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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Baptist's Announcement

I have been reading through Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth (very slowly), and found myself opening up John 1:29 (John the Baptist's Testimony) in the New American Bible Revised Edition.

I felt compelled to share some of what struck me, as I feel it is especially appropriate for Advent, especially as we enter the Octave of Christmas. This is the text of John 1:29-34:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  
He is the one of whom I said, 
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ 
I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, 
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, 
but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 
‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’  
Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” 

This event follows directly after John the Baptist has been questioned by Pharisees about his identity. When they push him for an explanation of who he is, his reply is "I am 'the voice of one crying out in the desert, "Make straight the way of the Lord,"' as Isaiah the prophet said" (Jn 1:23). The verse of Isaiah to which he refers is Isaiah 40:3, which reads, "A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord."

John further replies to them, "I baptize with water, but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie" (Jn 1:26-27). 

It is hard to imagine this scene without over dramatizing it, and yet, it is a very dramatic experience. Here is one who is wondered at, and is seen as an enigma; so much so, that the leaders of the community send men to discover exactly who John is. And John's reply is not one of self-proclamation, as perhaps they had anticipated. He speaks of himself only in reference to the one who is to come. He presents himself as a herald, as one who is to testify. 

Therefore, we read that the next day Jesus comes to John, and John announces that he is the "Lamb of God," the one whom the Spirit descended upon. Yet, John says he does not know Jesus, but that it was the sign of the Spirit remaining with Jesus that is the revelation that he is the Son of God. And John testifies to the revelation of the Blessed Trinity!

One of the footnotes from this section reads: "Remain: the first use of a favorite verb in John, emphasizing the permanency of the relationship between the Father and the Son (as here) and between the Son and the Christian. Jesus is the permanent bearer of the Spirit."

John has come baptizing with water that the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit may be made known; his life is to be a witness, to testify to the identity of Jesus, and to the revelation of the Trinity. 

Here we come to see something so imperative - the nature of communion that is the life of the Trinity, the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the very life into which we are called to and made part of in our own Baptism. We are not actually part of Triune God, of course, but we are made "'a new creature,' an adopted son of God, who has become a 'partaker of the divine nature,' member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit" (CCC 1265). This is not only a gift of grace at one moment or for one experience, but it is one that remains with us throughout life, as an indelible mark on the soul (CCC 1272). Therefore, just as John proclaims and testifies that Jesus is the Son by his witnessing of the Holy Spirit remaining with Christ, so others may similarly recognize us as disciples and adopted children of God if and when they recognize that we remain in Christ and that the Holy Spirit remains with us. 

This simple prayer by Cardinal Mercier is part of his "Secret to Sanctity": 

O Holy Spirit, Soul of my soul, I adore You. 
Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. 
Tell me what I ought to do and command me to do it. 
I promise to be submissive in everything that You permit to happen to me, 
only show me what is Your will.

Cardinal Mercier explained this prayer by saying: "I am going to reveal to you a secret of sanctity and happiness. If every day during five minutes, you will keep your imagination quiet, shut your eyes to all things of sense, and close your ears to all the sounds of earth, so as to be able to withdraw into the sanctuary of your baptized soul, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, speaking there to that Holy Spirit saying: "O Holy Spirit, Soul of my soul …" If you do this, your life will pass happily and serenely. Consolation will abound even in the midst of troubles. Grace will be given in proportion to the trial as well as strength to bear it, bringing you to the gates of Paradise full of merit. The submission to the Holy Spirit is the Secret of Sanctity."

I believe this is so pertinent to the setting that we find John the Baptist in when he is able to make his testimony to the identity of Jesus Christ - the desert. 

We all know the continual challenge to retreat from the chaos and endless tasks of daily life to find some time for sincere and heartfelt prayer, but how much more necessary is it to do so when we are being further challenged to testify to Christ before the world. It may not seem so imperative for ourselves to find peace or to strengthen our knowledge of God, but perhaps the fire of proclaiming him to those who are in need of the freedom and truth of the Gospel is enough to push us into the desert. We cannot testify if we do not remain with the Lord, and he with us. Scripture repeatedly promises us that God will never abandon us, but it also reminds us that we often abandon the Lord. We must first place ourselves in the desert where we can clearly see the Holy Spirit's work; where we can authentically recognize Jesus Christ; where we can know of the Father's love. Only when we are saturated in the truth of God's revelation of his love can we then go and testify that what we have come to know and love is life-giving, and is for all.

The Year of Faith is a call to us all to breath again: to be born again. It is a call to rebirth and renewal. It is a reminder that no relationship grows without work, and nothing that is valuable comes easy. It is a mandate, really, to the baptized soul, to repeat in the utmost sincerety his or her baptismal promises:

V. Do you reject Satan?
R. I do.
V. And all his works?
R. I do.
V. And all his empty promises?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
R. I do.
V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
R. I do.
V. God, the all-powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven all our sins. May he also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
R. Amen.
If we know that we believe and profess the truth, and that the truth has set us free, and that in the truth we have the hope of eternal life, how can we not testify to the truth? As imitators of Christ, who answered Pilot saying, "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth" (Jn 18:37), we must similarly reply to the world in all of its hardships and heart aches and sufferings and darkness, that we testify to the truth; that we remain with the truth - that the truth is Jesus Christ, and it is he who takes away the sins of the world. 
Let us pray that these last days of Advent be a time for us to renew our knowledge of Christ, that we might more readily announce him in this world, and give testimony to his love and mercy. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to be with us, to remain with us, that we might better imitate our Lord.  

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