16 Dec 2018
3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C
John the Baptist was very careful. He could see that people were being drawn to him, and he was quick to correct that. And what he said, in effect, was, “I’m not your God. I’m not the Messiah. Don’t get sidetracked by what you think I am.” John was being very careful. He was sent to restore God as the center of people’s lives—not himself as their center. John was careful not to get them more off-center than they already were.
And in doing that, John the Baptist preaches to us here, today, as well. Notice that the gospel today doesn’t have any words from Jesus in it; instead, the words we listen to are John’s words. But he preaches what Jesus would’ve preached if Jesus had been on the scene. John says to us: “Whatever you are able to share, share it with those who can benefit. In your dealings with others, be honest and fair. Speak the truth and be content with what God has given.”
Now, Jesus could’ve easily have given those instructions. And, in so many words, and by way of his life’s example, he did. And so, even though John the Baptist was giving those instructions, they really were Jesus’ words. They really were “the Gospel of the Lord.”
And we see the same phenomenon in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (and all his letters), where he wrote, “Brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord always. Have no anxiety at all…make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds….” Jesus could’ve easily have said those words as well. Even though Paul wrote them, they’re in sync with the mind of God; and so, they really are “the Word of the Lord.”
The phenomenon here with John the Baptist, Paul, and so many others is that God is at the center of their lives. And, because of that, they reflect God when they speak. They’re the face and the hands of Christ when they act. It’s as Saint Paul says: “I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God; it is Christ who lives in me” [Gal 2:20].
“I am not at the center of my life—Christ is.” And the effects of that kind of living are exponential. Then there is true evangelization. Then there is true worship. Then there is real hope when life takes a bad turn, and living faith when despair wants to set in. Then there is genuine love of neighbor, and the capacity to love our enemies. It begins and ends with Christ—where he’s at the center of things, and not off to the side.
Last weekend, we talked about welcoming Christ into our homes, into our “Domestic Churches;” not as a visitor, but as a member of the family. And not just any member of the family, but as the one to whom people go for wisdom, for reassurance; as the one whom people gather around to hear a good story that has a lesson to it. And our Scriptures this weekend tell us, essentially, the same thing.
“God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid…Shout with exaltation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel,” says the Prophet Isaiah. “Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again: rejoice! Then the peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” says Saint Paul. And, again, Saint John the Baptist says, “I am not your God. Don’t get sidetracked by what you think I am;” as if to echo Saint Paul when he says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” [Phil 4:13], so give thanks to God, not me.
Welcoming Christ into our homes, into our individual souls is at the heart of the Domestic Church. And the Domestic Church—the home—is the foundation for everything else. So you can see why John the Baptist said, “No, no…don’t replace God with me. He is your center, not me.” John knew that great things can happen, but only when God is at the center, and not somebody else.
So it’s a worthy thing to put (and keep) God as our center. But, to be honest, to do that can be a major challenge. And that’s because the last time when God and faith were at the center of people’s home lives—on a national scale—was around the 1300s. Between roughly 1275 and 1575 there was a major shift in the Western world—away from God as God, and toward the human person as God; the human person as the ultimate judge of what is right and true. It didn’t happen in the 1960s. It happened centuries ago.
Even if some of us can remember a time when families prayed together and went to Church on Sundays without fail, even at that time the prevalence of the Christ-centered home—the Domestic Church—was on the downswing. And so, any attempt on our part to put God (and to keep God) as the center of our homelife is probably going to be a major challenge—because it is so counter-cultural today.
Just think of all the influences that come into the home which can distract us from God: money, getting the utility bill in the mail, television, internet, video games, radio, Church—yes, even the Church can distract us from God; the Church and all the issues that come with it being a community of sinners. Relationships can distract us, especially where there’s unforgiveness or grudges, or just simply hurt feelings that won’t go away. Our jobs can distract us from God. National politics, maintenance around the house, car problems. There are lots of things in the home that can sort of replace God as our center.
But it’s not that it’s an “either-or” sort of deal. It isn’t “God or my car.” It isn’t “God or money.” It’s “God and my car;” “God and my money;” welcoming God into how we deal with those things. That what it means to have God at “the center.”
And the larger culture isn’t going to be there to get us back on track if other things take the place of God. That’s partly what was lost in the 1300s—social accountability for faith. You know, if you don’t pray at home, nobody’s going to call you on it. If I don’t pray in the rectory, nobody’s going to come knocking on my door. If you don’t go to Church, your neighbors aren’t going to come over to see what’s up (although, some might). The larger society isn’t a supporter of the Domestic Church anymore. And even we priests can only do so much. After all, what happens in the home is, ultimately, up to you. You are the spiritual heads of your homes, not us.
So shifting God to the center of our home life can be a significant challenge. Even for me as a priest, God can easily become that “visitor who sits in the corner,” who I give lip service to, but who I don’t actually sit down with and “rejoice in,” like Martha’s sister, Mary. Saint Paul says to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” And to help with that, in my own home—the rectory—I use a lot of imagery.
I have an image of Jesus in every room of the rectory. But they all appeared gradually. I’d be in a room, getting distracted or “anxious” (as Saint Paul says), and I’d think, “I need Jesus in here.” So I’d get another crucifix, or print off an image of Christ from the internet, or maybe put a little statue there on the piano or wherever. And, pretty soon, every room in the rectory had some image—some reminder to me—of Jesus.
And it’s not that I spend my day wandering around the rectory like I’m in an art gallery. That’s not why the images are there. They’re there simply as reminders. They’re just reminders to me—not necessarily to drop what I’m doing, but reminders to make sure I welcome Christ into whatever it is I’m doing, into whatever it is I’m thinking about.
And I’ve discovered that the reason why I have so many images of Christ around the rectory isn’t because I’m especially holy. It’s because I’m especially…distracted. Christ has to be everywhere—because that’s where my mind is—in order to keep me grounded; in order to keep him as the center of things for me. Christ has be to everywhere.
And, of course, this is a reason why we have so much artwork in church buildings, too. So that when we start to wander off during Mass, we can at least be drawn to images that invite us back to God and things of God. It’s why the Mass should be “extra”-ordinary, not ordinary; it should help us regain our balance, our centeredness in God, so we can bring God to the world and transform it; rather than the other way around.
And so, it’s a good thing this week to consider your own home, your own Domestic Church, and how you keep the Lord as a welcomed member of the household—not just as another member of the family, but as the head of the home.
Is it through a daily routine of prayer? Maybe it’s a “prayer corner;” a place to go to be with the Lord without distraction. Maybe it’s through lots of images like I have; or maybe it’s a single major picture or something that sort of dominates the view from the hallways and such. Maybe it’s through a piece of jewelry you always wear. Or maybe you do it by keeping your home as quiet and still as you can.
How do you keep God as the head and center of your home? It’s a worthy question to wrestle with because, as I mentioned before, when God is at the center of our home, and the center of our hearts and minds, wonderful things can happen. Then there is true evangelization and true worship. Then there is real hope and living hope and genuine charity and love. But the foundation for all that is the Christ-centered home, the Christ-centered heart.
And so, it’s a worthy thing to consider this week: How do I keep God as the head and center of my home, of my heart? How can I “rejoice in the Lord always,” and live in peace and love? If you’re not sure, sit at the feet of Christ and put the question…to him.