Today we honour the memory of St. John of the Cross who collaborated with St. Teresa of Avila in the reform of the Carmelites. St. John was a popular preacher and a prolific writer and many of his spiritual works continue to be read today and have never gone out of print. He had a special concern for those who suffered dryness or depression in their spiritual life and offered encouragement that God loved them and was leading them deeper into faith. St. John himself suffered from what he called The Dark Night of the Soul and said the best way to rediscover the light is to pray and worship even when we feel alone and spiritually dry.
Are you the one who is to come or must we wait for someone else? This may seem like a strange question to come from John the Baptist, especially since his vocation was to prepare the way for the Messiah. But there may have been a good reason for it. John may have expected Jesus to be more like him: a radical zealot who preached a message of repentance. But instead of going into the desert and preaching against Herod, Jesus went through the towns and cities, healing people and teaching them to love one another. Was he really the One who would bring a baptism of fire, and convert sinners to change their ways?
Our Lord’s answer made it clear that he came as a merciful Saviour, not as a stern judge. He was the redeemer who would “bring glad tidings to the poor” and “heal the broken hearted”. He wanted people to know that God wasn’t brooding on their sins; rather he had a much broader agenda. Of course, he wanted to forgive them, but he also wanted to bring them into a living and loving relationship with him so that they could know the freedom of being his children.
Even today people are still asking if Jesus is really the one who is to come, and we are the ones they’re asking. They are looking to us to see if Jesus is compassionate and merciful. They’re looking to us to see if he is peaceful and gentle.
This is why the witness of Christians has a special impact during this time of the year. As we prepare for Christmas people almost instinctively think about God and the place he holds in their lives. If they know that we believe in God, and if they can tell that we have a relationship with him, then half the work is already done. The testimony of our lives will soften their hearts and open them up to the words we speak. Just as Jesus showed John, we can show our neighbours that they don’t have to wait for someone else. Jesus really is the Messiah. It is he who heals, forgives and saves.