Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Mass for Saturday after the Epiphany
January 11, 2014
1 Jn 5:14-21, Ps 149, Jn 3:22-30
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As we come to the end of the Christmas season, we return to the central point of Christmas, the intention for which we prayed in the Collect (Opening Prayer) of Christmas Mass during the day and which we reiterate every Mass at the offertory when the priest mixes a drop of water in a chalice of wine: that we may become sharers in the divinity of Him who humbled himself to share in our humanity. We prayed in the Collect of the Mass today that we in fact may grow in the likeness of Him in Whom our nature has been united to God the Father.
- That’s the attitude we see behind John the Baptist’s humble declaration at the end of today’s Gospel: “He must increase; I must decrease.” Living Christmas well, living the Christian life well, means wanting Christ to increase in us. For that to occur, we need to “decrease,” to “lose our life” so that we may share more his life, to decrease our will so that his will may be done, to speak of him more and ourselves less, to think of him more and ourselves less, to seek to glorify him instead of ourselves. To want Christ to increase, to magnify the Lord, should be the aspiration of every Christian.
- For this to occur, we have to battle against the temptations to put ourselves in God’s place. That’s why St. John the Evangelist, at the end of the first reading, tells, “Little children, be on your guard against idols.” We make idols of ourselves, of things or people we desire. When they increase in our life, God decreases and sometimes even disappears. In order to grow in Christ’s likeness, we need to eliminate our idolatry. In a deep sense, all sin is idolatry, in which we choose to worship something instead of God. The devil is always seeking to have us idolize something or someone, even something or someone quite good, as the way to make God decrease in our life.
- Throughout St. John’s first letter, that battle in the heart of man between worship of God and idolatry is a prominent theme. It concludes with today’s reading, as St. John tells us once again, “We know that anyone begotten by God does not sin, … and the Evil One cannot touch him.” Earlier in his letter, he stresses that indeed the one begotten by God cannot sin. But he also affirms at the beginning of the letter that if we say we do not have sin, the truth is not in us and we make God a liar. Put together, the two affirmations remind us that part of ourselves live as begotten of God and part of ourselves live enslaved to the evil one, part of us worships God in action and part of us seeks idols, part of us wants God to increase, and the other part wants ourselves to increase. We might be very generous with the Lord to the point of being like the widow with her might, but our tongue may be under the sway of gossip. We might be a tremendous good Samaritan in caring for a sick loved one, but we may also be enslaved to resentment, or to alcohol, or to vanity.
- The key in Christian life is to respond to God’s grace to have more and more of our life be “begotten” by God and less and less to the Evil One. We want Christ to increase. There’s a very important distinction in today’s first reading between “deadly” or mortal sin, and a non-fatal version for which St. John calls us to pray in others (what in Christian tradition we’ve called “venial” which comes from the Latin for “easily forgiven”). The first step in growth in the Christian life is to replace any mortal sins to which we are drawn with the type of love for God and for others that is contained in the commandment we’re breaking in mortal sin. Instead of lying, we replace it with the truth out of love for God and others. Instead of coveting, we replace it with joy because of the blessings others have received. Instead of self-gratification, we replace it with loving self-sacrifice. Once we can with God’s grace overcome the idols underneath mortal sin, then we can begin to confront the smaller deviations from true worship of God contained in the venial sins and in imperfections. Once we’re behaving as begotten by God in the big stuff, then we can begin to ask God to increase in the other areas of our life as well.
- But when the passion of our life is to see Christ increase, we also want to see him increase in others. That’s why St. John in the first reading asks us to pray for others. It’s also contained in St. John the Baptist’s joy and phrase in the Gospel when he calls himself the Friend of the Bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom is the Hebrew idiom for “best man,” and his role was to guard and protect the bride. He was the trustworthy one who kept an eye on the woman during the time of the espousal and after the exchange of consent while the bridegroom was working to pay for the reception and to support their common life. He was also the one who during the wedding reception, after the bride entered the bridal chamber to prepare to receive her bridegroom and consummate the marriage, would prevent any other men from entering into the darkness of the tent and take advantage of her. That’s the role St. John played for Christ, preparing the bride, guarding her, as the trustworthy best man who would never take advantage of her for himself. It would have been humanly very easy for St. John to have continued to have Christ’s bride follow him around at the Jordan, but when the Bridegroom, Jesus, came, he very humbly pointed Him out to the bride and rejoiced when others began to unite their lives to the Bridegroom. Likewise, in the Christian life, we should seek, as a friend of Jesus the Bridegroom, to have him increase in the lives of those we know. Parents and grandparents should seek to protect their family members and should rejoice when they grow in the love of the Lord, even and especially when they say yes to a call to dedicate their entire life to Him in the priesthood or consecrated life. We should seek to have Christ grow in the life of our friends, even if that means they’ll have more time in prayer and less time for leisure with us.
- Christ must increase, we must decrease. That’s the path by which we live as true friends of the Bridegroom. That’s the path by which we become more and more Christ’s bride, uniting more and more of our life to His. Today, the friend of the Bridegroom John the Baptist once again points out Christ as the Lamb of God, taking away our sins and helping us to live as begotten sons and daughters of the Father. It’s here where that Bridegroom seeks to grow within us through our becoming one flesh in loving union with him. John the Baptist rejoices still at this holy conjunction! Blessed are those who are called to this wedding banquet of the Lord!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 JN 5:14-21
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.
PS 149:1-2, 3-4, 5-6A AND 9B
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.
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.
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.
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.”