Sunday, December 10, 2017



I am sending my messenger ahead of
you; he will prepare your way before
 Matthew 11

Some people just don’t know when to quit! And I’m not talking about Elvis’ last concert!  I’m talking about that part of all of us that doesn’t know when to quit, even when it’s time. I went through that a few years ago when I was at the Cathedral. My ten year term came and went and I was still here. I had worked hard and I was proud of all that we accomplished during those years. Because it was such an exceptional assignment, Archbishop Kelly left it up to me when to quit. A big part of me wanted to hold on, but after 14 years I resigned.  I did not want to be one of those people who didn’t know when to quit and stay so long that things began to unravel or the people who used to love me got to the point they wanted to run me off!  The same thing happened after 15 years of writing a weekly column for The Record. Even though my heart wanted to hang on, I knew in my gut it was time to let it go and do something new. I now post all my writing on my blog with lots of other things. I get to use photos now, as well.   

Parents go through this all the time. After doing a great job of raising their children, after sacrificing to send them to college, there comes a day when they leave to start a family of their own. Instead of letting go, not knowing when to quit, some of these parents meddle in their children’s lives even after they leave and start a home of their own.  If they cannot keep controlling their children’s decisions, they begin a path of emotional terrorism. It’s  like the New Yorker cartoon a few years ago. A woman is sitting on the couch, a child is playing on the floor and the man is talking on the phone. The caption below read: “They say we can go there for Thanksgiving or they can cut us out of the will. Our choice.” Instead of focusing on living his or her own life, that child ends up focusing on the parent, reacting to or avoiding them. Then resentment and avoidance becomes a norm. The parents probably did a great job, but they didn’t know when to quit. When they didn’t know when to quit, they actually began undoing their own good work.

Some people, however, do know when to quit. I’m not talking about Evel Knieval’s retirement before he killed himself in yet another attempt at a rocket motorcycle jump of the Grand Canyon. He actually got to die of heart disease in Florida.  ’m talking about this strange bird, this wild bug-eating preacher, named John the Baptist. He knew his role. He did it passionately and moved out of the way when the time came.  As popular as he was, he understood his role, he knew the fine art of being number two. He pointed to the light and left the stage.

On this third Sunday of Advent, we are asked by the church to share this role of “messengers of God.” Paul called us “ambassadors of Christ.” Ambassadors do not speak on their own, they represent someone else. Paul called us “earthenware jars that hold a great treasure.” We are the containers. We are not the treasure. We are, in the words of today’s gospel, “witnesses to the light,” not the light itself.  How many times have we as a church forgotten that! Every arrogant clergy person, every fired-up religious fanatic needs to have this message tattooed to the inside of their eyelids. There is a temptation and trap that always seems to come with being a highly visible and highly successful religious leader. The bigger the success, the bigger the temptation and the bigger the trap. Just look at all the fallen Jim Bakers of the last few years. They all have one thing in common: they were sent to point to God and ended up being little gods themselves.  Instead of pointing to the light, they ended up thinking they were the light. I do know of one notable exception: our very own bishop Maloney. He has been auxiliary bishop to three Archbishops so far. He has always been an example of how to reflect the light onto someone else. Through thick and thin, he has always been a humble, prayerful, honest, and faithful man, in spite of the powerful position he has held. He never let the trapping of his position become a trap for him personally. He, like John, lives a simple life, did his work well and got out of the way when the time came! 

John the Baptist is an example to all of us! He understood his vocation, his mission. He did not draw attention to himself, but reflected attention on to another, on to Jesus.  He was a person who was sent to prepare the way for another, for Jesus. (1) As a priest, it was made clear to me from the beginning that as a priest, I am sent “to serve, not to be served.” Priesthood is not my personal possession, it’s not about me, it is about being of service to all the baptized members of the church. The Pope put it this way, “The priesthood is “for” the laity, and precisely for this reason it is a ministry “of service.” (2) Most of you are called to married life.  Marriage, like priesthood, is geared toward the salvation of others. In spite of the fact that our culture teaches people that they marry because it is good for them personally and for what it can do for them individually, marriage is for the benefit of their partners, their children and the community as a whole! People who marry mainly to “be loved,” miss the main point of marriage. The main point of marriage is not turned inward, but outward: not so much to “get love,” but to “give love.” Like John the Baptist, a married person does not pull attention to himself, but places attention onto others.  (3) Parents, teachers, doctors and social workers are called to the service as well. The role of parents is to mentor children into adulthood. The role of a teacher is to empower others. The role of a doctor is to heal others. Social workers are called to help others get their lives back together.  Like John the Baptist, the priest and the married person, the whole purpose of the parent, the teacher, the doctor and the social worker is not to be served, but to serve.”  (4) Those of you involved in the various liturgical ministries today need to remember the role of John the Baptist: musicians, readers, hospitality ministers and Eucharistic ministers. You do not perform your ministries to be admired and to impress. The attention must always go to the assembly. The only question worth consideration is this: have I helped the congregation pray, get closer to God or to have new insights into themselves and into the scriptures? We are not here to show off, to perform for or show people what we can do. We are here as catalysts. We are conduit. We are here for others. It’s not about us! It’s about those we seek to serve!

My friends, in a world where being number one, being on top, being first, being the winner, being the survivor, John the Baptist has a different message, a challenging message, a counter cultural message. There are times when we are called to “be all we can be,” but there are also times when we are called to empower others to “be all they can be.”  John the Baptist reminds us of the world’s best kept secret: the more we put ourselves in the center, the more unhappy we become. Friends, beware of those who tell you that happiness consists of grabbing enough wealth to insulate yourself from having to deal with ordinary people.  It is a popular thought these days, but it is a trap!  The great Albert Schweitzer put it another way when he said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”                                  

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