Fr. Charles Irvin
In my younger days when I was in high school 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 could only be answered by terse “yes” or “no” responses from the guest.
Today’s gospel account has John the Baptist answering questions from 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 to recognize who he really is, and so he tells them simply “I am a voice.”
Suppose you were asked 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 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 give voice what we are all about.
Advent is the time we give attention to 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 lives.
When I was a boy my mother 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 that they once were, if we can find our selves under the influence of what is transcendent in life, giving love to those we love as well as to the loveless, and being loved or not loved by them in return, and if we can live each day fully in the presence of Christ, or rather live each day reaching out and touching others with His presence, that is no small thing to have happened to any one of us.
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 what we are all about 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 needing legal contracts to enforce our agreements and commitments.
3 – We are known to be prayerful persons. I don’t mean that we ostentatiously pray so that we will be seen, but rather that being prayerful persons we have a certain aura about us, an atmosphere of serenity and peace surrounding us, a spirit of peace that people recognize as coming only from deeply prayerful persons.
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 was seen in the eyes of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a face that reveals the presence of the heart of Christ, a smile and a tone of voice that come only 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, and 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 with these inaugural words, His mission statement:
These words were taken from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus was quoting them because they were at the core of Isaiah’s prophecies identifying the Messiah who was to come, God’s Anointed One sent to redeem us. This inaugural address was delivered in the synagogue at Capernaum. This was Jesus’ first public appearance after having spent forty days and forty nights in the desert where he wrestled with Satan in dealing with His own 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 than the world sees us. We are loved and being loved sinners. Our Father in heaven has endowed us with certain gifts and characteristics that no power here on earth gave us or can take away 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 those 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 in 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 as a Christian. In doing that you would give Him honor and glory.