It is Sunday evening and I am still thinking about John the Baptist. Sunday morning Masses are over in New Zealand, but here in Chicago it is only 8 on Saturday evening. I should be reading some Sacramental Theology for class next week, but I am looking for distractions. Jotting down these ‘John the Baptist and change’ thoughts is the only distraction I can find before I meet others for a drink in an hour.
So if you are looking for a distraction too, take a moment to consider these ponderings.
Human beings cannot help but change. The only way to avoid change is to stop living. The one who is living is changing. And the one who is really really living, is changing often.
It is often said that some people find change easy and others prefer no change. I’m not sure that is accurate.
If you think you don’t like change, consider this: If life is difficult for you at the moment, aren’t you longing for a change for the better?
If you think you really like change: I don’t know of anyone who would not try to avoid a change for the worse.
We know the unavoidable pattern of change in all living things from the natural world. The garden changes daily, even if I do not touch or notice it. The weeds still grow. The winter branch blooms with the new buds of spring and the blooms of summer.
People often make the mistake of thinking of Catholicism as a religion that does not involve change. Many think of Church doctrine and law as being preserved in dusty tomes. Most tragically a common perception is that if one says yes fully to the Catholic faith, that person will be saying ‘no’ to growth and change, and therefore ‘no’ to fun and freedom.
Tragically, Catholic faith is too often misunderstood as being primarily about doctrines and laws that, if followed, will limit freedom and restrict life. Such a misunderstanding reduces the beauty of the life of Catholic faith, to a dry and deadly doses of moralism and legalism.
In this feast of John the Baptist we are reminded of the kind of change that is at the heart of Catholic faith. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples were Andrew (his name is given in the scripture), and John (tradition tells us this).
One day John the Baptist notices his cousin Jesus, whom he knows to be the Christ. At this moment John becomes the first witness to Jesus. He changes direction and points to Jesus proclaiming to Andrew and John: “behold, there is the Lamb of God.” John and Andrew are real searchers. Like us, they are not totally satisfied with every aspect of their present life. They move towards Jesus who asks what they are looking for. They ask him: “where do you live?”. Jesus responds: “come and see.”
From that moment their lives are changed forever. We know that Andrew was married. That night he probably returned to his wife and family, and John too might have headed back to his home.
I have no doubt that their families would have immediately noticed that something dramatic, life-changing had happened to John and Andrew. I’m imagining Andrew’s wife meeting him when he enters the house. Even before Andrew speaks, Mrs Andrew would have noticed…”what on earth has happened to you?” “You are different.” “What is it?”
This moment is the heart of the Catholic life of faith. You see, Catholic faith is not primarily about following a moral code of laws (at worst ‘moralism’ and ‘legalism’). Catholic Faith is focussed on a personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who is God.
For John and Andrew, from this moment of encounter with the person of Jesus, their lives changed in every way. Beforehand, keeping the Ten Commandments would have been a struggle for them. Now, in the same way as with the one who falls in love, nothing is a bother. The keeping of the commandments is the the fruit of a relationship, no longer a legal requirement.
The person who knows love, does not have to settle for keeping the letter of the law (which is always a struggle). Instead the change effected by love activates the life of the heart fully. How the spirit of the law is embraced. Adherence to the letter follows immediately and automatically.
In many ways the Second Vatican Council was a John the Baptist moment for the Church. Like John, the Council pointed Catholics back to the person of Jesus.
In the years prior to the Council, some lesser aspects of faith had taken a central position. Other, more essential, beliefs and practices had been set aside. Unfortunately people were often recognised as Catholics more because they did not eat meat on Friday rather than because they loved their neighbour and forgave their enemies. The sixteen documents that are the fruit of the Council clearly shift our focus back to the person of Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Faith is primarily about living in relationship with the person of Jesus Christ who is ‘God with us’. Just as Andrew and John were changed forever in this divine relationship, so too our lives truly become lives lived rather than existences endured, only when in relationship with Jesus Christ.
If you need to know if God is with you, there is a way. Many of you have heard me give this example before.
Take a moment to find your pulse. Either on your wrist or your neck. Feel that beat…
The beat you feel, you are doing nothing to create. This is the direct action of God, choosing (with every beat) to keep you in existence and to hold you in His loving embrace.
Therefore, like the first disciples of Jesus, we have nothing to fear. Never forget….God is with you.