3rd Sunday of Advent
A Homily - B Cycle - 2005-2006
First Reading - Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Responsorial Psalm - Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
Second Reading - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel - John 1:6-8, 19-28
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites (to him) to ask him, "Who are you?" he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, I am not the Messiah." So they asked him, "What are you then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, " I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?" He said: "I am 'the voice of one crying out in the desert, "Make straight the way of the Lord,"' as Isaiah the prophet said." Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?" John answered 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 unite." This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Today, I would like for us to focus our attention upon one particular virtue of St. John the Baptist and then try to apply it to us and how he makes the gospel message very real in our own times. The virtue I want to focus upon is the humility of St. John the Baptist. Everyone in this church, probably has their own definition of what humility means. See if you can test your definition against Saint Thomas Aquinas' definition of what humility is because his definition of humility is universally recognized as the correct and complete definition. All other claims are opinions, some would say. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that humility is not only acknowledging the truth about oneself in the mind but also willing that truth in the heart. It is an act of the mind and will working together. St. John the Baptist is an ideal model for humility.
So what does John the Baptist show us? First, we ought to consider that some of St. John the Baptist's most devout followers ended up becoming some of the first apostles of the Lord Jesus. We think of saints like James and John and Andrew, St. Peter's brother. Each of these men started as disciples of John the Baptist. You will remember in other gospel accounts that John the Baptist was baptizing across the Jordan River and he was attracting many followers out there. At one point in the gospel, when our Lord comes for His own baptism, what does John the Baptist say? He says to these future apostles, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." And he says, "Go! Follow the Lamb! That's Him!"
We marvel at the fact that St. John the Baptist came for one reason and one reason only - to serve as the forerunner of his second cousin. And yet, he never saw our Lord perform any of His miracles, or communicate and reach out to the people in order to capture their imaginations and captivate their minds and their hearts. He never had the consolation of seeing any of these things. St. John the Baptist never saw the fruits of Christ's ministry - he only heard about it as he languished in prison.
For those of us who are engaged in any kind of apostolate, we know that it takes a tremendous amount of humility to imitate John the Baptist's humility. Why? Because this great saint never drew anyone to himself as an end. Instead, he was always attracting persons to himself as a means of attracting them to our Lord. We are often tempted in our apostolic work to let our own personalities get in the way! We have to be able to deflect people away from us and draw them closer to our Lord.
Let us revisit the definition of humility that St. Thomas Aquinas gives us. Again, he says that it is the recognition of the truth about oneself or about one's surroundings not only in the mind but also in the heart. We've all heard the term "false humility" haven't we? What is someone who is falsely humble like? He or she may accept in his or her mind, some proposition such as, "Jim, you did a great, great job today." And in his head, Jim may say, "Oh, no it wasn't that great. Don't look at me." But in his heart he's saying. "Oh yeah it was. It was super, wasn't it?" We've all into that temptation before. People will say nice things to us or give credit to us and we'll respond as its not that big of a deal or that we really can't take the credit, but our hearts are impure and there's this fallen nature within us that sometimes wells up and says, "Oh yeah it was great! I'm all that! I'm that good." And that's a great temptation that we need to fight against.
St. Thomas reminds us that if we don't have humility in the mind and in the heart, then we don't have it at all. You need to have recognized in your own mind the truth about oneself and accept it in the heart. Even look at the Blessed Mother at the Annunciation and the Visitation. She says, "Behold, all generations will call me blessed. I am the handmaid of the Lord." You can imagine St. Elizabeth, her cousin who received her into her home hearing these words, "All generations will call me blessed." If St. Elizabeth wasn't who she was she may have been tempted to say, "Well, look at you! Excuse me! 'All generations will call me blessed'." But, you see, our Lady's humility is not just in recognizing the truth about who she is; it's true! All generations have called her blessed! She is the handmaid of the Lord. But it isn't until we take the Annunciation and the Visitation together, until she said to the angel, "Let it be done to me according to thy word," that the humility is complete. In other words, "Because I am the handmaid of the Lord, the truth in my mind, I know. Therefore, be it done to me whatever you ask Lord," That is humility. It is recognizing the truth in her mind and accepting it in her heart so that there is a total integration of the two.
Someone who is truly humble may experience two effects in their lives. First, a truly humble person who accepts in their mind and in their heart the truth about themselves almost always perceives the movements of God in their soul. They recognize Jesus. They recognize the movements of His spirit in their souls because they recognize that any good that they do in the world is all a gift from God; that we don't generate goodness on our own. Whatever good we do, the truth about it is that it is a participation in God's goodness, the fount and source of all goodness. So a person who is humble recognizes the Lord.
Second, a truly humble person will make straight the path of the Lord to his heart. He will continue to keep the route or the line of communication between God and himself straight, narrow, and disciplined. You've heard this year and year again, make straight the way of the Lord - John the Baptist's straight line. This is bread and butter John the Baptist - make straight the way of the Lord.
The Jews understood this a little bit differently than we do. We understand it in a symbolic, metaphorical way. In other words, set your lives straight, aright so that God can enter. But the Jews understood it in a different way because, you see, Jewish towns were usually built upon hills or mountainsides or on the edge of a cliff so that they were easily defensible. And so, the paths up towards the main gate of the town were carved like a switchback along the hill or along the mountain's face so that the beasts of burden would not have to go up these very steep inclines to the town head-on. Instead, they could just meander their way up. When the local lord or king wanted to visit the town, the government of the town would send out men from the town and civil engineers to straighten out those really circuitous paths up to the top and actually straighten out the switchback paths into one very shallow incline ascent to make the way for the king and his entourage easy, direct, and light.
And this is exactly what John the Baptist is telling his hearers. The humble person is one who recognized God moving in their heart. He makes the path easy and straight for him to enter. And what are the circuitous paths for you and me? It's when we make our lives complicated, compromised, nuanced, and fill them with superfluous distinctions. We negotiate and we make "deals" with God. St. John the Baptist would say, "Wipe them all out! Make the path straight and direct. No compromises, no nuances, no distinctions, just let Him in! Make the path easy."
I would like to close with a real life example of humility in our own time - someone for whom humility has become a part of their mind and heart, as St. Thomas defines true humility. George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope, the definitive biography of Pope John Paul II tells the story of how he was at a lunch with the Pope and six American bishops who were visiting Rome Toward the end of the meal, as the plates were cleared away and dessert was about to be served, the Holy Father's secretary came rushing in to the dining room and interrupted the conversation and whispered something urgent into the holy Father's ear. The Pope arose immediately and said, "I'm sorry, I must leave you now. I'm sorry to leave before the meal is over but I must go and attend to something very important. I hope you understand." All of the bishops arose at once and accompanied the Holy Father to the edge of the dining room, which is sixty feet long to the other end. As the Holy Father, with cane in hand, came to the threshold of the door, he turned and imparted his blessing upon the bishops. One of the bishops blurted out, "You are a tremendous Holy Father!" And the Holy Father in his stooped condition just sort of looked up a little bit and he said, "Ego sum servus inutiles." In English, "I am but a worthless servant," and he put his head back down and must meandered through the door. Now that's someone who recognizes in his head and his heart the truth about himself. Perhaps we could say that if the humility weren't there, would he be remembered for who he is now? Would John the Baptist be remembered for who he is now if the humility were absent?
Let us pray that each of us allows the Holy Spirit to impress upon us a deep and abiding humility so that we recognize in our minds and accept in our hearts the truth about ourselves and the fact that our God has now prepared to condescend to take on our humanity to elevate it to the level of his divinity.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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