“Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” Words from our Gospel today from the 1st chapter of the Gospel according to St. John – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
The feasts of Christmas take us deeper into the mystery of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, as Jesus is revealed as the Son of God and the Son of Mary, filled with the Holy Spirit as a light to all the Nations. We are holding onto the Christmas Spirit once again this year until the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd in our hymns and decorations and disposition. And yet, we now also transition into Ordinary Time, reflecting on the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, not only as Jesus ushered it in all those years ago, but as a reality among us still today, that God is at work among us right here, right now. To begin this period of time, we are presented with John the Baptist, who is given to us not so much in the role of Baptizer as we are used to, but rather as a witness to Jesus Christ, as he declares in the Gospel, “now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” Following John the Baptist’s encounter with Jesus in the Jordan River, his days of baptizing and preparing people to encounter the Messiah are numbered. John moves the spotlight off of himself and appropriately resituates our focus on Jesus. And as such, he receives a new role as a disciple and as an evangelizer. We talk in the Church about discipleship and evangelization, which can seem like loaded words and things that require formal training. It is very simple, actually:
- A Disciple is anyone who has encountered God, who has experienced grace for themselves; a disciple has witnessed something, seen something… And this changes us, sometimes in small ways, other times in big ways, but something about us is different, has grown in us, is part of our history, has settled in our souls. That experience of Jesus is an undeniable part of us now. As such, a disciple is someone who is “set apart” (which is the literal meaning of “holy”) by virtue of the experience of what they have seen in Jesus Christ. John the Baptist has seen the Son of God for himself and so John the Baptist has become John the disciple.
- And what of the role of evangelization? To evangelize then is simply to tell others about your experience. Sometimes, yes, this involves formal training of the Church’s teachings, but more often than not, it is simply telling others your story and sharing your experience. Your role is that of a witness – you are testifying to what you have seen. All that it takes to be a Catholic preacher is (1) to be baptized and then (2) to start talking about Jesus! That job belongs to all of us, not just the clergy in Church on Sundays.
That is what evangelization and discipleship are about, sharing what you have experienced. Tell your story. It’s that simple. It’s important to know about God. It’s important to know what the Church is about and what it stands for. And it’s just as important for others to know how you’ve been touched by God, what that has meant to you, the impact it has made on your life, why you come to Church. That is what will inspire others to seek out an experience of God for themselves. Like John the Baptist, say “I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” If you want a little inspiration and guidance on this, check out the video on Youtube, entitled, “Fr. Mike Shmitz on Evangelization.” We have posted the link on our Facebook page.
Anyway, amid the other happenings of life, because there are many, I want to share of two miracles we’ve all seen regarding Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills these last few weeks. The 1st Miracle, of course, is the answer to our prayers, that he was revived and continues to recover. That is a miracle. In this, we were all shaken and helpless and we are all relieved by the good news. We witnessed this. We know this. God became flesh and dwelt among us, and worked through the many people to bring about healing. But the 2nd miracle, I believe, is that a secular nation dropped to its knees to pray. In my short life, I don’t ever remember seeing our nation so united in prayer. Maybe 9/11, I don’t know. Did anyone see that coming? Did anyone think when they sat down on Monday night that they would be so apt to turn their thoughts and hearts to God, crying out for mercy and help? It was just a year ago that a head coach was sued and received national attention for praying on his own on the field after the high school games he coached. I saw this post the other day from a Roberta P., saying: “(quote) ‘When God doesn’t have your attention, he will disrupt what does.’ As a society, we have been so divided & unkind to each other. There has been so much unrest, hate & unforeseen tragedy. I was afraid we were starting to lose our humanity. So many of us have been heavy-hearted & trying to make sense of it all. I now realize… God is trying to get our attention by reminding us that we have a choice. When divided & self-serving we fall, but when we are united & selfless we can overcome the impossible. The latter was evident Monday night. Souls united in that stadium & across the world to pray for our Mafia family member & Buffalo Bill #3…Damar Hamlin. We held him up when he couldn’t himself. When we became one, it was the moment the healing began. I believe we witnessed the presence of God (end-quote).” That’s it. That’s discipleship and evangelization to a tee. She is echoing John the Baptist’s declaration for us in modern times: “I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” And she’s not the only one. Even the Quarterback had something to say from what he had witnessed, declaring publicly, “God is real.”
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist’s role had changed from Baptizer to witness because of what he experienced. The Church in the Modern World needs to do the same thing. Our role needs to expand into becoming more and more of a witness, of telling others the good things that we have seen and that have indeed experienced. It takes courage to do that, I know, but when’s the last time you told others about how God was moving in your life? St. Paul says we were called to be holy, yes, but we are also called to be apostles, those who are sent to share the good news of what they’ve seen and heard. Isaiah says, it’s too little to be a servant, we must become a light to the nations. John the Baptist told his story – it’s time we told ours.