by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the Idente missionaries
New York, January 19, 2020 | II Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Isaiah 49: 3.5-6; First Letter to the Corinthians 1: 1-3; Saint John 1: 29-34.
When we really get to know a person, everything changes in our relationship with him or her.
I remember a terrorist attack in Madrid in 2004. Like everyone else, I was saddened when I was told that five university students had died. But everything was dramatically different when I learned that one of them was Maria, a student I knew personally.
When something like this happens, instead of feeling sad, you would feel crushed. The pain would stretch on for weeks, months, even years. You might never be able to forget the tragedy.
It is remarkable that St. John the Baptist says “I did not know him” when it comes to his cousin. What about us? This should make us think if we really know Christ, despite being baptized, participating in religious and apostolic acts or perhaps having consecrated our life.
This explains why, in each Eucharist, the celebrant invites us to Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sin of the world. Perhaps our reflection today should focus on those inspired words of the Baptist about the identity of Christ. Where does calling him the Lamb of God come from? What does it mean to take away the sin of the world?
There was never a person in the Old Testament called “lamb of God.” In the Baptist`s mind nothing represents Crist’s identity better than to say that he is the Lamb of God.
He knew that his listeners would have immediately understood the allusion to the paschal lamb whose blood, placed on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt, had saved their fathers from the slaughter of the exterminating Angel. Applied to Jesus, the Lamb of God title became His identity and His destiny. He would shed His life to save us as an expression of compassion for the whole of humanity.
How does Christ take away our sins? First and foremost, He shows us the destructive force of sin. There can be no joy for those who sin and break the law. St Paul says: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6: 9-10).
Those of us who believe in God agree that the redemption of sins is essential and necessary. But we should understand and know how to explain why it is so important not only for believers, but for any human being.
In the first place, being clean from sin will allow us to enter into the enjoyment of the divine presence after this life. But in addition, it is key to understand that sin prevents us from having a full life right now, in this world. This is also what St. Paul means when he speaks in the above quote of inheriting the kingdom of God.
In the words of the second century bishop and theologian Saint Irenaeus: The glory of God is the human being fully alive.
As Christians, we say that we are children of God, and we say that non-Christians are children of God as well, because we all were created in His image and likeness but, in practice, we cannot acknowledge God as our creator and our Father. This is because we are blinded by sin. In his First Letter, St John says: Anyone who sins has never seen him or known him. Sin blinds us to the truth. Because of sin, we forget our identity and calling in life. We need Christ to save us from our sins. We need Christ to reveal to us our identity, that of our neighbor and that of God. But not just once, but continuously, because our spiritual memory is weak.
If we do not know our own identity or that of our fellowmen, we can make very serious mistakes. We can illustrate this with a little humor:
Albert Einstein was walking in front of a local inn and was mistaken for a bell boy by a rich old lady who had just arrived in a luxury car. She orders him to carry her luggage into the hotel, and he does so. She gives him a small tip, and he continues on to his office to ponder the mysteries of the universe. The story is funny because the man she thought was a bell boy was actually Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.
But, in our spiritual life, the consequences of that blindness which is produced by sin are truly serious and no longer fun.
That is why it is important to have an “operational” definition of sin, some simple ideas, in accordance with the Gospel, that allow us to detect when we abandon the path. For example, we can consider sin:
* Everything (thoughts, desires, intentions, words and actions) that separates me from God and from our neighbors.
* Everything that I reserve for myself alone. I do not get to share it.
* Everything that does not make me free, even if it is allowed and does me a momentary good.
* All the good that I refused to do for others, and I admit that it would have been possible to do it.
St Paul diagnosed the fear of death as the cause of all sins. All sins spring from fear of losing power, control, status, health and our “possessions” including our loved ones.
Even if most of our life is full of suffering and pain, most of us still cling to life because we do not tolerate separation form our loved ones and our body and our soul know only about life on this earth and therefore death means annihilation.
Bur even science, little by little, is revealing our true nature. A few weeks ago, Pascual-Leone, a clinical neurologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, well known for his work on patterns of activity in the brain, cognitive processes and behavior in health and disease, said: The key to brain health is not to feel alone and to have a vital purpose, something that transcends oneself and is projected in the others.
From a more integral and not only physiological point of view, we have experience of what St. Luke taught us: In him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring’ (Acts 17: 28).
The truth is that every person is hardwired to compassion. What this means is that the quality of our existence and the fulfillment of our life’s purpose would be measured to a great extent by our ability and willingness to be with people, understand their fears, embrace their sorrows, feel their pains, and connect with them in a way that makes our life truly meaningful.
Despite the overwhelming power of evil in the world, what awaits humanity is the communion of life with the most Holy Trinity. These things -John says- I write so that your joy may be complete (1 Jn 1:3-4).
The Holy Spirit not only descended upon Jesus, but remained with Him, as the Gospel text tells us. Now, Christ is the one who will give us the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit of the Father that gave Him the capacity to love and give Himself totally for us.
When we talk about receiving the Holy Spirit, we cannot forget two realities that clearly stand out.
* First, just like Christ in Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit with the participation of other people, not only the godparents or the priest, but all those who have given us a testimony of faith.
* And secondly, the Holy Spirit comes to establish and strengthen the unity among Christ’s disciples. This is the ultimate test. The Second Reading shows us how in Corinth, those who had been called to live holiness, those chosen by God, are divided, because of their different sensibilities, which causes confusion and distrust in those who observe them. This happens to us today, between women and men, young and old, one culture and the others. Unity is the most important and the most difficult goal, that is why Christ prayed: Father, that they may be one.
The difference between Christians and non-Christians lies in an explicit recognition of God as our Father. If the world does not know God as Father, then although they might be children of God, they do not know their own identity
Without knowing that God is our Father, our creator and our goal in life, we might be sons and daughters in His eyes but we do not recognize Him as such.
To be baptized in Christ means that we affirm and declare that we are children of God. As such, we too must now therefore live as God’s children and treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our purpose in life is linked to our origin and our destiny. If we do not know that God is our Father, how can we know that we are His children? Being aware of our identity and being able to live a fullness of life depend on our knowledge of God.
The ancient and traditional religions were not absolutely wrong when they offered sacrifices. But with Christ comes true sacrifice, something we can imitate in our lives. The difference is that the sacrifice pleasing to God is that of our life.
If we wish to do supreme good to others, something of ourselves must be abandoned. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter… he was numbered with the transgressors, but instead, he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors (Is 53:7,12).
Here is a good example from St. Miguel de los Santos, the patron saint of our new Parish in Madrid: To prepare his sermons he spent three days in prayer at the feet of a crucified Christ and another three days studying what he had written in the notebook.
Not only that; the reality is that only the sacrifice of the innocent, symbolized by the lamb, can touch hearts and change them profoundly. It is not by chance that God the Father chose this path for his Son and for our conversion.
We too are enabled, like John the Baptist to pointing others to Jesus, the Lamb of God, so that they too can find their identity and purpose in life.
French writer Henri Barbusse (1874-1935) tells of a conversation overheard in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. One of the men, who knew he only had minutes to live says to one of the other man: Listen, Dominic, you’ve led a very bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so, here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my life and quickly, hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death.
The Good News is that through Christ, God makes a similar offer…allowing the differences. When we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Jesus. We publicly declare our intention to strive to be like Jesus and follow God’s will for our lives. When we are baptized, our lives are changed. We see other people differently than before. Baptism enables and empowers us to do the things that Jesus wants us to do here and now. We are able to identify with Jesus Christ because He was baptized. This identification is possible thanks to the Holy Spirit who not only appears, but remains in us.
So as we contemplate during the Mass the breaking of the bread and the elevation, we should make a point to really behold Him, remembering what our life would be like without Him and embracing what He has done for us.