Tag Archives: John the Baptist

2nd Sunday of Advent: “Go with Joy”

In the time of Jesus pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. A picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s shows that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.Jericho Rd  3
Jericho road modern

Now travelers go that route in air-conditioned buses. It took ancient travelers four days. Not it’s a few hours.

The bible sees the journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding desert road as a symbol of our journey to God. We’re pilgrims on our way, The way’s still hard, even with air-conditioned buses.

John the Baptist preached where that winding, climbing road began. His father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told him at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1)

John invited weary pilgrims into the refreshing waters of the Jordan river, that they might be strengthened for the journey.

John Baptist preaching

Last week readings warned about falling asleep through complacency and laziness. This week readings remind us the day by day journey can tire us,  Life can wear us out, even a life doing good.

Then, unexpected things, like sickness, failures and disappointments, come along, robbing our energy. The parable of the Good Samaritan happened on this road to Jerusalem. Unexpected things happen.

John the Baptist, and the Prophet Isaiah before him, spoke to weary pilgrims. “‘Comfort, give comfort to my people,’ says the Lord…They spoke words of hope to those on the way:

With God’s help, the winding, climbing, wearying road becomes a highway; every valley  filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the rugged land  made plain, the crooked way straight.

The Lord is ” a shepherd feeding his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40: 1-5,9-11) So don’t be afraid.

Advent is a beautiful season. “Go up with joy to the house of the Lord.”

Who are you?

Baptism jpg

In today’s reading at Mass from John’s gospel,  Jewish officials and Pharisees from Jerusalem send representatives to John the Baptist as he’s baptizing in the Jordan River near Jericho asking “Who are you?” “Are you the Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet?” “Why are you baptizing?”

“I’m not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet,” John answers. “I am the voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. ’” John knew who he was and who he was not, and he wasn’t afraid to be the one God wanted him to be.

John could have followed his father,  Zechariah, as a priest in the temple at Jerusalem,  a role passed on from father to son. But John chose a different course. God led him another way.

We don’t know when, but John went down to the Jordan Valley where the road ascended to Jerusalem, and preached to and baptized the crowds going up to Jerusalem to the temple of the Lord. The clothes he wore, his style of life set him apart from everyone else.

John didn’t care how he looked or what people thought of him. He certainly didn’t choose an easy place to be, a desert place. Later, Jesus praised his strength and determination.

To know who you are, you need to listen to God’s call,  and evidently John did that. To speak the truth courageously, you need to depend on God’s strength, and evidently John did that too.  He became a voice for God, even if he sounds at times like a drill sergeant readying people for the battle of the last days. He said unpopular things to powerful people and faced the consequences. Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea, arrested him and put him to death.

We’re like John whenever we ask God, “Who am I?” and listen for an answer. We’re like him whenever we use bravely the voice God gives us.

Advent Readings: Week 2

Advent_heading copy 2To reach God’s holy mountain there’s a journey to make, Isaiah says, but guides will show the way. “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, to prepare your way.” Mark 1, 1. John the Baptist appears in the desert promising forgiveness  to those washing in the waters of the Jordan River. We have been baptized in the waters of baptism.

The Old Testament readings this Advent week, mostly from Isaiah, describe a desert journey,  but the desert will bloom and a highway will be there, the prophet promises. (Monday) God will speak tender, comforting words to his people on the way. (Tuesday) Those who hope in him will renew their strength, soaring on eagle’s wings. (Wednesday) Though we are as insignificant as a worm, God holds us in his hands and says:“Fear not; I am with you.” (Thursday) God is our teacher and shows us the way  to go. (Friday) On the way, prophets like Elijah accompany us. (Saturday)

Jesus is our way, the gospel readings say. He healed and forgave the paralyzed man– symbol of a paralyzed humanity– who was lowered through the roof into the house in Capernaum. (Monday) Like a good shepherd he searches for and finds the stray sheep. (Tuesday) “Come to me all who are weary, ” he says. (Wednesday) He sends us prophets and guides like John the Baptist and Elijah.( Thursday) Though rejected like John the Baptist, Jesus still teaches. (Friday)

He will save us, even though unrecognized like John and Elijah. (Saturday)

List of Readings

Monday: Isaiah 30, 1-10 The desert will bloom and a highway will be there, a holy way.Luke 5,17-26 The paralyzed man, lowered through the roof, is healed and forgiven.

Tuesday: Isaiah 40,1-11 The desert is a way to the Lord. Comfort my people. Mattthew 18, 12-14 The shepherd searches for the stray sheep.

Wednesday: Isaiah 30,25-31 God is the strength of his people. Matthew 11,28-30   “Come to me all who are weary…”

Thursday: Isaiah 41,13-20   God says, “I will grasp you by the hand. Fear not.”Matthew 11,11-15   John the Baptist is sent like Elijah.

Friday: Isaiah 48-17-19 I teach you what’s for your good and lead you on the way to go. Matthew 11,1-19   John and Jesus rejected as teachers.

Saturday: Sirach 48,1-4; 9-11 Elijah, precursor of John. Matthew 17, 9-13   Elijah and John not recognized.

3rd Sunday of Advent A: I Am Not The Christ

Audio homily here:

There’s something about John the Baptist that makes us uneasy. It’s not just the way he dresses or what he eats that disturbs us. He’s in the desert, after all, where you can’t keep up appearances or eat what you want. No, I think what makes us uneasy about John is his unflinching commitment to God. He’s loyal to the mission God gives him, no matter what, even if he has to die for it.

Our reading today from Matthew’s gospel begins in a prison where John’s waiting for death. He was put there by Herod Antipas, the ruler in Galilee, because John had criticized him and Herodias his new wife. It’s a ridiculous story, if you remember it. Criticizing powerful people can cost you your life. But John wasn’t afraid to do that; he spoke the truth no matter who was offended.

Even as he faces death, John doesn’t think of himself. He urges his disciples to look to Jesus and transfer their loyalties to him. “When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”

The film director, Martin Scorcese produced a movie recently based on a novel by the Japanese writer Shusaku Endo called “Silence.” The film and the novel explore the true story of the Jesuit martyrs in 17th century Japan who were put to death by crucifixion along with thousands of Japanese Christians. The story is filled with the doubts and questions they experience in their terrible ordeal. The Jesuit has to deal, above all, with his own pride and self-assurance. The silence is the silence of God, whom the novelist says sits with his arms folded before the suffering of others.

In an interview Scorcese was asked if he thought American Catholics would be able to stand the test of martyrdom. Would we die for what we believe? He said he thought we are too conflicted. We live in a different world, a world fascinated with technology and its promise to solve everything.

I suppose that’s why John the Baptist and stories of martyrs make us uneasy. For some years John preached and baptized in the desert region near the River Jordan. The Messiah is coming, he said. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Prepare the way of the Lord. God is coming to judge us all.

Many responded and believed what he said. Some thought that he himself was the Messiah, but John said no he was not. He wasn’t worthy to tie the sandals of the One who was to come. He was just a voice in the wilderness, he said.

Just a voice, John says. In a commentary, St. Augustine says that  “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.”

John’s “voice” passes away. He no longer baptizes at the Jordan River. He cedes to the Word who will always speak. He cedes to the Word, and so should we.

Our voice passes away; something of ourselves has to go– some of the things we hold dear, the friends who surround us, institutions that upheld us.  Our way must give way to God’s way. Whether we know it or not we’re all facing martyrdom in different forms. We think so little of this.

Listen again to Augustine:  “What does prepare the way mean, if not be humble in your thoughts? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

“If he had said, ‘I am the Christ,’ you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

“He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.”

Is that how we should look on ourselves too? We were given a lighted candle at our Baptism, symbol of the life God gives us in this world. We were given a voice, some talents to use. It’s up to us let our light shine, to speak as we can, to use our talents as best we can in the time we have here.

Jesus Christ, the Light, Sun of Justice, has come into the world. “I am not the Christ,” we say with John, “He is greater than I.”

Saturday, 2nd Week of Advent

Advent_heading copy 2I took the picture below at the Philadelphia museum awhile ago. Don’t know the artist’s name; he obviously didn’t know what Palestine looked like where John the Baptist preached, but he got the story right, I think.

The group listening to John are surrounded  by the over-powering wilderness. How did they ever find him, or how did he find them? Have they been baptized yet, or will they go down with him to the Jordan, which is so much wider in our picture than the real river? John will have to put them on the road and get them on their way; they wont make it on their own.

That’s what he’s there for, to guide them. We’ll always have guides. Did he get lonely or fearful or hungry here?  “What did you go out to see?” Jesus said. “a reed shaken by the wind? A man in soft garments?” John took his place in this fearful land and stayed there without wavering.  That’s why Jesus praised him.

2nd Sunday of Advent: Listen to John the Baptist

audio homily here:

 

DSC00164

John the Baptist may look and sound  forbidding, but don’t let appearances put you off. He spoke in the wilderness, where looks are not important and you can’t keep up appearances. The wilderness symbolizes the hard places we all must pass through.

So we shouldn’t deny they exist. Or think a simple sentence will take them away. I suppose that’s why I prefer John the Baptist to Joel Osteen.

John’s father was Zachariah, a priest in the temple, a much more secure place to be. He told John: “You, my child shall be called the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1) God called John to the wilderness to show people the way to God from there.

The Judean wilderness where John the Baptist baptized lay about 15 miles east of Jerusalem in the Jordan Valley north of the Dead Sea. Pilgrims from the north took an ancient road along the River Jordan and followed it as it veered right near the town of Jericho to ascend steeply about 3,500 feet up to the Holy City, about an 9 hour walk. A tough road in itself to travel.

Near where the road begins to ascend, John baptized great crowds in the river’s refreshing waters. He baptized Jesus and his disciples in these waters and then pointed Jesus out as “the Lamb of God” and told his followers to follow him as their Shepherd and Way.

John was a voice pointing Jesus out in the wilderness. He still points him out in the wilderness today and tells us to follow him. “You’ll make it through the wilderness,” he says.

music on John the Baptist.

Friday Thoughts: Holding Christ’s Hand

Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais 1849–50

John Everett Millais, “Christ in the House of His Parents”, 1849-50

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“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

—John 14:6

 

If we hold Christ’s hand we cannot get lost. For Christ is the way. It is not even possible to go astray.

If we cannot get lost, there can be no doubt. If no doubt, there can be no fear. If no fear—we are in the Kingdom of God. Right here. Right now.

Hold Christ’s Hand. Fear not. You are in the Kingdom of God.

 

—Howard Hain

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4th Sunday of Advent. C. Mary’s Faith

 

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

Sometimes, the simplest details of a gospel story reveal its deepest meaning. In Luke’s Gospel this Sunday, Mary goes “in haste” to the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She has just received the angel’s message inviting her to be the mother of God’s Son, and she says “Yes.” The angel told her that her cousin Elizabeth, though past child-bearing age, also has conceived a son. “Nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1,39-45)

Then, Mary goes “in haste” from Nazareth to visit Elizabeth who lives in the hill country near Jerusalem. The angel’s message, first disturbs her, then fills her with joy. She hurries to see the angel’s sign and share the promise she received. What does this tell us? Is it that faith, challenging and raising questions, spurs us on and gives joy. It’s God’s word; it’s true. Believe in it and act on it.

When Mary heard the message of the angel she did not disbelieve, St. Ambrose said, commenting on this gospel, “she was not uncertain about the message, she did not doubt the sign she was given, but happy with the promise, eager to be with her cousin, she hurried on in joy and went up into the hill country.”

“We’re blessed, who hear and believe,” the saint goes on. “ Every soul that believes, both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes God’s works. Let the soul of Mary be in each one of us, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of us, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us.”

We share in the mystery we hear. Believe in it, live by it, rejoice in it.

3rd Sunday of Advent C: The Year of Mercy

Audio homily here:

In the time of Jesus when pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem to pray in the temple, they came a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and went on for 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. I have a picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s showing that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.
Bethany 2

In the bible the journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding road through the desert, became a symbol of the journey to God we all make. We’re pilgrims on our way to meet God, and that way, our life journey, can seem hard. It’s not always easy. I think that’s why John the Baptist went into the desert to preach, where the hard winding road began.

John’s father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told John at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1) Where precisely did John prepare the way? We can’t be sure, but many think it was at the River Jordan near Jericho where he welcomed weary pilgrims and invited them into the refreshing waters of the river, that they might be strengthened for the last part of their journey. But more importantly, he strengthened for the journey of life they were living.

In today’s gospel, we see ordinary people, soldiers and tax-collectors among them. John spoke to each of them, not eloquently, but simply. He told them to do God’s will all their lives. If they did that, God would bring them into his presence.

Certainly, John would use the words of Prophet Isaiah, as we do all through Advent. Isaiah also knew the road to Jerusalem and saw it as a hard journey, but God would make sure we would make it, he said. God would lead the blind on that road, the deaf, the lame– no one was too weak or too small. God would help the lost sheep to make that journey. The weakest of humanity would make the journey by God’s mercy.

This week we began, as Pope Francis has asked, the Year of Mercy. He opened the door of St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary to begin the year.

We might see this year as simply a Catholic event, but it’s more than that. Right now, our world needs to hear of God’s mercy.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, on the care of our common home. The pope mentions that for almost 200 years, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the time of the Enlightenment, our world has been convinced of the unlimited progress of human power and potential. Unlimited human progress. We can do anything. But there are signs in our world now, ominous signs, that our world is weak and blind and lame. There’s increasing skepticism, increasing fear, an increasing option for violence. We’re worried about the way ahead. We’re worried about the future.

We have to open the door of our own minds, in this year of God’s mercy, to know that this is God’s world. Yes, the journey isn’t going to be easy. It’s a winding, wearying, road where the end isn’t in sight. We don’t have all the answers, but we have the one important one. God is with us and he is with our world, weak and blind and lame as it is.

God is our hope.

Advent Weekday Readings: 2nd Week

An Overview

The Old Testament readings this week, mostly from Isaiah, describe our journey through the desert as a hard journey, but the desert will bloom and a highway will be there, a holy way. (Monday) We’ll hear tender, comforting words as we go. (Tuesday)  Those who hope in God will renew their strength, soaring on eagle’s wings. (Wednesday) We’re as insignificant as a worm, the prophet says, but God takes us in hand and says: “Fear not; I am with you.” (Thursday) God teaches us the way to go. (Friday) We meet prophets like Elijah and John on our way. (Saturday)

Above all, Jesus is our way, the gospel readings say. The paralyzed man lowered through the roof in Caphernaum got up and was ready to make the journey. He symbolizes paralyzed humanity enabled to walk again. (Monday) Jesus the good Shepherd searches for and finds the stray sheep. (Tuesday)  “Come to me all who are weary…” he says. (Wednesday) We’ll find prophets and guides like John the Baptist and Elijah. (Thursday) Though rejected like John the Baptist, Jesus still teaches. He will always teach. (Friday) He saves us, even though he goes unrecognized like John and Elijah. (Saturday)

You can follow the daily readings  here