“This is Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday because we are close to the celebration of the birth of our savior recognizing the coming of the God-man in that babe of Bethlehem and yet we are still in the time of preparation and so once again we are invited to reflect upon John the Baptist. The reason we have the readings about John the Baptist is not just to recall that time before Christ’s public ministry when John preached, but it’s also to think about our own role today in preparing the way for Christ. Last week we listened to John as he proclaimed the fact that Jesus would come and baptize with the Holy Spirit and we have been baptized with that Holy Spirit. We share in that very life of God himself. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. We have that tremendous mission and call in this life and we know that we are heirs to eternal life by our fidelity to Christ Jesus and so that’s part of our salvation, but this week we go with John for a little different reason and that is to reflect upon the fact that John had a mission. John was to prepare the way of the Lord. He was the voice crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight His path.’ and that challenge that all of us have of preparing the way for Christ to come into the life of others. We are not baptized just for our own personal good. It’s not only about my salvation that I was baptized, that you were baptized, but rather that we might also continue the mission of Jesus that we might prepare the way for Jesus. John the Baptist was phenomenal and he had such an integrity of life that he prepared the way for the Messiah to come and he preached, ‘No I’m not the Christ.’ He didn’t claim to be God. He didn’t claim to be the Messiah nor the prophet or Elijah, but rather he said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out, prepare the way of the Lord.’ and that’s our vocation. That’s our mission as well is to prepare the way of the Lord so that God’s grace may be operative within our world today to prepare that way so that others can be responsive to that call of Christ Jesus that one whom John refers to as being in our midst, but we don’t recognize him. We don’t see him yet. There’s so many people in our world who don’t really know Christ Jesus and it is our call to prepare the way for Christ’s grace to touch them within their lives and I think that there’s two ways in that. One is, just like with the Chiefs this afternoon, you’ve got to have a defense. If we don’t have a defense, we’re going to get trampled and I think sometimes we as Catholics tend to be pretty weak in our defense. So often we’re just quiet when the Church is criticized. Yeah we know the Church is not perfect because it is composed of human beings, but I don’t know any human organization that is totally perfect. No, we are not perfect, but we also have the gift of the Holy Spirit and we can speak up, we can speak back, we can defend and explain. We need a good defense. Sometimes, we Catholics tend to be a little milk toast. We tend to be a little too passive and please understand what I’m trying to say here, but sometimes we’ve gotta fight back. We gotta speak out. We’ve gotta make things known and we have to be confident enough in the hope that is ours to be able to do so. That is so very important, but even more important than a good defense is a good offense. A good offense makes it possible for us to move forward and that offense is not offensive. The offense that we have is living our faith more fully with greater integrity of living it with a willingness to witness to others and to share faith with them that that is the call that we have. It’s really relational. That’s what evangelization is, it’s about relations.
One of the things that I’ve always been privileged to do is to sit down and talk with many of our people in our RCIA and I’ll usually ask them, ‘Why are you interested in becoming a Catholic?’ And the range of reasons is all over the ballpark, but fundamentally it’s about that they have a relationship with someone, some friend, somebody who’s been an example, a model for them and they’ve kind of said, ‘I want what you have.’ and they appreciate so many different things about the Catholic Church about our Apostolic succession, our fidelity to Christ throughout the centuries. They refer to the social service that’s provided by the Church, how the Church reaches out in compassion and care in so many different ways through various Catholic institutions and just through the individual lives of people inflamed with the Gospel willing to sacrifice to show love for the less fortunate. They’re impressed often with the teaching of the Church and the fidelity to a Gospel of life in the midst of a gospel of darkness. We live at a time in which death is in a sense elevated rather than disdain and we proclaim a Gospel of life. That’s a good offense is to know why we proclaim that Gospel of life for each and every human person from conception to natural death, how important that is. It is relational though and we need to be willing to develop those relationships with other people to share, to model a way of life. That’s what John the Baptist did in his life. Yes, he preached a lot out loud and I’m not sure that we need to really preach out loud as it’s so often said, ‘What you do speaks more loudly that what you ever say and so we are called not so much to say it as to live it to live that life of fidelity. What a tremendous example we have in John the Baptist who was willing yes, to defend, but more importantly he proclaimed the Good News: the Savior is coming. The Savior is Christ Jesus. That’s the message for each and every one of us. May we follow that example of John the Baptist being faithful not only to our own baptism but to our mission of preparing the way for Christ.”