Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sermon for Gaudete

Gibbons' motet "This is the record of John" is a favourite of mine, and tells the first half of to-day's Gospel; Terra had this version of it embedded on her blog, and I think I'll do the same:

Here's the text of the anthem, based on St John i, 19-23:

This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not, and said plainly, I am not the Christ.
And they asked him, What art thou then? Art thou Elias? And he said, I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered, No.
Then said they unto him, What art thou? that we may give an answer unto them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.

And this is the text of the continuation of the Gospel as used at Mass:

At that time: 
The Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to John, to ask him: Who art thou?  And he confessed, and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ.  And they asked him: What then? Art thou Elias? And he said: I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered: No.  They said therefore unto him: Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself?  He said: I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias.  And they that were sent, were of the Pharisees.  And they asked him, and said to him: Why then dost thou baptize, if thou be not Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet?  John answered them, saying: I baptize with water; but there hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not.  The same is he that shall come after me, who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.  These things were done in Bethania, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

(St John i, 19-28)

As Fr Rowe pointed out in his homily this day, we can draw valuable lessons from this Gospel passage.  St John the Baptist is asked, "Who art thou?" (St John i, 19b) - we ought ask ourselves the same question.  Do we always tell the truth?  Do we know how wicked it is to lie, and how strictly that sin must be punished?  Do we tell the truth about ourselves - to ourselves?

We are each one of us a Christian, with an immortal soul and a mortal body.  But do we pamper the latter, which shall sink into the grave, and neglect the former, which shall either reign with Christ or suffer with Satan evermore?  Do we live as becomes Christians, or are we as much enslaved to the spirit of the world as those unhappy souls around us?  For without adherence to the law of Christ, His most sweet yoke, His most sacred reign, all is restless and disordered, whether in society at large or in our divided hearts.  Do we recognize ourselves as sinners, and do we therefore do penance and make a good confession, especially here and now in this holy season of Advent?  Do we prepare our hearts to meet Christ at Christmas? yea, do we at this time and at this moment welcome Christ into our hearts; or is there "no room at the inn" (cf. St Luke ii, 7)?  

Do we possess any of the three degrees of humility that John the Baptist demonstrated?  That is - do we avoid pridefully exaggerating our true worth, as when the Baptist declared "I am not the Christ" (St John i, 20), though the Jews were at that time in expectation of the long-promised Messiah, and would almost believed him to be the One who was to come? and do we furthermore desire to be less esteemed than we could be, as John did when he said he was not Elias (St John i, 21), even though Our Lord later testified that the Baptist had indeed come in the spirit and power of Elias (St Luke i, 17)? and do we even accept humiliations and reverses when valued very little, as when John accepted being criticised for baptizing persons (St John i, 25): are we not rather indignant when our perceived self-worth is discounted?  

And what of Christ - can it be said of us what the Baptist told that delegation of the Jews, "there hath stood One in the midst of you, Whom you know not" (St John i, 26b)?  Do we know Our Lord - in His doctrine and in His teachings, in His Church and in His Sacraments, in the very Sacrament of the Altar?  Are we faithful sons of Holy Church, eager to feed our souls on sound doctrine, or contrariwise enemies thereof by our scoffing disbelief?

Appropriately sober warnings for this Advent Sunday!

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