Let us look at the scenario, it is around 30 A.D. This wild man who grew up on the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey appears on the scene. Few remember who he is from the past. His parents are dead and they only know that he grew up in the desert.
He starts screaming out that all must change their way of living, they must repent of their sins and get right with God. He offers this unique ritual to endorse their commitment where he brings them into the Jordan River and dunks them completely under water and brings them up again. However, he is looking for people with total commitment. He chastises those who are just going through the motions and blesses those who are totally committed.
He is aware probably through his mysticism that everything that is in Jerusalem will change. Everything that many see and put their faith into will be destroyed. The temple, the Jewish way of life in Jerusalem and the peace of some degree between the Jews and the Romans will change radically all by the end of the century. So, his words and his action have a sense of urgency to them like it is all going to happen tomorrow.
Something you will always hear me say is that whenever we see John Baptist arrive on the scene and then Jesus we must always keep in mind a big clock.
This clock counts down from 40 years and when it reaches zero everything that the Jews hold dear will be destroyed. The temple is destroyed by the Romans never to be built again and they wipe the Jewish state off the map, not to exist again until 1948.
What John the Baptist predicts and does in calling people to return to their faith was not just words. He was speaking the powerful truth. Their whole world, their civilization, their culture was going to radically changed. Their temple and country would be destroyed.
This is who he is in preparing the Jews of the time for the coming of Jesus. He does not even know for sure that it is Jesus who is the Messiah, but he knows the Messiah is coming.
Now the question is who is the John the Baptist today? Who foresees trouble ahead and calls people to convert to know Christ, to repent, to come back to the Church today? You and Me. This is what our mission is and has been since the day we were baptized. We are all about calling people to repentance and to bring people to know Christ that they may be saved, this is especially today because it is obvious that our world, which is always changing, is close to another period of change.
There are problems in the Church, but there were problems in the Temple then and John the Baptist did not just call for the temple leaders to change, actually he expected that they would not, he called for the people to return to the Father.
Our mission is to be the signs of Christ coming and Christ’s presence and you have a unique position here. I literally mean you. You are one of two parishes in the whole world that is surrounded by Harvard. Harvard is a world class university and your presence can affect parts of the whole world because people from all over the world come here and are touched by this university that surrounds us. There are others too: we are near Boston University, not far from MIT, Radcliffe and Lesley and on the other side of Allston/Brighton from Boston College.
All these places are world class operations and we are surrounded by them. We have a calling to live in such a way that by our lives we will preach the Gospel.
Pope John Paul II explained sometime ago about how our world is defining the dispute between the flesh and the spirit as indicated by St. Paul.
We see in our world what the Saint and Pope called anti-religious materialism. This means that many reject our faith because they do not believe in anything that cannot be seen or experienced physically. Many are preaching a philosophy that grew up in this area from the 1960’s that says that God is dead and, therefore, we must reject God. Others embrace our faith completely.
You literally are called to be prophets to those who may have been Catholic at one point but now no longer believe. They have embraced this anti-religious materialism and live a with no faith.
Dietrich Von Hildebrand who was a powerful Catholic philosopher against Hitler in NAZI Germany said that he knew his country was in trouble when the people stopped believing in the eternal. They only believed in anti-religious materialism.
Pope Leo XIII in 1891 warned that any political system rooted in this philosophy is dangerous. By default it says that there is no other god in this world but us. Yet, that was the temptation of the Devil to Adam and Eve. Do not accept God’s authority, you be gods. This is the temptation that embodies anti-religious materialism and it is not far from what you see St. John the Baptist preaching against today in the Gospel.
In the news in a newspaper the Hill, I read that a reporter for MSNBC proclaimed that her life is meaningless if people do not believe in climate change. She has no meaning in her life otherwise. This is the fruit of a world that believes that God is dead. They do not understand the meaning of life.
You have been called to be God’s agents to the people who need to know of Christ. Who need to know where to go if the world changes radically. They need to know that there is salvation, there is Heaven and yes there is Hell. You have been called to live your faith so that they know, but you cannot do it, if you do not know.
Live your faith, call people to know Christ acknowledge your own sins and repent and let that be the door to knowing Christ more powerfully as it was for the people whom John baptized.
Photo: commons.wikimedia.org Anagoria; John the Baptist by Gregorio di Lorenzo; Bodemuseum Berlin
Please feel free to share this homily with others. If you have questions or comments, please come to discuss them at St. Anthony parish 43 Holton St. in Allston. Weekend Masses in English are Saturday afternoon at 4:00 and Sunday Morning at 10:00. Brazilian Portuguese Sundays at 8:00am and 7:00pm.