What were you born to do?

Published on 24. Jun, 2012 by in Sunday Homilies


What were you born to do? - St. John the BaptistI’m not sure if that is a single character in all of the Scriptures who invokes the image of a prophet more clearly in our minds than John the Baptist. We picture him, I think, as an amalgam of all of the gospel accounts: dressed in camel’s hair, living in a desert, looking a little wild-eyed and crazy. We hear the famous words that he spoke and that the gospel writers speak about him. John “prepared the way of the Lord,” made the “rough ways plain, lowered the mountains and raised the valleys” so that our God could come to us more easily and abundantly. John cried out to all who would listen, calling them to repentance for their sins, even as he calls us to end our religious hypocrisies. It was what John was born to do.

Our Scriptures this weekend describe how God prepared John for his task: not just in the great story of the angel and Zechariah and the naming of John, but also in the poetry of the first reading, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” So John grows up, knowing that the hand of God was upon him. Hearing the stories (perhaps way too often when Zachariah had one too many) of the awe inspiring events around his birth with the question everyone is asking: “What will this child be? – John knows something is afoot. John knows that he has been born for God’s task of pointing to Jesus.

What the church proclaims about these great figures is also what we believe to be true about us. From the beginning of time, the same Love that created us, has been calling us and preparing us to put our lives at the service of love in our world. You and I were born to do something. God has been preparing us to proclaim the presence of Love in our midst, calling us to share more deeply in his life and inviting us to witness to that love. That part is settled – what we are born to do is to be beloved sons and daughters. HOW we do that, what shape that takes, that is a bit more difficult to ascertain. How do we know what we were born to do?

Sometimes it is an internal call we heed. Some people always knew they were supposed to be a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a lawyer. Or a priest. There was never a question in their mind about that. (I hated those people because I never had that kind of certainty.) John seemed to always know: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Others discover what they are to do in the events of their lives. Sr. Helen Prejean, of Dead Man Walking fame, never set out to be an advocate for people on death row or for abolishing the death penalty. She just became a pen pal of an inmate at the request of a friend. “Pretty soon, that little stream joined a bigger and bigger one – and now I find I’m traveling the world – trying to be the face of love to victims and killers alike.” It is the unfolding of our personal history in all those seemingly insignificant choices that teach us what we were born for.

And sometimes, it is the course of history that helps shape us. I think of the men and women of what Tom Brokov called the greatest generation – those who were called to fight in WWII. They had ordinary dreams – to fall in love, to wed, to raise children, to enjoy old age. Yet, when history’s stage called, they responded.
We are in the middle of another of those defining moments in our country’s history. As you know, our Bishops have invited us to a Fortnight for Freedom – Fourteen days, leading up to the celebration of Independence day, where the church asks us to pray for our most cherished liberty, that of religious freedom. And that is more than just the freedom to worship, but the freedom to exercise our beliefs in the public square free from interference. There are worrying measures threatening our religious freedom on the state and national level – such as laws which would prohibit the spiritual and charitable assistance given by the church to undocumented immigrants. On the national level, the health care mandate that would require employers, including Catholic agencies, to provide insurance that violates our belief in the sanctity of life. To that end, there is an insert in the bulletin, a link to the Archbishop’s video in the pastor’s pen, as well as other concrete action steps in the bulletin, giving practical ways to on where and how to respond and a blue prayer card at the entrances of church, to pray daily with your family.

You know, I’m pretty sure that John the Baptist is the only other person aside from Jesus whose birthday celebration bumps the regular Sunday readings. I’m not sure historically why John’s birth is given such importance in the Church’s calendar. But I’d like to think that it is because John’s birth reminds us that we are all born to do something amazing for God. We are all born to prepare the way of the Lord. Through the intercession of St. John, may we have a share in the courage he knew, so we can do what we were born to do…

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Are you usually able to see “the whole picture” of a situation?

In a conversation out in the hallway before a philosophy class, one of my professors gave me this bit of info. He said simply: “Kempf, you know well the things you know.” It was a perceptive statement about what and how I see the world. What he was telling me was that I, like many people, am very good at seeing and observing the things right in front of me. I ‘get’ those things. (The Native Americans would call that a ‘mouse’ personality which is the opposite of the eagle, soaring high, aloof, but seeing EVERYTHING spread out below it. The mouse personality is warm, excitable, caring, but focused on only what you can see right in front of you.) I am good at what is right in front of me.

But I am in awe of the people who can see the same things right in front of them and who somehow are instantly able to put it into a broader perspective. They are able to see “the whole picture”

Sometimes we don’t see the whole picture. Sometimes we only see what is right in front of us, or only get things half right. That certainly is the case in this Sunday’s Gospel. There the disciples tell Jesus the ‘right in front of them’ answers to his question. Elijah, John the Baptist, one of the prophets – all of them great figures in Israel’s history. Peter’s reply is even more hopeful and more ‘present to what is right there”: You are the CHRISTOS – the anointed one, the one who would restore the political fortunes of Israel.

Yet rather than commending Peter’s answer – Jesus tells the disciples to keep the answer to themselves. Don’t say anything until you are sure you see the WHOLE PICTURE. I am the anointed, but I “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” And you who would respond to my question about who I am –must be prepared to take up your cross and follow me. To see ALL that is to see the WHOLE PICTURE.

When it comes to understanding Jesus as “the Christ of God” the tendency is to only see part of the picture. We readily accept Christ’s message about forgiveness, love, compassion, mercy, and eternal life, but we miss his message about denying ourselves, taking up our cross each day, and losing our lives in service to our neighbor and in faithful obedience to God. It is easy not to ‘see’ the whole picture because it involves suffering and sacrifice.

Perhaps an interesting way to pray for the grace to see the whole picture is to do a little behavioral examination of conscience using that question of Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”

What does my attendance at Sunday mass say about who Jesus is? (There is a great article by Archbishop Carlson on the third commandment in this week’s review – I recommend reading it in this regard.) Does it reflect my love for him, my devotion and commitment?

Who do I say Jesus is in the humor that I choose to pass on, the movies I choose to let my eyes see, the ‘tabloid stuff’ that I read?

Who do I say Jesus is in the prejudices I still nurture, the judgments I utter, and the gossip I pass on in the office or at the pool?

Who do I say Jesus is – in the prayers that I say and the time I set aside to spend with the Lord? Do my behaviors there say to Jesus that he is my Lord and Savior, my brother and my friend?

Finally, Who do I say Jesus is in the forgiveness I offer my fellow human beings; the charity I extend to those in need, and the compassionate concern I show to those whose life has taken an unexpected turn for the worse?

My hope is when you look at those things – you’ll have the grace of seeing the whole picture, of your life in Christ, how that effects your life here on earth, and how his love for you calls you to life here at this Eucharistic table…

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