16Jan Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Is 49:3, 5-6. During the Exile, the prophet prepares his oppressed neighbours for the coming of a liberator whom God would send to save them, and to be a light for all nations.

1 Cor 1:1-3. Paul’s opening greeting to his Christian converts in Corinth. They are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints.

Jn 1:29-34. John the Baptist announces Jesus to the world as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – and the one who will baptise us with the Holy Spirit.

Theme:

Do we take our membership of the Church as baptised Christians as a priveleged mark of identity? Do we realise that we are all “called to be saints,” linked to our fellow believers, world-wide?

Intercessions (Bidding Prayers)

We pray:
for pastors and priests that they may live up to their callings, and faithfully serve the people of God.
for parents and teachers that they may hand on true human values and sincere religious faith to their children.
for our departed parents and friends who handed on the faith to us.
That the light of our faith may dispel all darkness of hostility, injustice and unbelief in our society.

Taking Stock! (Patrick Rogers)

Two thoughts dominate this Sunday: first, John’s dramatic call to behold the Lamb of God; second, that we have just finished Christmas and are beginning a new year. With regard to beginning the new year there is the sense of the need to take stock, to look at where we are going, and to make the inevitable “resolutions” that might raise the quality of this coming year.
The Baptist asks us to take stock and make changes; to ask what are we fundamentally about and then seek to reset our lives. As active Christians are we able to recognise Jesus Christ? Is he a focus in our lives or just out on the edges? Is he the one we look to for help in time of need, for guidance in our doubts?

An honest stock-taking of our fundamental situation that is offered here may contrast with the ego-centric way we usually conduct our lives. We need to recognise something outside of and larger than us, the God who cares for us, and for the whole human community in which we are involved. Can we listen to John’s call to restore what is broken, and Jesus’ call, to bring light to the world? Do we see that it is with our willing help that the Lamb can remove the “sin of the world?”

Facing deeper truths is always difficult; it calls us to not just drift along with this world’s evil, as the line of least resistance. Discipleship is urgent and costly, but it is also possible and is the way towards the deeper joy and fulfilment that we seek. If we properly hear the Baptist in his solemn act of witnessing to Christ, then our response will be a stock-taking that goes to the root of our being. It may even reveal to us the truth that sets us free.

There Is The Lamb Of God (Liam Swords)

There are somethings that can only be explained by their history. Take two Catholic countries like Ireland and France. The rate of church-attendance in France is about 16% nationwide, while the figure for Ireland hovers round 80%. The decline in France dates from the period of the French Revolution. In 1789, when the French rose up against the ancient régime their decadent church was identified with the oppressive system and was so targetted by the revolutionaries. Ireland and its church had a completely different history. Because we were an occupied country and that occupier was Protestant, the Catholic church there was on the side of the people against the oppressor. The church emerged from our history in a favourable light when we gained our independence at the beginning of this century.

When one considers what is happening in eastern Europe today a similar pattern emerges. The remarkable series of revolutions which toppled the communist governments in countries from Poland to Rumania and even within the Soviet Republics themselves, all have one thing in common. Religion played a significant if not dominant role in their liberation. Unlike the French Revolution, the churches there were on the side of the victors. What kept the spirit of liberty alive all during that period of communist totalitarianism was religion. It was the Catholic Church in Poland. In East Germany it was the Protestant Churches. The protests first began around the church in Leipzig. The Russian Orthodox also played its part. And it must have been similar in those other Russian Republics about which so little is known except that some sixty million Muslims live there. In all these places an alliance was formed between the political dissidents and the churches which finally brought about the collapse of communism.

These churches played a truly prophetic role. The purpose of the Christian Church is to reveal Christ to the people. The eastern churches seem to have fulfilled their purpose well in spite of persecution. I lived for a year in Rome with a Ukrainian who worked as an engineer under the communist regime, while he carried out his ministry as a priest in secret after a long hard day at his job. In fact, he was consecrated as a bishop underground. He came to Rome now to learn theology.

The role of John the Baptist was to reveal Christ. As he said, “it was to reveal him to Israel that I came.” Today’s gospel describes him bowing out when Jesus arrived. “Look,” he said, “there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Ever since, these words have -been enshrined in the Mass when the priest holds up the consecrated host just before communion.

All Christians are called to perform this prophetic role and nobody more than those who have others in their care. Above all parents whose duty is to introduce their children to Christ, to hand on the faith to them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, young people who give up the practice of their religion were put off it by their parents. What they saw they didn’t like. It is no wonder we speak nowadays about a credibility gap.

The response to the psalm is a little prayer that sums up our roles as Christians: Here I am Lord! I come to do your will.

Passing on Light (John Walsh)

In the readings today we have two sayings which can be applied in a special way to Christ, the first from as far back as seven hundred years in the Old Testament era, “I will make you the light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth,” the second from Christ’s contemporary, John the Baptist, “Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.” We can say that these point equally to each one of us, who are followers of Christ, for we are called to be a light to the nations, and also to give witness that Jesus, the Chosen One of God, is still continuing his mission of salvation. With the absolute certainty that comes from our religious belief in the truth of the gospels, we can say that the risen glorified Christ is present here and now. He is present in the Church in a special way, in the celebrations of the liturgy, in the sacrifice of the Mass, in particular in the Eucharistic species in the Tabernacle, in his word, since he himself speaks when the Scriptures are read in church, present when the Church prays and sings. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).

That saying, incidentally, makes quite clear also the importance and the real necessity of being part of the worshipping and believing community, as against those who would claim that they are quite capable of working out their own salvation, while remaining apart from that community. However Christ comes to all of us as One unknown, as once he came to those by the lakeside in Galilee who as yet did not know him. “Follow me,” he said to them, “and I will make you fishers of men.” And to those who answer this call, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the hardships, the conflicts, the sufferings which they will encounter in doing so, and in return, as an indescribable mystery, they will learn from their personal experience who he is.

Jesus’ ministry began in Galilee, and it was not something static, but rather a dynamic crusade. He never said, “I have come to teach,” but “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled” (Lk 12:49). This fire is that which sets apart and purifies those meant for the kingdom. He was not some high-minded teacher calmly indoctrinating people with words of wisdom, but rather the strong Son of God, spearheading an attack against the devil and all his works, and calling on people to make up their minds on which side of the battle they would be. “It was to destroy all the devil had done that the Son of God appeared,” St John wrote (1 Jn 3:8). And during those three short years of his public preaching there was a tremendous sense of urgency about everything he did and said. “There is a baptism I must receive, and how great is my distress till it is over,” was how he described his task (Lk 12:50). How are we to respond, we should ask ourselves, to his call?

The first assembly of the Council of Churches met in Amsterdam in 1948, and issued a report, agreed upon by all, which begins from basics, and states what every Christian believes. It proclaims our Lord Jesus Christ to be our God and Saviour, the Son of God made man, who gave the Holy Spirit to dwell in his Body the Church. Always keep in mind that Church is never to be equated with the small group that exercise a ministerial role within it, much less so with the hierarchy that directs that group. What was handed on of the teaching of Christ by the Apostles, the report states, comprises everything that serves to make the people of God grow in faith and live their lives in holiness. In this way the Church in her doctrine, in her life and in her worship, preserves and hands on to every generation all that she herself is, and all that she believes.

But Christ is not only the one we remember and experience from our links with the past. He is the one who brightens our future, who stands on the shores of time and beckons to us. So we can say that every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist together, not only are we made mindful of the past, but we are, as St Paul said, proclaiming his death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26). For by his death he continues to honour and worship God the Father, to make atonement for our sins, to intercede for us and for others, and to ask the Father’s blessing on all who have gone before us. And when the time comes for us to follow them, God grant that each of us may be able to say with John the Baptist, “I have seen, and I am the witness that Christ is the Chosen One of God.”

Son and Servant (Anthony O’Leary)

Each year the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which shows Jesus as the Son who fulfils the vocation of the Servant, is followed by a section of John’s Gospel that underlines the mysterious relationships involved in the life of Jesus. John’s deep theological eye penetrates the external events and delights in contemplating the realities of Jesus’ Mission, both in time and in eternity from the Father. So one option would be to speak about the sending of Jesus as the revelation of the Father in our human nature. One could draw out the great love of God who went to such extremes to reach to our level that he become one like us. An example could be taken from the practice in teaching of measuring the lesson to the capacity of the class and slowly developing the skills and knowledge of the pupils. Over the long period of the Old Testament, God worked in developing the ability of his people to understand and love him through the great religious leaders that he sent to the Hebrew people. But in Jesus God shows us his own utterance of himself, the Word in our human life. In Jesus we see God touching our sickness and sharing our weakness, sitting at the well asking the Samaritan woman for a drink.

Another option would be to take up the Servant figure of the first reading and to apply the final words of the reading about the servant being the light of the nations and develop the role of the Church in the world today as put forward in the document on the Church from Vatican 11. One could use the analogy of light as what enables us to see other things, but no something that we look at. People do not stare at the sun or at electric light bulbs, yet these are indispensable to us to live our lives with ease. The Christian community is called to show the real values in human living and to point the way for people to happiness. One could use the great phrase of the pastoral constitution about sharing the joys and hopes of mankind and giving direction to humanity’s aspirations. The Church, the local community is expected to be Christ in the midst of the world of today. The Pauline reading would help in this development as it shows the community as consecrated to God in Christ and being the recipient of God’s blessing of grace and peace.

Growth and Renewal (Jack McArdle)

Saint Padre Pio was a man associated with great and many sufferings. One of his greatest crosses in life was the excitement that ensued whenever he appeared. After Mass each morning, he used go up to the organ loft and spends several hours in prayer. Unfortunately, from where he was those in the church below could see him. When they began pointing to him, and shouting requests to him, he always became quite agitated, as he pointed to the tabernacle, and withdrew from their sight. His role was to point to Jesus, to bring Jesus to people, and people to Jesus. As John the Baptist said, “I must decrease if he is to increase.” A signpost points towards a place, but it cannot compel you to go there. To see a signpost marked “Dublin” doesn’t entitle me to claim that I have been in Dublin!

John the Baptist has a special place in the story of salvation that was to be revealed through Jesus Christ. Jesus said of him: “I tell you there has never been a man, born of woman, who is greater than John the Baptist.” That is high praise indeed, especially coming from Jesus himself. John’s role was to prepare the way for Jesus. We are all familiar with times like Advent, Lent, etc., times when we prepare to celebrate some special occasion in the life of Jesus. Naturally, it is easy to see that our celebration of the feast will be directly effected by the effort put into the preparation.

The language of John in today’s gospel is unusually simple and direct. He is open and honest in telling us that he had no way of recognising who Jesus was, until he was given some clear evidence. He knew the Messiah was going to come, of course, but he had to wait for the sign so that he could identify him when he did come. The sign was the evidence of the Spirit coming upon Jesus and, indeed, he heard the Father’s voice saying that Jesus was his beloved Son, and people should listen to him. A strong identification with Jesus, who he is, and why he has come, is a pre-requisite for anyone hoping to evangelise, or to be evangelised themselves. That is the role of the church. In some ways, the church has been seen to have almost replaced Jesus, and to point to itself as the means of salvation. All present attempts at renewal in the church have to do with correcting this misconception.

Baptism has to do with entering into membership, with cleansing and purifying, and with being named. All of these things are part of belonging as a member of the Body of Christ. Baptism is the beginning of a journey. John was the one who began that journey. His form of baptism was limited, because it was about initiation. When Jesus came he would move beyond water, and baptise with the Holy Spirit. This signified a permanent and eternal relationship within the life of the Trinity. The fact that a priest pours water on the head of a baby gives no guarantee that the baby will grow up to become a Christian. At some stage or other, the grown-up baby must say yes to that baptism, so that Jesus can anoint with his Spirit, and bring his work to completion within that person.

John’s introduction is simple. “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” I think it important that we reflect on that statement. If Jesus takes away the sin of the world, then, of course, he can take away my sin. It can be meaningless to get caught up in generalities. For example, I can quote “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” and never get around to accepting the fact that God so loved me that he gave his only Son. How clear am I in my thinking about Jesus and the church? The gospel is about Jesus. Christianity is not about producing nicer people with better morals. I could be a pagan and be a good person. It is not about prayer and fasting. I could be a Muslim and do that. Christianity is about a person, Jesus Christ. The role of the church is simple. When Jesus ascended into heaven, when he returned to the Father, he took the body he had with him. He sent the Holy Spirit to complete his work, and he asks us to provide the hands, feet, voice, etc., through which the Spirit can do that work.

How confirmed do I actually feel as a follower of Jesus Christ? How real is my sense of vocation, of being called? This is purely the work of the Spirit, and this will never become a reality in my life until I open my heart and my mind to the Spirit, and declare my willingness to be anointed by the Spirit. Just as John recognised Jesus, sol should be recognised as a follower of Jesus. You are familiar with the question that if we were arrested and brought to the nearest police station, where we were charged with being Christian, how many of us would get off scot-free for lack of evidence? There is one pitfall open to all of us when we speak of church. We may fail to remember that we are the church. It is not a question of us sitting here, waiting for somebody out there, down in the bishop’s house, in Rome, or somewhere else to change. If change is to be real for us it must begin within our own hearts. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

It takes five years for the seed of a bamboo tree to show any growth above ground, and then it grows to a height of 90 feet in six weeks! Five years of preparation, of putting down roots, of spreading underground, so as to have access to plenty of food. And then, only then, does it take off. This is an extraordinary fact that requires reflection. The time spent with John the Baptist was preparing the people to meet and follow Jesus. It was like a novitiate. We all need such preparation and formation. The journey moves from information, to formation, to transformation. Surely any failure to grow spiritually in our lives is the result of a lack of genuine preparation, of spiritual formation. To live in the warmth of God’s love is a sure and certain way to grow.

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 49:3, 5-6

The Lord said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength- he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 1:1-3

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sos’thenes, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel: John 1:29-34

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”


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