The Gospel for yesterday’s Mass, the Mass of the third Sunday of Advent set John the Baptist before us – a witness to the Christ.
A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take bapck an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:
a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’
Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
The work of witness, of calling people to be attentive to Christ, the Light of the World, takes many forms.
A recurring theme of recent years is that the Western World is in need of a new call to such attentiveness. The recent letter of Pope Francis, the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), is one example of that concern being expressed. It was a regular theme of Saint John Paul II, and especially in the preparation for and celebration of the Millennium.
It is a matter being taken up afresh in Westminster diocese. Taken up not as a new programme, but as an invitation to explore further the depth of all that is presently done, to become newly attentive to how what we do and how we are relates to the person of Jesus, God with us.
A steering paper has been prepared to assist communities consider the why and wherefore of this invitation and how to respond to it. It will repay reading and praying with.
In the meantime the simple prayer of St Richard of Chichester helps move us in the right direction:
Thanks be to you, O Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the many gifts you have given us;
for all that you endured for love of us.
O most merciful redeemer,
friend and brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
Icon of John the Baptist from the church memorialising his birth in Ein Kerem, in the Holy Land.
Photograph (c) 2013, Allen Morris.