The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
A few weeks ago, my daughter, Izzy, came home with a stray dog. She and her friend were down by the beach and saw this little dog running in front of her car. Izzy’s first thought was, “this little guy had better be careful as he is the same color as the street.” They stopped, watched him, and waited for his owner. The dog was very skittish and was hiding under a parked car. Finally, they approached him with a little snack as he lay cowering. He was dirty, had pretty severe rash, was obviously malnourished, and was just plain scared. They tried locating his owner but were unsuccessful. So, they brought him home.
Once at the house, they bathed and fed him. Now, we have a pretty busy household with many moving parts. Diane conducts this orchestra of school, sports, playdates, tutors, and doctor’s appointments. Not to mention we already have a dog. We simply don’t have the bandwidth to add a stray dog to the mix. Or at least, that’s what we thought. So Diane quickly took hold of the situation and brought the dog to a local vet that was open on Sundays. Her idea was to see if the dog had a chip in it so we could locate the owner. But there was no chip. The vet went on to say judging by his poor condition, that this dog had most likely been homeless for months. By this time we had this dog with us for a few hours. The kids were already playing with him and thinking of possible names. So we wanted to prepare the kids for the possibility that this dog might not be with us for too long. We posted his picture on various social media sites and enlisted a host of animal friendly folks to try and find the owners of the dog. We received a lot of interesting comments but non from the owners. As they days passed, we brought him to our vet for shots and to address his various maladies. We also brought him to the groomer which made a huge difference in his appearance. Then Diane and I had to have the conversation. The adult talk about whether or not to keep the dog. The contributing factor had very little to do with the fact that he’s awfully cute and a pretty good companion. It had everything to do with the kids. Specifically, Izzy.
As any parent will freely admit, teenagers are a unique breed. More often than not, their focus is on their immediate needs and wants. As parents, we try to encourage them to have compassion, charity, and a genuine sense of care for those around them.
Izzy is a typical teenager, who has good days and bad. But one Sunday, a few weeks back, she stopped everything, put her own plans for the day on hold, and showed a delicate tenderness to one of God’s little creatures. Once at home, she continued to care for this dog showing patience, compassion, and love. Diane and I said to ourselves, what message would we be giving to her and the rest of the kids, if we didn’t see this all the way through and make the commitment to keep the dog? And so, the love we share in our home has now grown with our new little addition.
In today’s gospel we hear of John the Baptist. We are given an account of his appearance and his ministry. John came before Jesus to prepare those during his time for the coming of Christ. John was the forerunner. A messenger of sorts. He said, “One mightier than I is coming after me.” As I prepared for today’s homily, I thought of my role as a parent. As a dad, I give everything I have for the betterment of my kids. Like all parents, Diane and I try to teach our kids everything we know so as to pass on the wisdom that we have amassed during our lifetime. We do our best to instill values, model morality, and live with a sense of care and responsibility for those around us; especially the ones in most need. Deep down, I can tell you that I do this because I want my kids to experience the joy of giving and sharing and loving. I want my kids to live their lives driven by compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. It is in this sense, I try to be like John the Baptist, hoping to announce that one greater than I is coming after me. This vision, I share with every parent.
Expanding on this theme of those coming after us, today we welcome the RCIA community. Today, they come forward to openly and publicly express their desire to enter our church community as they prepare to receive the sacraments. I can tell you that each of their stories will stir your heart. They are the ones that are coming after us. They will bring their many life experiences and wealth of talents to our community. Their contribution will add to the beauty of our church.
Today’s gospel continues with, “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
I can tell you that it was the presence of the Holy Spirit inside of Izzy which fanned the flames of mercy and compassion within her. I can also tell you that it is the presence of the Holy Spirit within our church community that has us seeking a path closer to the one who created us. And I can tell you that the ever present influence of the Holy Spirit has everything to do with each of these folks in RCIA stepping forth to take part in the mystical body of Christ.
Let us all embrace the Holy Spirit within each of us as we take Christ’s presence beyond the walls of this church in the way we love on another.