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Monday, January 09, 2012

“John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The disciples said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’” (John 1:35-36, 38-39)

Lamb of God 

 January 15, 2012
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 1:35-42  Reading Here 
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

While we Christians firmly believe God to be near to us our next breath, it sure can be difficult to discover hard evidence to back up this conviction. And amid the bang and clatter of the culture, it’s doubly difficult to cull God’s reassuring whisper from the louder voices that promise much yet deliver little. Yes, the task of recognizing God in our midst is indeed difficult. And, as a humorous anecdote teaches, even those who are ministers of the Divine Presence are sometimes unrecognizable.

November 14, 2011 was the 15th anniversary of the Chicago funeral of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, surely one of the great figures of contemporary Catholicism. The homilist at the funeral Mass, Monsignor Kenneth Velo, was both long-time friend and personal secretary to Cardinal Bernardin. In the course of the homily, Velo spoke of Bernardin’s simple humanity:

“[Cardinal Bernardin] was a man of humility. He told a story [on himself] of being on vacation. He was far away from Chicago, dressed in casual clothes, walking the aisles of a grocery store to prepare for the evening meal. A man saw him [and exclaimed], 'Oh, I can't believe you're here. Do you have one minute to see my wife? She's in the parking lot – just one minute!' The cardinal said, 'He recognized me.' [Together they] walked down the aisle, walked through the grocery store turnstile [and] into the parking lot. The man said, 'My car is over there. There is my wife.' [They] walked up to the car. The man said, 'Helen, look who's here! Dr. Kresnick!'” (“National Catholic Reporter,” Nov 14, 2011)

Even the great personalities of our own day go unrecognized. I suppose, then, it’s no wonder at all that God remains so often unseen and unheard. Still, though, we believe firmly in his presence. And though the late Cardinal Bernardin was enthusiastically mistaken for the family dentist, yet was he one of those rare Catholic churchmen whose life-long ministry was, like that of John the Baptist, to point out the living, loving presence of the Lamb of God. As related in the gospel passage we hear today, “John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The disciples said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’” (John 1:35-36, 38-39)

Once recognized, the disciples left John to engage Jesus. And, as if begging an invitation, they asked, “Where are you staying?” And Jesus offered the simple invitation, “Come and see.” So they did. They followed. And while their faith was surely challenged often along the way, they trod the path his earthly footprints left in the sand.

But it’s a whole different challenge for us. We’ve taken up the same invitation as those first disciples, and while our desire to follow Jesus may be just as intense as was theirs, there are no clear footprints in the sand – or on the sidewalk, the street, on Google Maps or even traceable with a GPS.

But on second thought, maybe there are some clear footprints to follow – but they’re not those of Jesus. Rather, they are those of quiet ministers of the Divine Presence, those who gently bring us to the place where God lives. I met such a one while on retreat during Thanksgiving week with the Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts.

Of the 10 of us on retreat that week, one caught my attention right away: a man of about 40, with full black beard, robed neck to ankles in black, an ornate cross hanging from his neck, and his head covered with a black tight-fitting hood on which were embroidered 12 white stars. I imagined him to be a monk of middle-eastern origin, and when we spoke briefly while washing dishes after supper, he confirmed it, telling me he was a priest-monk of the Syrian Orthodox Church and pastor of a small congregation not far from the abbey.

Next morning at 6 AM, we all filed into the abbey church to join the Trappist community for Mass. At Communion time, while we nine Roman Catholic retreatants drowsily approached the altar, I noticed the Orthodox priest still in his choir stall, hunched over in prayer. I watched as he concluded his preparation with a triple Sign of the Cross, and then he removed his sandals before approaching the altar in bare feet to receive Communion. (cf. Canon 844:3, “Code of Canon Law”)

My peripheral vision spied him performing the same ritual each morning just before Communion time at Mass. Bows, blessings and bare feet readied him to meet Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

As he and I washed dishes together after each meal during the week – he had his sandals back on by now – I sensed the same reverence he exhibited in church. He spoke softly and with a smile, handled tableware gently, moved around the crowded kitchen unobtrusively. I began to suspect this Syrian monk was a man deeply anchored, a man whose footprints I ought to follow.

Yes, here was the pathway for me. This man knew exactly where he was going. Knew exactly who was both journey’s companion and journey’s end. Bows, blessings and bare feet readied him to meet Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist – and to meet him again in the mundane tasks of the kitchen and, I have no doubt, in every single person into whose eyes he looked.



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