Fr. Charles Irvin
In my younger days I used to watch a television show called “What’s My Line?” A mystery guest would answer questions posed by a panel of celebrities who would try to guess what the mystery guest’s occupation was, to what the guest’s life was dedicated. Their questions would only receive terse “yes” or “no” responses from the guest.
Today’s gospel account has John the Baptist answering questions from the experts who are trying to find out just who he is and what he is all about. Who or what does he represent? To whom or to what is he dedicated? In response to their guesses he gives them an abrupt and emphatic “No” In the end, of course, they fail – and so he tells them simply: “I am a voice”.
Suppose some folks asked you what you are all about? To whom is your life dedicated? To what is your life dedicated? What part do you play in the great scheme of things? If, some day, it becomes a crime to known to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? We all end up being identified as representing something; we are all a voice for something, even though we speak no words at all. Our actions speak louder than our words. Our actions “voice” what we’re all about.
Advent is the time of the coming of God into our humanity, into your personal lives, and into mine too. It is that mysterious time of the year when we recognize the tension between what already IS and what is yet to be; between what we ARE and what we CAN BE; between what has been accomplished and what remains unfinished in our personal enterprise of life.
My mother once told me: “Happiness is something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.” If you and I can live lives dedicated to making the lives of others a little bit better than they once were, if we can find our selves in the center of what is transcendent in life, giving love to the loveless, and being loved in return, and if we can live each day fully in the Presence of Christ, or rather with His Presence reaching and touching others through us, that is no small thing to have happened to any man or woman.
If we were the “Mystery Guest” on some television show, hopefully we could be identified as Christians, specifically as Catholic Christians. But would there be enough evidence available for people to identify us and know what we are all about as Christians without our having to vocally tell them?
There are things that should identify who we are and what we are as Catholics:
1 – We are known for attending Mass every Sunday, and perhaps even known to go to daily Masses from time to time.
2 – We are known to be moral persons, respected for having high standards of ethics, morality and character. There should be plenty of evidence by which others could identify us as persons of principle and goodness in the way we conduct our affairs, our businesses, and in the way we treat others. People should be able to take us at our word, without really needing a contract to enforce our agreements and commitments.
3 – We are known to be prayerful persons. I don’t means that we ostentatiously pray in public so that we will be seen, but rather that being prayerful persons we have a certain aura about us – an atmosphere surrounding us of serenity and peace – a spirit of peace and calmness that people recognize as coming only from being a deeply prayerful person.
4 – We have an attitude, a habit of being that is kind, gentle, respectful, sensitive to others, compassionate and caring toward others. We have an attitude that can been seen in the eyes of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, a face that reveals the presence of the heart of Christ, a smile and a tone of voice that can only come from being close to Christ.
Today’s readings from Sacred Scripture have several significant themes within them. One of them has to do with identity, John the Baptist’s, Christ’s, and yours and mine. John the Baptist had a firm grasp of who he was not, as well as who he was and what his life was all about.
Jesus, baptized by John and anointed by God’s Holy Spirit began his public ministry these inaugural words:
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me;
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.
These words were taken from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus was quoting them because they were at the core of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Messiah who was to come, God’s Christos, God’s Anointed One sent to redeem us. This inaugural address was delivered in the Synagogue of Caparnum, Jesus’ first public appearance after having spent forty days and forty nights in the desert wrestling with Satan, dealing with his identity. Evidently Jesus didn’t have much of an identity problem.
Nor should we. After all, he suffered and died for you and me in order that we might see and understand ourselves in an entirely new way, in a radically different way. We are loved and being saved sinners. We are endowed by our Father in heaven with certain gifts and characteristics that no power in the heavens or on earth can take from us.
To whom, then, is your life dedicated? To what is your life dedicated? What part do you play in the great scheme of things? Would the people who know you succeed or fail in identifying who you are, what you stand for, and what your life is all about?
Perhaps in all of your gift-giving this forthcoming Christmas you could give the Christ child a gift he would treasure forever, namely a healthy self-concept and a healthy self-identity.