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Father Muench Says...

Advent: of John the Baptist and Mercy

Dec. 16, 2015

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Advent means John the Baptist.  Each and every year as we, Catholics, prepare for Christmas, the Church’s liturgy turns to John the Baptist.

In those days, many people thought that John the Baptist was the long awaited Messiah.  John made it very clear that he was no Messiah.  He tells all that he has come to prepare the way for the Messiah, like an Elijah.  He makes it very clear that one greater than he is coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  John says, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

In St. Luke’s Gospel, the passage that was read on Sunday, there is recorded a dialogue between John and the people who came to him seeking baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  They are repenting and desire to change their lives  as they seek advice from John for a good life. 

I love this passage.  I can imagine this is just like a present day interview, like with a politician. For me, John’s challenging responses make more sense.

Some ordinary folks approach John asking, “What should we do?”  They are searching for advice for a conversion to a new life.  John’s response is simple “share” – so great!  He tells them to recognize the needs of those around them, to stop being so selfish, to “share.”  This will lead to a more dedicated, loving life.  John says, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food do likewise.”

Then – and can you believe this – the next person approaching John is a tax collector, who comes for baptism and seeks John’s advice.  I can imagine that nowadays this is someone who makes tax laws – rather like John is offering advice to a modern day politician.  He says, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”  Interesting advice, isn’t it.

Then, some soldiers approach John, asking, “And what is it that we should do?”  We could easily put in that group our police or other such groups.  So, picture John the Baptist being around today. Do you suppose anyone would bother to listen to him?

In those days, his advice was, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”  How would that advice go over these days?

Now, Pope Francis takes up St. John the Baptist’s banner.  He steps into a world filled with anger and violence to say, “Mercy.”

We have begun Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Pope Francis now challenges us to react to all that is happening in our world in a better way.  Rather than reacting with anger or violence Pope Francis call us to Mercy, to bring into our lives peace, understanding, even, forgiveness.

This Year of Mercy means that we must be ready to reach out to others with understanding.  This may not be easy for some of us. It will demand a great deal of prayer. It will demand a memory of just how much the Lord has done for us, how much the Lord’s love and forgiveness and Mercy has changed our own lives.

How many times God has given us new life over and over again?

Each time the celebrant at Mass prays the Third Eucharistic Prayer, he prays that all of God’s people will be united in God’s mercy, living and demonstrating that mercy.  The celebrant prays: “Listen graciously to the prayers of this family, whom you have summoned before you: in your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children scattered through the world.”  We are invited to join in an effort as Catholics to transform our world into mercy.

Reaching out in mercy means we are unafraid to be loving, even forgiving.

I would like to share with you a prayer written by Catherine Doherty (from God in the Nitty Gritty Life). 

“Hospitality of the heart means accepting others as they are, not as we would like them to be, and allowing them to make themselves at home in one’s heart.  To be at home in another person’s heart is to touch love.  It is through the love of our brothers and sisters in Christ that we begin to understand the love of God.”

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