Those of us with a few grey hairs on our heads will remember a television show called “What’s My Line”. Each week a Mystery Guest would answer questions posed by a panel of celebrities who would try to guess the person’s occupation. Their questions could only be answered by terse “yes” or “no” responses from the guest.
Today’s gospel has John the Baptist answering questions from experts who are trying to find out just who he is and what he is all about. Who or what does he represent? To whom or to what is he dedicated? In response to their questions he gives them an abrupt and emphatic “No.” In the end, of course, they fail to recognize who he really is, and so John tells them: “I am a voice that cries in the wilderness.”
Now suppose you were asked what you are all about. To whom is your life dedicated? To what is your life dedicated? What part do you play in the great scheme of things? If some day it becomes once again a crime to be a Catholic in this country, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
We all end up being identified as representing something; we are all a voice for something, even though we may speak no words at all. Our actions speak louder than our words and they give voice to what we are all about and what we stand for.
Advent is the time when we remember the coming of God into human history. It’s that mysterious time of the year when we recognize the tension between what already is and what is yet to be; between what we are and what we can be; between what has been accomplished and what remains unfinished in our personal lives.
If we were the Mystery Guest on some television show, hopefully we could be identified as Christians, and specifically as Catholics. But would there be enough evidence available for people to identify what we are all about without our having to actually tell them?
There are certain things that should identify who we are and what we are as Catholics: first of all we are known for attending Mass every Sunday and Holyday of Obligation, and perhaps even known to go to daily Mass from time to time, when we can manage it.
We are known to be moral people; we are respected for having high standards of ethics, morality, and character. There should be plenty of evidence by which others could identify us as people of principle and goodness in the way we conduct our affairs, our business, and in the way we treat others. People should be able to take us at our word, without needing legal contracts to enforce our agreements and commitments.
We are known to be people of prayer. Now I don’t mean that we stand on the street corner so that we will be seen, but rather we have a certain aura about us, an atmosphere of serenity and peace surrounding us, a spirit of peace that people recognize as coming only from deeply prayerful people.
And finally we have an attitude that is kind, gentle, respectful, and sensitive to others. Do we have a face that reveals the presence of Christ, a smile and a tone of voice that come only from being close to God?
The readings for today’s Mass have several significant themes within them and one of them has to do with identity. For example, John the Baptist had a clear and firm understanding of who he was and what his life was all about.
Our Lord, who was baptized by John and anointed by God’s Holy Spirit, began His public ministry with these words, I suppose today we would call it His mission statement:
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour. (Luke 4:18-19)
These words are taken from the prophet Isaiah. Our Lord quoted them because they are at the core of Isaiah’s prophecies identifying the Messiah who was to come, God’s Anointed One sent to redeem us. This inaugural address was delivered in the synagogue at Capernaum and it was Our Lord’s first public appearance after having spent forty days and forty nights in the desert where he wrestled with Satan in dealing with His own identity.
Our Lord never had an identity problem, and nor should we. After all, He suffered and died for us in order that we might see and understand ourselves in an entirely new way, in a radically different way than the world sees us. God has endowed us with certain gifts and characteristics that no power here on earth gave us or can take away from us.
To whom, then, is your life dedicated? To what is your life dedicated? What part do you play in the great scheme of things? Would those who know you succeed or fail in identifying who you are, what you stand for, and what your life is all about?
Perhaps in all of your gift giving this Christmas you could give the Christ child a gift He would treasure forever, namely a healthy self-identity of who you are as a Roman Catholic. In doing that you would give Him honour and glory.