Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time: There He Is. Here We Are
The Christmas Season ended last Monday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today’s Gospel immediately follows the Baptism of Jesus as John tells his disciples that this Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He relates to them that after he baptized Jesus, he saw the Holy Spirit come upon the Lord. The first reading, from Isaiah, also points to Jesus, as the light to the nations of the world.
In the second reading, the introduction to the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul points out what following Jesus has done for us. Imagine that instead of writing the Corinthians, Paul was writing to you and me. Actually, through the Holy Spirit, he was.
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God that is in Tarpon Springs, to the Church that is in the Smith House, the Filopkowski House, etc, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
Paul is telling us that Jesus Christ came so we can be holy, set aside for God.
I have to tell you that I have never considered myself holy. A while back one of the children at Guardian Angels School referred to me as the holy guy. I cringed. I’m not holy, at least not in the way that the little one was referring. I think he had angelic in mind. I am anything but that. I’m sure that most of you here also don’t see yourselves as holy, certainly not angelic. You might consider others that way, but not yourselves. But we have an obligation to strive to be holy. We can’t think that we are not good enough and will never be good enough. Jesus Christ died on a cross to make us good enough.
Paul says that we have been called to be holy. But what really is holiness, at least what did Paul mean by holy? To be holy is to be set aside for God. Jesus came, suffered and died, and then rose again to give us His life and to set us aside for God. Christ died so I can be holy. He died so you also can be holy. Actually by coming and sacrificing himself for us, he has made us holy. So holiness is not something that we do, it is something that Jesus has done for us. He has set us aside for God. He has made us holy.
But why are we called to holiness? Well, in the first reading, the Servant was called to be a light to the nations. We also are called to be a light to the nations. The world needs people to bring light to its darkness. It needs people who are going to put others before themselves. It needs people who are going to reach out to those pushed aside by society. The world needs to experience the presence of God in people who are committed to his Kingdom.
“I want to be holy, just like you,” Matt Maher sings. How are we to do that? Well, Matt sings in his hymn Just Like You, that we need to have reckless abandonment to his truth. Reckless abandonment to the truth. At his baptism, Jesus publically committed himself to the will of the Father. If this meant that he was to die to establish the Kingdom of God, well, so be it. Would this be easy? No. In the Garden of Olives Jesus sweat blood over what he would have to do. But He abandoned himself to the truth knowing that somehow the Father will conquer through him.
All the saints did this. They all chose the Truth of God, abandoning their lives to whatever God was calling them to do. Some of the saints lost their physical lives. St. Ignatius of Antioch was adamant that Christians should not try to bribe the Romans to release him. These well intentioned people argued that the Church needed him. But he trusted in God. He abandoned himself to God, declaring his Christianity in the Coliseum, knowing that somehow God would conquer.
Skip ahead fourteen centuries. Go to Tudor England. Thomas More was confronted with a choice. Do what was politically, and even physically expedient, or die for the truth of the Lord. St. Thomas More could have joined so many others in rationalizing that Henry VIII should be the head of the Church. If Thomas had done that he would not have been beheaded. He would not have lost his family’s fortune. But Thomas abandoned himself to the Lord. No one cares about Henry VIII anymore. This king is an embarrassment, even to the English. But people still care about St. Thomas More. Many, particularly Catholic lawyers, still look to Thomas More for his example and guidance.
Some of the saints radically changed their lives. St Anthony Abbot felt called to give everything away to be thoroughly committed to God. So many of the ancient Christians looked to him as a man thoroughly committed to the Lord. Saints Augustine and Benedict would begin religious orders inspired by Anthony’s way. Nine hundred years after Anthony died, a young man named Francis decided to follow Anthony’s example. Francis of Assisi’s reckless abandonment to the Truth of Jesus Christ still inspires us to find peace in God alone.
One final example among the mryriad of saints: St. Damien De Veuster, Damien of Molokai, Damien the Leper. Everyone in Hawaii, and in the world of the nineteenth century for that matter, everyone was afraid of leprosy. But when Damien first saw the lepers in the horrible Kaluapapa section of Molokai, he didn’t see their disease. He saw their tragic lives. How could he call himself a Christian and abandon these poor sick people? Sent to spend just a day or two on the island to re-assemble a small chapel, he refused to leave the lepers. A few days turned into a lifetime commitment to live his Christianity in service to the poorest people in the world. He recklessly abandoned himself to the Truth of Christ’s way and the certainty that he also would contract leprosy. For all the saints Jesus’ way is the way of Truth.
We all want to have wonderful, full lives. We want this for ourselves and for our children. How do we get there? How do we do this? How can we get the most out of life? How can we live life to its fullest? We can live full and beautiful lives by committing ourselves to God, by abandoning ourselves to His Truth. This is how we respond to the call to be holy.
There He is. There is the Lamb of God. He is there getting baptized by John. There He is, accepting the way that would lead to the cross. There He is calling us to join Him and sacrifice ourselves for others. John said that he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus. The Spirit has descended upon us too, calling us to holiness, calling us to trust in God, calling us to be light for the world.