Sunday Word

Prepare the way

Father Brian Campbell
Sunday, June 24, Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Is 49:1-6; Ps 139:1-3, 13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80

This Sunday we remember and honor the birth of St. John the Baptist. Birthdays are celebrated because we give thanks for the gift of life and some of our happiest memories are of those birthdays celebrated with family and friends. Birthdays should remind us that when a man and a woman say “yes” to life, they co-create with God in bringing a new immortal soul into our world. That is a powerful gift that comes with great responsibility. God promised through the words of Isaiah the prophet to send a person in our world whose voice could be heard in the desert; he would “prepare the way” of the Lord’s arrival (Is 40:3). Today we bless God for his plan of salvation as it begins to unfold in the nativity of John the Baptist.

The first chapter of Luke’s Gospel details both accounts of the annunciation for the births of John the Baptist and Jesus by the Archangel Gabriel. Both conceptions are highly unique and can be considered miraculous in distinct ways. One conception happens naturally but miraculously in a very old couple, and the other conception happens supernaturally in the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. John is the cousin of Jesus and he is six months older than him (Lk 1:36), which is why we celebrate John’s birth exactly six months before the birth of Jesus.

John’s mother and father, Elizabeth and Zechariah, have not been able to have children and are now “advanced in years” (Lk 1:7). Barren and “getting up there in age,” Elizabeth and Zechariah find themselves in a similar set of circumstances shared by key figures in the Old Testament like Abraham and Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother and Hannah. John’s birth exemplifies several of Israel’s great patriarchs, heroes and prophets — Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson and Samuel. God promised to establish a New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34) and bring to conclusion and fulfillment the Mosaic (Old) Covenant.

John is the path preparer, the bridge between the Old and New Covenant. This baby boy will grow up to be the fiery preacher man who lives in the desert preaching repentance from sin and baptizing people in the Jordan River, hence he becomes known as “the Baptist.” He is heroic in standing up to the failed political and religious leaders of his time; he is popular amongst the people and establishes a profound revival of faith. Yet he knows that his ministry is not a stop sign but a blinking green light.

John doesn’t allow his popular success to inflate his ego. Rather, John understands that he is an instrument of God to bring about something bigger than his own self. When the Messiah arrives to be baptized at the Jordan River, John points not to himself but toward the Messiah, God’s anointed servant (Is 53 and 61) who will establish the long-awaited New Covenant. As the exemplifier of the Old Testament, John, tells his followers that the Messiah has now arrived and that they are to follow Jesus (Jn 1:35-37) and “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). John exhibits true humility in seeing himself as God sees him, no less and no more. He learns to let go and find peace knowing that he has accomplished his mission well.

As we celebrate John’s birth this week, let us think about God’s gift of life and love for us — how we too are part of a greater plan. In fulfilling God’s purposes in our life do we have the courage of John to stand up for what is right? Can we have the discipline to let go of worldly pleasures and wealth to live in the desert of austerity and holiness? When our mission is done will we have the true humility to get out of the way, let go and say “He must increase and I must decrease”?

Father Campbell is a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach and parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Parish in Royal Palm Beach.

Shelter and strength

Father Brian Campbell
Sunday, June 17
Ez 17:22-24; Ps 92:2-3, 13-16; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34

One of the great summer memories I cherish from my youth was spending time with my grandfather in a small town in central Illinois surrounded by cornfields. He lived in a simple two-story wood home built in the late 1800s, with no air conditioning. To pass the high heat of the summer afternoons we would go outside with some iced sun tea and sit under the shade of a large red maple tree. It was under the shade of this maple that the hours of heat would seem to pass effortlessly as other neighbors would come out and join us on lawn chairs sharing stories and funny jokes. Today’s Scripture readings speak of our need for shelter and strength as God provides for his children in our time of need.

Our first reading this Sunday from Ezekiel 17:22-24 takes place in the midst of the Babylonian exile, possibly around 587 BC. The people of Israel once had a great and mighty nation under their kings, particularly King David and his son, Solomon. But as political and religious rulers often lose sight of their true purpose, so did the succeeding kings and religious authorities in Israel lose sight of their first love. Instead of keeping God and the commandments of God first in their lives, moral decay, spiritual laziness and poor governance would ultimately weaken Israel over a span of several hundred years.

This societal and religious collapse opened them up to being completely conquered by a foreign empire, the Babylonians. Jerusalem and its glorious Temple would be destroyed, the living from among the dead would be captured as slaves to work in Babylon. Though the Israelites sinned against God and enabled the cause of their defeat, God never stopped believing in them and hearing his children cry out in the spirit of repentance. Even though the last Jewish king from David’s line would die in Babylon, God promised that he would raise up a new king, like a mighty cedar who would be the highest of all the other trees (trees representing the political rulers of the earth). Under the shadow of this mighty tree, birds of every kind (representing the people of the world) would find strength and shelter.

The Jews believed this to be a promise from God for a Messiah (“the anointed one”; a future Davidic king) who would deliver them from the blistering heat of sin’s consequence — exile from the Promised Land.

In God’s timing the words of the prophet Ezekiel are fulfilled when God sent his only Son to be that mighty “cedar,” firmly rooted as the tree of life, grown higher than all the other “trees” of the world.

Imagine all of the political empires and philosophies of men that have risen and fallen in the past 2,000 years, and yet the “seed” of faith which our King of kings speaks of in the Gospel continues to endure. When that “seed” is accepted by us and we put faith into practice (“planting” it), God will provide all the means necessary for this seed to grow into something so much bigger than we ever imagined.

God invites us to come out of our isolated places and to pass the hot hours of this life with the joy of faith under the shade of his glory. He wants us to rejoice, share our story and a few good jokes too. The birds of the world — you, me and so many generations before and after us — may dwell secure in Jesus Christ: our shelter and strength.

The door to the heart

Father Brian Campbell
Sunday, June 10
Gn 3:9-15; Ps 130:1-8; 2 Cor 4:13–5:1; Mk 3:20-35

One of the most memorable experiences in life for many people is the opportunity to buy or rent a place to call home. There are so many things that go into finding that right place — price, location and, of course, the home itself. No matter the architectural style, every home has one detail in common: doors. A door is both an entrance and an exit; it can be closed and opened to others. Doors connect and separate the outside from the inside. Today’s Scripture readings speak about the power that faith can bring when the doors of our hearts are open to its saving power. We also can see what happens when those heart-doors get closed. As they say, “Home is where the heart is.” So, what’s going on behind our “front door”?

Genesis, which means “beginning,” provides us with the theological meaning of the world since the beginning of creation. All that is made is good; it has order and purpose. Human goodness, order and purpose are reflected in our eternal spirit: the compass of intellect and conscience and exercise of free will. In committing the original sin, Adam and Eve chose to close their hearts to God and open the door to a terrible stranger. At their invitation, the ancient serpent came in and wrecked their lives. Today’s first reading from Genesis 3 shows us the consequence of this deadly heart attack — the nakedness of bad decisions and the cover up of dark deeds with lies. But God doesn’t close his door on humanity. Instead, in Genesis 3:15 God promises to crush the venomous serpent. How? There will be a woman who will be at enmity with the satanic foe. She will mother a son who will crush the serpent’s head.

This mother and son, prophesied in Genesis, make an appearance in our Gospel reading today from Mark 3:20-35. Jesus has been going around doing what he does best — proclaiming the word of God and performing the works of God. He heals the sick, raises the dead and casts out demons. But no matter how much good Jesus does, there are those who have decided to lock the door of their hearts against him. Instead of admitting individuals are healed by the power of God through Christ, they say that Jesus performs his works by the power of Beelzebul, or Satan. Jesus presents to these locked hearts the key of truth: Why would Satan cast out himself? That doesn’t make sense. Satan is not in the business of casting himself out of the hearts of human beings, or healing them or turning them back to God. Jesus warns the Pharisees against the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is the sin of permanently shutting our hearts to faith in Christ, to his word and work.

With his mother and brethren present, Jesus teaches that all who have opened their hearts to God are also his mother, brothers and sisters. This is not a slight to his mother or brethren. As Genesis foretells, Mary’s heart is at enmity with the serpent; her door is fully open to God. Luke confirms this with Mary’s own words, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46, 47).
When we receive God’s word and do his work, as Mary did, we also become part of the family household of Jesus. Home is where the heart is. Reflecting on this week’s Scripture, we should ask: What’s going on behind our “front door”?

Father Campbell is a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach and parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles in Royal Palm Beach.

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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