Sunday Word

Pointing a finger

Father Ben Berinti
Sunday, Jan. 19
Is 49:3,5-6; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-10, 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

I suspect that it comes with age, but more and more I find myself recalling a variety of pithy childhood admonitions that were tossed my way in the course of growing up. Although, “tossed” is probably a kinder way of describing what in reality was most likely “knocked” into me.

One of those memorable admonitions, one I would wager many of you heard as well, was, “It’s not polite to point!”

Apparently, eschewing that moral directive, we confront John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. Numerous classic artistic renditions of John depict him with arm extended, and crooked, weathered, and elongated finger, pointing to Jesus. I particularly am moved by two painters, amazingly working around the same time (the late 1400s and early 1500s), who make this narrative scene come alive. Matthias Grunewald and Jacopo del Sellaio vividly capture the drama and the true identity of John, whose critical mission we learn is to show others the way to the Christ.

While the Church returns to the liturgical season of Ordinary Time this weekend, sacred Scripture for this Sunday indicates there is never anything “ordinary” about the lives of those who choose the respond to a summons to discipleship.

We continue reading from the great prophet of the Babylonian Exile, Isaiah, who in spite of much evidence to the contrary, uses his prophetic charism to enkindle hope in a despondent people. He declares that those whom God chooses are “servants,” whose primary purpose, direction and meaning in life is to “show God’s glory” through the way they conduct their lives. And this call to servant-witness doesn’t begin with a particular religious ritual, or a coming-of-age infusion of grace, or even a profound conversion experience, but rather its spark can be traced all the way back to having been “formed in the womb.”

We then listen in on the opening of Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians, where he immediately identifies himself as one “called to be an apostle.” Although we know of Paul’s rather over-the-top conversion spectacle, we might suspect that in the view of Isaiah, God’s working on Paul came much earlier than that fateful day in route to Damascus.

The Evangelist John begins his “infancy narrative” before the creation of the world, and then jumps right into the life of Jesus, whom we meet today via that infamous pointing finger: “Look, there is the Lamb of God!” Curiously, even as he is pointing to the Lord, the One whom he proclaimed was coming, the Baptist admits (twice for emphasis), “I did not know him.”

However, now that Jesus is passing by, he realizes his sole mission, the whole purpose of his baptism of repentance, and the entire focus of readying the way—is all about pointing to the Lord and making Jesus known.

This seems to be, in miniature, what our life as disciples and evangelizers is meant to be—to make known the Lord, the One who has entered our lives through water and the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps an element of that childhood lesson still works, but truth be told, we have inherited the Baptist’s role as “pointer.” We are called, formed and sent so that the glory of the Lord might shine through us, as we make Jesus known to a waiting world. It may be, according to our liturgical calendar Ordinary Time, but we live in a never-ending “Advent,” in as much as the Lord is always coming toward us and drawing us into a future yet to be born in and through him.

As this new year unfolds with each passing day, what are we “showing forth” in the way we live our lives each day? To what or whom are we calling attention, to what or whom are we “pointing?” More importantly, are these actions, decisions, and a way of life that are worthy of our deepest identity as sons and daughters of God?

Always a choice

Father Ben Berinti
Sunday, Jan. 12 The Baptism of the Lord
Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 29:1-4, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Mt 3:13-17

I suspect that by the time we are arriving at the Baptism of the Lord, the poinsettias, if there are any left, are but shabby remnants of their previous glory; the community is way past singing Christmas carols; and most, if not all, New Year resolutions have been thrown curbside along with other post-Christmas trash. What started out as positive choices for the unfolding year ahead, now are consigned to “well, at least I had good intentions!”

“Choice” is a word and reality woven throughout our sacred Scripture for this closing festival of the Christmas season. The prophet Isaiah waxes poetic in some of the most affirming words in all the Hebrew Scripture—God has chosen God’s servants, and God has done so in a tender, compelling and profound way. Hands are grasped and people are formed into radiant lights and steadfast covenants.

The Acts of the Apostles reaffirms that when it comes to the kind of choosing by God Isaiah illustrates in the first reading—there is no partiality. God chooses freely, widely, and surprisingly (at least it seems so to us in our narrow-mindedness and narrow-heartedness). Jesus goes about “doing good and healing” in order to remove the obstacles that prevent people from seeing just how much God loves them and chooses them for God’s purposes.

Finally, in the Evangelist Matthew’s rendering of the baptism of the Lord, he wants to make it clear that Jesus chooses to be baptized by John. It is such a surprising choice that even John tries to prevent it, but Jesus instructs him to allow it. Jesus chooses to align himself not only with John’s preaching about the imminent arrival of the “day of the Lord,” but more importantly, at least for us, Jesus chooses to align himself with unwashed men and women, who themselves are now in position to choose for God and a new beginning.

At the beginning of each Rite of Baptism celebrated in the Church today, parents and godparents are greeted by the sacramental minister and asked if they have any idea what they are undertaking in choosing to have their child baptized. And then again, seconds before the child’s water-bath, after the renewal of baptismal promises, the parents are asked (just to be sure!), “is it your will that your child be baptized into the faith we have all just professed with you?” A second moment of choice.
But as we know, this is only the start of a lifetime of choices, on the part of the parents, godparents, the baptizing community—and the baptized child.

As this New Year continues to unfold, and we make our way to the next big thing—the season of Lent—many choices lay ahead for each of us. Some of these will be joyous, some will be painful, some will be anticipated, while others will arrive as total surprise, perhaps even shock.

And in these moments, let us recall the festival we celebrate today, which reminds us, that we approach every choice set before us as beloved daughters and sons of God with an abundance of grace and the Spirit dwelling within us.

God is still choosing us—grasping us by the hand, forming us, calling us by name, and putting God’s Spirit upon us.

Father Berinti serves as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Melbourne Beach.

“Where is the newborn king?”

Father Ben Berinti
1-5-2020
Is 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13; Eph 3:2-3a,5-6; Mt 2:1-12

I remember when I first decided to leave home after my 8th grade year, at the tender age of 13, and begin my journey to the high school seminary. Many times, my parents asked me: “Are you sure this is what you want to do?” And many times, throughout those seminary years, I had to answer that question over and over again.

Some questions, whenever they may come at various phases of our lives, are so strong that they ring in our ears and squeeze our hearts for a long time after they leave the lips of the people who pose them.

Matthew’s tale of the Magi begins with a question: “Where is the newborn king…?” And it is a question that continues to ring in my ears and bounce around in my heart as I contemplate this great Feast of the Epiphany.

“Where” indeed? But the question isn’t about “where” in the Magi’s world, but rather in ours. Where will we find the Christ? As we gather this Epiphany, where will we find the babe born in Bethlehem?

We will find him in the laughter and curiosity of children; in the wisdom of grandparents and elders; in the time spent opening our minds to learning new things.

We will find the Child where the needy are offered hope; where the oppressed are set free; where a community is willing to welcome others who are judged not to belong because of their skin color, their language, their sinful life choices, or their unsettling view of the world.

We will find him where fear is overpowered by grace; where the fire of hatred is quenched by mercy and forgiveness; where all people are overwhelmed with joy.

We will find Christ when we step from the shadows of our church as mere pew-sitters and come into the light as full-throated, fully-active members of the Body of Christ, as St. Paul tells us today in the Letter to the Ephesians, co-partners with Christ.

We will find him when we honestly listen to the stories of the suffering, the homeless, the undocumented worker, rather than merely stereotyping those people and making pronouncements about people and life situations we really know nothing about.

We gather this Epiphany wanting to know, where is this newborn King still alive and present in our world?

We will find him where the all-too-easy righteousness of war-making is faced down with the truth of peace-making; where the voiceless find someone like us to speak their cause; where the despair of broken promises and the devastation of infidelity are overcome by forgiveness and new beginnings.

We will find him when dreamers who chase stars are held in higher esteem and whose lives we want to emulate more than in “stars” who dream only of their own celebrity and self-indulgence.

But then…how will we find him? Well, we certainly will not find him by staying put! We must get up and go, “arise and look around,” as the prophet Isaiah proclaims. Like the Magi, we too must travel. And the bittersweet truth about travel is embedded in the word itself. Travel derives from the older word travail, which comes from the Latin word meaning “torture rack”! Yes, to be on the road, to make the journey to and with Jesus Christ, is to stretch and to be stretched beyond the present circumstances and comforts of our lives.

On this wondrous Feast of the Epiphany, the Gospel tale of the Magi begins with a question: “Where is the newborn King…?”

How will you answer that question in the weeks to come? How far are you willing to travel?

 

 

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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