Sunday, December 16, 2018


The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
Luke 3:10-18 (9)

He had a beard, so he can't be all bad. I ought to know! I had one for 45 years! In spite of his beard, John the Baptist was never one of my favorites growing up. Screaming men who wear fur and eat bugs make me very nervous. He is not the type you could meet at the bar for a beer. Before you popped the top, he would be giving you a lecture on the evils of drinking. As I have gotten older and wiser, however, I have begun to appreciate John a little more. 
John is to Jesus as the moon is to the sun! Have you ever thought about how important the moon is? Sure, the sun gets all the credit for the light we enjoy, but have you ever thought about how dark the night would be without the moon? The moon gives off no light of its own, but it plays a critical supporting role by reflecting the light of the sun even when it passes from our sight. 
Today we are asked to consider John the Baptist, whose call involved pointing Jesus out to the world and then leaving the stage. John the Baptist was simply the moon reflecting the light of Jesus, the sun. His role was to “set Jesus up” for his work in the world — to “assist” people in receiving God’s son. This insight occurred to me as I was watching the USA Olympic Volleyball Team play, a while back. I noticed how much attention was being given to the players on the front line. But it you watch a game, you know that the front line would not be the "stars" if they were not being "set up" and "assisted" by the lesser valued players in the back row. 
In a world where we are pumped full of messages that being number one is the only thing that really counts, John the Baptist stands as a challenge. In a world where we are told that the only way to shine is to be at the top, John the Baptist offers an alternative.
We had in our local church such a model of humility: our very own Auxiliary Bishop Charles G. Maloney. Bishop Maloney served faithfully and quietly under three Archbishops: John A. Floersh, Thomas J. McDonough and Thomas C. Kelly.

As many of us know, he was responsible for the financial health of our diocese until he retired. Through wise investment choices and conservative spending policies, he left us in good shape.

Bishop Maloney “confirmed” me back in 1956. He was a new bishop and I was a sixth grader. Back then a ceremonial slap on the cheek was part of the Confirmation ritual. It was more like a tap than a slap, but I remember it well. As a young priest hatched during the radical 60s, I am sure he would have liked a chance to slap me a few more times, but he was too much of a gentleman. In spite of the fact that we collided a few times when I first arrived here as pastor, he came to see that I was not just a 39 year old young “whipper snapper,” without experience. He came to see some impressive results around this old place. He was always kind to me, even when I challenged him. The older I got, the more I appreciated him. I cannot think of a better example of how to be a faithful, humble priest, through thick and thin, than our Bishop Maloney.

In a way, all priests are called to be like John the Baptist. We are called from the people, to live among the people so we can empower the people. We are like catalysts in a chemical reaction. We are not meant to be powerful ourselves but to play a supportive service role in making others powerful. A priest who wants to live on a pedestal and absorb all the light is not living priesthood as God intended it to be lived. Our job is to empower others and help them let their light shine!

In a similar way, married couples are called to be like John the Baptist. Marriage and parenting, in the ideal, are based on self-giving and other-centered love. Yes, it’s about self-giving and other-centered love! Married partners and parents are called to play a supportive role to their spouses and their children. It is their call to be great by making their spouses and children “great.”

Maybe the message John the Baptist has for us today is this: a world in which self-interest is sold to us as the highest priority, rather than a goal of being of service to others, is a world headed toward even more misery. True greatness is more about reflecting the light than absorbing it.

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