. Later that day she handed me a short note with only two words: “I accept.” She entered RCIA and became a Catholic. Over the years Mary and Michael have sponsored and instructed many others in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. An invitation and two little words in response, “I accept,” changed her life. She was wise. She didn't need to be invited twice!
In his Rule for Monks, St. Benedict writes, “What page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not a most unerring rule for human life?” (Ch. 73). By contrast, the great physicist, Stephen Hawking, who just celebrated his 70th birthday, has probed deeply into the mysteries of science and the universe. Yet, in a recent interview he said, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for [such] broken down computers; that is a fairy [tale] for people afraid of the dark” (Interview by Ian Sample, Guardian). What a contrast between this great scientist and the wisdom of our Br. Peter McSweeney. When Dom Andre Louf, author of several books on prayer, visited our community, he asked to meet our monks in the infirmary. He was introduced to Br. Peter who was 96 years old, lying on his bed during his final illness. He asked brother for a word of advice. Peter replied, “Never give up!” Taking that advice to heart and continuing the conversation, Dom Andre Louf asked, “Br. Peter when did you become a monk?” Brother paused for a moment and then said, “I have just begun.” Four little words, but they contain more wisdom and humility for eternal life than Stephen Hawkins' bestselling book, “A Brief History of Time.” A word to the wise is enough, but fools can never be persuaded to follow Christ.
Jesus invites everyone to “Come and see.” Those three little words are more than an invitation to discipleship. They not only mark the beginning of our journey at baptism, but also our ultimate destiny, the kingdom of heaven. At baptism we are asked, “Do you believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Catholic Church?” and we reply, “I do believe.” That profession of faith and the baptismal vow to renounce Satan, renewed every Easter Vigil, marked the beginning of our journey. But the same invitation is repeated when we come to die. At Columbine High School, not many years ago, as you remember, a boy pointed a gun at 17 year old Cassie Bernall and asked in a threatening voice, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” She reflected for a moment on the consequences of her reply and then said, “Yes, I do believe.” He pulled the trigger. With one word, “Yes,” she showed that she was truly wise, and accepted the invitation of Jesus to come and see the kingdom of heaven, to stay with him forever.
“Come and see.” We have all said yes to Jesus. And having begun to walk with Jesus, to love Him with all our hearts, to pray more, we also want to say with John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God!” and to say with St. Andrew, “We have found the Messiah.” For none of us go to heaven alone. If we are wise, we want to bring as many people with us as we can. We do not need the theological brilliance of St. Thomas Aquinas to speak a word of wisdom, nor the humble holiness of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, to be persuasive. During this new year let us bring as many to Jesus as we can. We have found Jesus. It only takes a few words to invite others to come and see and stay with Him. A word to the wise is enough.
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 62:1-5; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1-12]
South Carolina is a different climate. I’ve spent fourteen winters there, and seen ten inches of snow. Not all at once, of course, but over the years. The people talk a bit differently about ordinary things. They don’t attach hoses to faucets and turn them on. They take the hose pipe, hook it up to the hose bib, and cut it on. And, if you need a ride to town, they will gladly carry you on in. They are very friendly people.
The practice of religion is much more public. Newcomers are asked, “What’s your name? Where you from? Where do you go to Church, would you like to join us one Sunday? Catholic? Oh.” End of conversation. This sort of view surprises many people.
Bob Jones was a preacher in South Carolina, and one of the first preachers to preach on the radio. His sermons can still be heard from time to time on the radio station of Bob Jones University in Greenville. During the 2000 election, some members of the national press accused the school of hating Catholics. A big-name interviewer decided to get to the bottom of this and invited the university president, Bob Jones the Third, to answer the question: Do you hate Catholics. The answer went something like: “No, I don’t hate Catholics. I love them. And I love them enough to try to save them from going to hell for being Catholic and following the pope, who is the anti-Christ.”
The people in the South are very open about their beliefs, but anti-Catholicism exists everywhere. I remember this quote and still find it a shocking challenge. How can we protect Catholics from being led astray? How can we share the faith with those who hate us? How can a Christian so confuse love and hate? How can we avoid becoming blind in our own pride?
The first two are relatively easy. First, we know that Fundamentalists love to quote the Scriptures: book, chapter, and verse. They’ll readily remind us that 1 Corinthians 6:9 assures us that there is no room for drunkards in the Kingdom of God. All these numbers can make Catholics insecure. But remember, we have the authority of St. Paul on our side. Somewhere in his writings he cites a specific scriptural quotation with only the words “somewhere scripture says….”. If “somewhere” is good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for the rest of us Catholics!
One young pagan was comparing Fundamentalists to Catholics, and found that the Fundamentalists quoted St Paul all the time, and from Paul presented the errors of the Catholic Church. Pagan though he was, he knew the Gospel’s stories well enough to ask, “But what about the wedding Jesus went to, when He turned water into wine? Why would He do that if He didn’t want the people to drink it?” When Catholics know the Bible and our basic teachings, we will remain strong in the faith and be ready to give reasons for our hope. When we share our faith with reference to the Bible, we will bring people to the Church.
This is especially true when it comes to the one figure most confusing to non-Catholic Christians: Mary. Cana is a great story for us to know and share. Mary teaches us how to pray: just tell Him the problem, not the solution. “They have no more wine.” Then, listen willing to obey. “Do whatever He tells you.” Very simple, and like all simple things that are true, very difficult. Especially since Pope John Paul added the Luminous Mysteries to the Rosary, it is very easy to share the Faith with Christians through the Rosary. It’s a wonderful way to meditate on the mysteries of the birth, life and death of Jesus, as well as the future He has planned for us. Mary, again straight from scripture, is our perfect model. Consider all the events in Jesus’ life and the ways we are called to share His life now and in eternity, Mary held all these things in her heart. The perfect example of contemplative prayer.
Back to the Fundamentalists’ peculiar sense of love. We must not look on Fundamentalists as enemies. Many are Baptized members of the Body of Christ, our real brothers and sisters in Christ. They know much that is true, which we must affirm. I admire the sense of dedication, the willingness to state what he thinks is true though he knows it’s not popular with many people. These are good! They have taken this truth to extremes, isolated from other truths. St. Paul began his career doing the same and persecuting the Church; the prayer of Stephen led to his conversion.
Authentic Catholicism is not easy. We first identify with our local area, folks who talk like we do, and think like we do. Allow the universality of the Church to reach us, know the whole faith. We pray the scriptures both by knowing all of the bible, and each book, and by meditating on particular passages. We need to do the same with the teachings and practices of the faith. We need to know them all fairly well, even while we focus on one in particular at a given time. This is a key part to the genius of the Catholic Church, local and universal! We can be confident that this is the one Church Jesus established, on Rock, to endure until the end of time. Let us pray that we will be humble enough accept the whole truth. Let us not be afraid to encounter the “other” within the Church.
Most importantly, it is not enough to know about prayer. It is not enough to know how to pray. We must pray, and listen, ready to do whatever He says.
Second Sunday of Ordinary time
[Scripture Readings: 1Sam. 3:3b-10, 19; 1Cor. 6: 13-20; Jn. 1: 35-42]
It is characteristic of liturgical celebrations that they not only tell us about something that happened in the past to someone else. They also tell us about what is happening to us in the present. The Advent and Christmas liturgies told us about the Son of God becoming one of us in history, and they also gave us the opportunity to reflect on how Christ comes to us now and how he will come to us in the future. In remembering Jesus’ baptism last Sunday we had the opportunity to reflect again on the significance of our own baptism. In this morning’s gospel we remember the call of Jesus’ first disciples and we have the opportunity to reflect on our own call to follow Christ; not only as it first came to us, but also as it comes to us new each day.
First and foremost following Christ means being with Christ. Understanding our call will come from our developing relationship with Christ. Since we are called not simply to association with Christ, but to communion with Christ, growing in our understanding of Christ will simultaneously mean growing in understanding of who we are called to become. Jesus’ invitation to come and see continues throughout our lives. We will never exhaust our capacity to understand Christ. If we are faithful to our call, our potential to grow in Christ will always expand and our potential for fulfillment and happiness will always expand.
“Come and see” also means that understanding our vocation will come from the experience of our vocation. Jesus could have given the disciples an outline of what he had in mind for them, but they would not have understood. They had trouble understanding Jesus and his mission and their role in it even when they had his instructions and the experience of being with him; and they were often mistaken in their expectations of what working for the kingdom of God means. Especially in regard to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus they failed to understand and they were afraid to ask. To their credit, even in their confusion and fear they continued following Jesus when many in the crowds turned away from him.
When we find ourselves confused and frightened in following Christ, we can take encouragement from the knowledge that Jesus’ disciples and the saints down through the centuries have walked this way before us. They will share their faith with us to strengthen our faith. Following Christ is not a feat of individualism; it is essentially communal. We are in communion with Christ and in communion with all our brothers and sisters who are members of Christ. At times one or another of them who are walking with us may point out a new way in which Christ is calling us to walk. When we misunderstand Christ’s call one of them may help us listen more attentively.
Following Christ means that we will always be called to grow in faith, and we can only grow in faith by being in situations that require us to walk in faith. We are not walking alone. The Holy Spirit enlightens and strengthens us in faith. We have the example and support of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and of those who are walking with us now. We have the words of scripture to guide and encourage us. We have the Eucharist to nourish us. Christ promised to be with us and he is faithful to his promise. Let us be faithful to his call today and every day.
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42]
One chilly winter night a young French woman leaned over the railing of a bridge and stared at the icy waters of the river Seine. No one was around except Jean Baptiste Clamance who passed by her after a moment’s hesitation. Then in the midnight silence, after walking some distance, he heard the dreadful sound of a body striking water. He stopped short without turning around. Almost at once he heard a repeated cry. Jean Baptiste trembled from cold and shock. He told himself he had to be quick, but he felt an irresistible weakness steal over him. Making excuses he said to himself, “It’s too late, too far.” Slowly, he walked away and went home.
This story, called The Fall by Albert Camus, is about a man with no belief in a Savior. In his self-centeredness, he thought he was respectable until that night when the suicidal fall of a young woman caused him to fall. Until then, he was fundamentally pleased with himself. He says, “[On] certain mornings … I felt like a king’s son or a burning bush, … I always wanted to be served with a smile. … Modesty helped me to shine, and humility to conquer. … The refrain of my whole life is I, I, I.”
Now, exposed by his fall, he became his own judge. He was a “John the Baptist” pointing the finger at himself, but he had no way to take away his sin. He was the Baptist without a Messiah, with no one he could announce as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So, he tried to forget his fall but he could not. Then he tried to evade judgment. Seeing doves in the sky he says, “Let’s hope they are bringing good news. Everyone will be saved, eh?-and not only the elect.” But, he can’t escape the judgment of his own conscience. His story ends with a wish that never ceases echoing through his long sleepless nights. He wishes, “O young woman, throw yourself into the water again so that I may a second time have the chance of saving both of us!” His weakness, however, continues to defeat him. He thinks, “Brrr! The water’s so cold! It’s too late now. Fortunately!” Jean Baptiste Clamance cannot relive his mistake and undo it to save himself. And if he could, he doubts he would.
That is how our lives would be without a Savior. Like the woman drowning in the river and like the fall of Jean Baptiste Clamance, we cannot save ourselves. Who will plunge into our icy waters to free us from sin and the grip of death? If we have no Savior, then Albert Camus is right: it is absurd to be born only to die miserably sinful. But we do have a Savior. When “night had run the half of her swift course, down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt God’s all powerful Word into the heart of a doomed land”. When Jesus plunged into the waters of the Jordan River, John the Baptist saw the Spirit rest upon Jesus like the dove sent out from Noah’s ark marking the end of the flood. In the greatest joy of his life, his eyes shining, his whole body straining to follow his own outstretched arm pointing to Jesus, John the Baptist’s voice rang out with the tone of an alleluia: There! “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” The good news leapt from the lips of John to the tongues of his disciples, and from them to the ears of their friends and relatives. Down the centuries the people of God have never ceased repeating John’s shout of joy. Thousands of times every day, at every Eucharist throughout the world we proclaim the Savior’s presence, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus takes hold of us, washes us from our sins, and immerses us in his divine life.
Albert Camus did not believe in God or in Jesus as Savior. He believed we are born from nothingness and die into nothingness. Yet, he did not give in to moral indifference. Living in a kind of holy atheism he worked for social justice, and in stories like The Fall he wrote about the problems of following conscience in a meaningless world without God. In the end, the manner of his death was consistent with his belief that life is absurd. At the age of forty-six he was suddenly killed in an automobile accident in 1960 when his car skidded on a wet road and crashed into a tree. He died without the joy beholding “… the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Jesus also died a premature and seemingly absurd death, crucified at the age of thirty-three. But the death of Jesus was not meaningless. It was his greatest act of friendship. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. In Camus’ story, Jean Baptiste Clamance describes the sacrifice one man made for another. He muses, “I heard of a man whose friend had been imprisoned. He slept on the floor of his room every night so that he would not enjoy a comfort of which his friend was deprived.” Then he asks, “Who will sleep on the floor for us?” Jesus did infinitely more than sleep without a bed. He was imprisoned, scourged, and crucified for us. He bore our sins like the lambs offered in Temple sacrifices. He took our place like the ram Abraham sacrificed in stead of his son Isaac. He shed his blood like the sheep that were slain on the night of the Passover in Egypt, so that the angel of death would see their blood and pass over the first born children of the Hebrews. Jesus is the one described by the prophet Isaiah as a “lamb led to the slaughter, who bore our sufferings, who was pierced for our offenses, by whose stripes we were healed” . Jesus plunged into the icy waters where we were drowning and gave up his life to save ours.
If the tomb had held Jesus prisoner, he would have needed a savior. It would have been our greatest sadness to be saved if Jesus were lost forever. But death could not hold on to the flesh of the Son of God. On the third day death fled when the flesh of the sacred heart of Jesus began beating again with a human and divine love. Now at every Eucharist Jesus plunges into our very bodies and keeps our hearts alive with human and divine intimacy that gives meaning to life. For our destiny is all sweetness. Our destiny is to be the Body of Jesus, to share in his divine nature, in a loving union with God and each other forever.
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 49:3, 5-6; 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34]
One day in the Spring of 2004, I found myself sitting with a group of other monks and nuns at a table in the refectory of Monte Cassino, the mother of all Benedictine monasteries set high on a mountain about an hour outside of Rome. At the table were Benedictines and Cistercians from countries as diverse as the U.S., India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Sweden, and Korea. During the course of our meal, the subject of the war in Iraq came up and a monk from the United States was trying to explain to those at table that our armed forces had entered Iraq in order to help the people there; in order to help them depose a merciless tyrant, and to set up in Iraq a more humane and democratic government. We were there to help. As he spoke, I noticed the people at table were getting quieter and quieter. There was a growing tension in the air, and I began to feel uneasy, as I thought to myself: “He’s frightening these people.” I am sure those gentle monks and nuns sitting there were thinking to themselves: “What would happen if the United States ever decided that my country needed help setting up a better form of government, and by way “helping” us to do that, sent armed forces across our borders; into the towns and cities where we grew up into the neighborhoods and down the streets where our families live. What on earth would we do?”
This incident helped me appreciate that many people in foreign countries, are afraid of us Americans; afraid of the vastly superior power of our military, and maybe, most especially, afraid of the power wielded by our president. It made me realize that, in fact, the person we elect as president in November is going to truly be, the most powerful man or woman in the world. It is a little disconcerting to consider that there even exists such a thing as “the most powerful man in the world” — but he does exist, and realizing how powerful he is, one begins to imagine that person in almost religious terms as: “God’s instrument” or—”God’s chosen one.”
The drama and anticipation of the presidential election coming in November derives partly from the fact that the uniqueness and power of that high office, awakens in people a deep inexpressible longing for the appearance of God’s chosen one; one of the deepest longings of the human heart. This idea; this expectation, that a certain person might one day appear in our midst who is God’s uniquely empowered instrument; God’s chosen one, is an idea about as old as the human race itself, and it has haunted us all through our history.
The monks of New Melleray have just elected an abbot, and one source of the solemnity and anticipation accompanying that event is the sincere hope we monks have that the man elected will be in very truth God’s active instrument in our lives; that he will mediate to each of us the presence and action of THE Chosen One, our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the end, the quality of service rendered by a president, by an abbot, or any person entrusted with leadership in the religious or secular sphere, is evaluated in light of the mission and person of Jesus our Lord who is THE chosen one of God. And this raises an interesting question: We believe Jesus is the chosen one of God; the absolutely singular, incomparable, one and only Son of the most high God who appeared in the world and has made his singular claim to be the unsurpassable, representative of God. How does that get verified? How do we know it’s him—THE chosen one? Whose testimony is so authoritative that it can verify for us beyond doubt, this claim—the claim to be God’s chosen one? How do we know this is Him?
An answer is provided in the gospel we just heard proclaimed. St. John in his gospel, speaks of various “testimonies” to Jesus’ claim to be the chosen one of God. The Old Testament, John the Baptist, the miracles Jesus performed, and the Holy Spirit, according to John, all testify to the truth of who Jesus is. But none of these testimonies alone resolves the question, as is clear if we read the gospel carefully.
Jesus, in his first public appearance at the Jordan, is suddenly proclaimed by John to be “The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” How does John know this? By the testimony of the Holy Spirit, he says, who he saw descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove. But—and this is very interesting—by John’s own account, the appearance of the dove was preceded by a voice speaking inside him, a voice that told him about the dove before it appeared and explained it as a sign that would identify God’s chosen one. John, received a testimony before the dove appeared, without which, its appearance would have meant nothing. This earlier testimony; the voice that spoke to John inside is, in fact, the one that confirmed who Jesus was—and whose testimony was that? John says it was the voice of “The One who sent me to baptize.” It is the Father who sent John to baptize. It is the Father who spoke to John from inside about the dove and who with absolute and indisputable authority testified to Jesus’ status as the one and only begotten Son of God.
Brothers and sisters, there is here, cause for amazement and joy for every one of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus. You and I, all of us assembled at this Eucharist are here because we are believers. We know that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. How did we come to know that? How do we know He is the one? How was that confirmed for us? As we have seen, there is only one way the answer to that question gets resolved. Only the testimony of God the Father is authoritative enough to establish Jesus as being indisputably THE chosen one of God. That means you and I could only have learned the truth about Jesus in one way; the way John the Baptist did. Jesus’ Father in heaven spoke a word deep inside our heart; spoke to us directly and interiorly sharing with us a most intimate and loving confidence concerning the truth of who Jesus is. Each of us was prepared by the Father’s voice sounding mysteriously within us for that moment when Jesus would appear in our lives, so that when we were introduced to Him, our eyes were opened and we discovered that he truly is: the one and only begotten Son of the Father.
As our faith was born, so it is sustained from day to day. You and I have the unimaginable privilege and blessing of being able to listen in and to hear the intimate conversations of the Eternal Father with His only begotten Son; an intimacy with God that grows deeper now as we celebrate together the mystery of this Eucharist.