Joyfully Letting the Lord Increase, Saturday after Epiphany, January 10, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday after the Epiphany
January 10, 2015
1 Jn 5:14-21, Ps 149, Jn 3:22-30

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • On Christmas Day Christians throughout the world sang and pondered the words of the great Christmas hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem in the climactic verse of which we chanted, “O Holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today!” The Christmas season is about that rebirth that Christ entered our world to give us in Bethlehem and that he wants to rekindle every Christmas season as we ponder the mystery and meaning of his Incarnation. As we pray on Christmas morning in the Collect, Jesus took on our humanity so that we might become sharers in his divinity. He took on flesh not just to dwell among us on the outside but to dwell within us and transform us to become children of God from within his own divine filiation.
  • But just like happens with physical life when a baby is born but then grows so with this mystery of Christ’s incarnation among us. Our relationship with the baby born for us is meant to grow. That’s what’s alluded to at the end of today’s Gospel, which helps us as we prepare for the end of the Christmas season with tomorrow’s celebration of the Lord’s baptism. St. John the Baptist, referring to Jesus, says, “He must increase and I must decrease.” This lapidary saying is meant to describe not only what should happen in us throughout this Christmas season and beyond but through us in the world. This must be the motto, in a sense, both of our personal pursuit of holiness as well as our interaction with our friends, family and neighbors. Let’s look at both angles.
  • First, Jesus is meant to increase within us as disciples until he becomes all and all. The Christmas season and the whole Christian life is meant to be a pilgrimage of growth into ever deeper union with Jesus Christ. It’s supposed to help us not only to become more and more like him but more and more united to him. Once that happens we begin to experience some of what St. John describes in today’s first reading.
  • The first thing he points to is it changes the way we pray. The more united we are to Jesus, the more we’re able to pray in his name, the more we’re able to pray as beloved sons and daughters. St. John writes that when he has increased in us and our sense of our divine filiation has grown as a result, “We have this confidence in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.” This boldness of praying as beloved children is exactly what Jesus will himself encourage us to have in the Sermon on the Plain and on the Mount. Let’s listen to these words as a description of the type of confidence God wants us to have if we cooperate with the increase in the life of faith he wants in us. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Plain, “I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?  Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?  If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk 11:9-13). He adds in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:25-33).
  • The second thing St. John points to is that allowing Jesus to grow in us changes the way we live. The more we decrease through growth in humility, the more we allow Jesus to increase in us through grace, the more we live in and for God’s kingdom and less according to the kingdom of this world. That’s what St. John means when he says today, “We know that anyone begotten by God does not sin; but the one begotten by God he protects, and the Evil One cannot touch him. We know that we belong to God, and the whole world is under the power of the Evil One.” The more this sense of our divine filiation grows, the more we are living for God, the less we will come under the dominion of sin and the Evil One. St. John isn’t implying that it’s impossible for us ontologically to sin if we’ve been begotten by God in baptism. But if we allow that seed of divine life to grow within us, if we are living by God, then we will not be choosing to sin. Have we been experiencing that type of growth in this Christmas season? Since the New Year began, have we been cooperating with the Lord who wants us to experience “grace upon grace” by building this year on the graces he’s given us in past years?
  • If Christ is increasing in us, then we’re going to sense a greater desire for prayer and a greater desire to conform all our choices to what pleases him, and this will flow because the more Christ truly increases in us the more he will be praying in us and the more he will be living in us. That’s the first application of St. John the Baptist’s words at the end of today’s Gospel.
  • The second application is to our apostolate, to the mission Christ has entrusted to us. Throughout this Christmas season God has been trying to help change us so that we desire Christ to grow in the world, to grow in the lives of our family members, friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners and others. This is the immediate context of the Baptist’s declaration. Some of his disciples had come to him concerned that Jesus himself was now baptizing and “everyone” was going to him.  They anticipated John would be concerned and perhaps jealous. But he immediately debunked those assumptions. The first thing he said was that Jesus was acting by the power of God: “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.” Second, he said that he had always said that he was a precursor, a forerunner, someone sent ahead to prepare the path for the one coming after: “You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Christ, but that I was sent before him.” Third, he testified that Jesus was the long-awaited Bridegroom and that John was fulfilling the role of the best man. “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.” This image of the Bridegroom and the bride is one of the most enduring images for the Covenant God was making with the Jews and through them with the human race. Through the Prophets Hosea and Isaiah, God was likening his bond with us to that of a husband marrying a bride. That’s what we heard on Christmas Eve when God through Isaiah said, “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. Every time Israel was unfaithful, it was likened to adultery, but God as a faithful spouse took back his unfaithful Bride. John the Baptist was pointing to the fact that when Jesus came, he came as the Bridegroom to consummate the union with his people, something St. John said made his joy complete. He role, the role of shoshben, what in Jewish terms was called the “friend of the bridegroom” and in our language the “best man,” had a very important role in Jewish marriage ceremonies. He was the trusted friend who protected the bride from other men during the period between the betrothal when they contractually were wedded and the 1-3 year period where the Groom was working to pay for the reception and then for their common life together. He was the one who served as a liaison between them, who helped to arrange the details for the wedding, who delivered the invitations, who presided at the wedding feast, and who guarded the wedding chamber so that no other man would enter in darkness to try to deceive and violate the bride. He would only open the door when he heard the Bridegroom’s, his friend’s, voice and then he would leave full of joy that the two of them were together. That was St. John the Baptist’s role, to prepare the Bride, to get her ready, to help facilitate that loving consummation.
  • Likewise each of us is meant to be a friend of the Bridegroom, someone who is supposed to prepare the bride — our friends, our family members, our neighbors, our colleagues and fellow students, even those we’re meeting for the first time — for Christ to be born in them, for Christ to increase in them. That’s a summary of the whole Christian apostolate. We’re supposed to facilitate that Christ will increase in others’  lives, even if that means we will decrease. Sometimes we Christians can become possessive. If we have a friend in Church for example with whom we used to get together every Thursday, we can occasionally get jealous that the person is now going to adoration or getting more involved in the Church. Sometimes we don’t want Christ to increase in their life if it means that as a result our relationship with them might decrease according to human metrics. Many parents struggle with this. They say on the one hand that they want the best for their children, but when a child, for example, wants to dedicate his or her whole life to God as a priest or consecrated man or woman, the parents can balk. This is especially severe when a young woman wants to become a cloistered nun and parents resist “losing” her behind the grill. All of us can learn from this scene how St. John the Baptist was filled with the true spirit of Christmas. Not only had Christ increased in him but he wanted Christ to increase in others and didn’t that true Christian growth in others was something for which he needed to be jealous in the least. Rather it filled him with joy. As we draw near the end of the Christian season, we pray for all those we know that it may have been a season for them in which Christ in fact grew and we pray that God may use as instruments to help them to become more aware of Christ’s spousal love and to open themselves up as a bride to the one-flesh union the Bridegroom seeks in this world and forever.
  • Today, St. John the Baptist points out for us anew the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He points him out as the Bridegroom in the very act of the Eucharist by which Christ seeks to unite himself in one flesh with his Bride. And St. John rejoices at our Holy Communion today! We ask him to intercede for us that this Bridegroom we’re about to receive may increase within us in such a way that, like St. John, we might make straight the paths for others to enter into this same spousal communion, so that our joy, with his, and with God’s may be made complete.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 JN 5:14-21

Beloved:
We have this confidence in him
that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask,
we know that what we have asked him for is ours.
If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly,
he should pray to God and he will give him life.
This is only for those whose sin is not deadly.
There is such a thing as deadly sin,
about which I do not say that you should pray.
All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.We know that anyone begotten by God does not sin;
but the one begotten by God he protects,
and the Evil One cannot touch him.
We know that we belong to God,
and the whole world is under the power of the Evil One.
We also know that the Son of God has come
and has given us discernment to know the one who is true.
And we are in the one who is true,
in his Son Jesus Christ.
He is the true God and eternal life.
Children, be on your guard against idols.

Responsorial Psalm PS 149:1-2, 3-4, 5-6A AND 9B

R. (see 4a) The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Sing to the LORD a new song
of praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
let the children of Zion rejoice in their king.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let them praise his name in the festive dance,
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy upon their couches;
Let the high praises of God be in their throats.
This is the glory of all his faithful. Alleluia.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia MT 4:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death
light has arisen.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 3:22-30

Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea,
where he spent some time with them baptizing.
John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim,
because there was an abundance of water there,
and people came to be baptized,
for John had not yet been imprisoned.
Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew
about ceremonial washings.
So they came to John and said to him,
“Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan,
to whom you testified,
here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.”
John answered and said,
“No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.
You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Christ,
but that I was sent before him.
The one who has the bride is the bridegroom;
the best man, who stands and listens for him,
rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.
So this joy of mine has been made complete.
He must increase; I must decrease.”