Jan 15, 2011

Sunday 2 in Ordinary Time: Agents for Christ

Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 1: 1-3
John 1: 29-34

During a recent conversation with several brother priests, one priest wisely noted the obvious but with a certain grave concern: “There’s nothing out there which supports religion.” How true, or at least it appears that way. The Church has been under criticism and outright attack the last several years. Some of it certainly justified but some of it is exaggerated and unfair. We live with a generation of young Catholics, generally in their 20’s and 30’s, for whom religion and Catholicism in particular, is simply not a high priority. They aren’t bad people but mostly speaking, they are simply indifferent to anything more than the minimum when it comes to practicing their faith. I hold back a bit here because generalizing can be unfair.  There are also inspiring young adults today who are deeply committed to their faith.

But for many others, to miss Mass on Sunday carries barely any tinge of guilt and they may attend Church only when it is convenient or if “nothing better” absorbs their time. It would take a great deal of time to analyze the reasons for this, as many already have, but it is a fact of great concern and we all need to keep a constant check on our own level of commitment and try to assess what more can be done to attract those on the far end of the Church.

Faith and the voice of faith in the market place of life is much like John the Baptist found himself as, “A voice in the wilderness.” All is certainly not lost because Christ remains forever with his Church but more and more it is essential that we Christians take a pro-active stand.

Our first reading from the book of Isaiah this Sunday begs the question, “Who is the ‘me?’ Who is the ‘servant’” which Isaiah speaks of? At first blush it appears that Isaiah is speaking of himself but as the reading goes on, there is a case that he refers to someone greater than he. Someone whose mission will, “. . . raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel.” Someone who will be, “. . . a light to the nations . . .” That’s a tall order for this ancient prophet so this vision is meant for another. From our Christian perspective, we see Jesus himself as the one Isaiah describes. Yet a case can be made that it is the nation of Israel itself. Still, there is in this prophecy a call to reform and a new direction.

John the Baptist certainly finds in Jesus the, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world . . .” As the Holy Spirit descended on Christ at his baptism it was the sign John sought to confirm what he may have suspected about the mission of Jesus. In the Spirit, John is convinced that Jesus is, “. . . the one of whom I said . . .” John isn’t merely pointing to Jesus with gratitude for an early retirement. He isn’t simply passing the baton as it were. He is announcing the very truth of good news from God himself. “The Lamb of God” has come for the salvation of the world. John is the great herald of the good news of salvation. And now, John takes a backseat for Jesus must increase as John decreases. John has fulfilled his purpose and would not imagine setting up competing ministries.

John the Baptist serves for those of his time and continues for us today as the chief Biblical witness to Christ. A witness is one who stands in support of another’s credentials. John was challenged by the Levites of Jerusalem to present his authority to baptize. John’s answer was that he had come to witness to the truth. In a sense, God’s call for him was his official authority. Today, he points to Jesus as the stainless, “Lamb of God” as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to be no longer the baptizer but now the “pointer.” “There he is. Now follow him!” And in faith we respond to his proclamation.

We too, by the grace of our own baptism, are called to point the way to Christ. In a true sense, we are marked with the sign of the cross as agents for the Lord. As agents of Christ we act not on our own authority but we work by that of Jesus himself. Christ’s mission must be our mission but only by saying, as John the Baptist did, “I must decrease and he must increase.” This is a call to Christian humility in its purest sense. Christ is the message and we are the messangers.

A counselor, as an “agent,” must be faithful and respectful of the person who is their client. An attorney stands in defense of the one who has hired them to represent their interests.. We priests have a responsibility to present the Church’s teachings correctly as agents for Jesus the Good Shepherd. We as Christians must do the same for Christ and his Church. But, as for John and for Jesus, it begins with our common baptism.

St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) wrote the following prayer which describes this same point in a beautiful relfection:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

May our shared Eucharist become the food we need to love and serve the Lord.