By Sr. Joan McCorkell, OCD
In Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 3: 10-18) we encounter once again the figure of John the Baptist. He stands between the Jewish and Christian eras and heralds the person of Jesus the Christ. John is a prophet and in the Jewish tradition, a la Abraham Heschel, the prophet is one who looks at God looking at God’s people with heartfelt love. The prophet offers a message for change that signals a new and renewed vision of love for neighbor, while proclaiming the message of consolation and hope.
This vision of love, consolation and hope is no less and perhaps more so needed in our world today. We are 20 centuries from John and our world has undergone a number of stages in the development of our consciousness. The message remains; yet it is further deepened through our growing understanding of God, ourselves and our world.
Pope Francis has clearly called upon us to look at creation as a part of John the Baptist’s message for a change of heart and for hope. God is with us (Emmanuel) ‘til the end of time and it is our soul’s work to enter the process with care and love. For as St. John of the Cross wrote in his Spiritual Canticle, every place God has walked God’s imprint has been left. This is true for all of humanity as well as for all of creation. The “preferential option for the poor” is inclusive and justice for all is imperative.
Through our baptism we have been incorporated into the role of prophet. The Gospel’s invitation today is to both hear the word and to speak it with our very lives. Like the prophets, to be able to know God deeply we are called into prayer, which is to look at God looking at us and our world. What do we see? How do we respond?
Thus this Gospel passage invites us to justice in our time. In 1986 the bishops of the United States wrote a pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, in which they ask us to share with God a “preferential option for the poor.” This is the summons to not only share with others, but to know life from the side of those who have a great deal less than most of us. Our bishops have reflected on the social issues of our times and have given us an understanding of this Gospel consciousness. The message is not changed; rather, its perspective is broadened for a clear emphasis in today’s world.
We can find an example of this pastoral moment in a church community in Georgia as recently reported (11/29/15) by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (PBS). In years past this church asked its congregation to bring wrapped gifts for those who are unable to buy Christmas gifts for their children. The presents were then distributed to the parents for their children.
As the pastor and congregation began to reflect on this charity, they realized that a better and more dignified manner of distribution would encompass the view of the parents who were accepting the gifts and the children receiving them. So last year they requested unwrapped gifts from the congregation. They set up shelving units as if from the store and invited parents to come and select what they wanted to give their children. This is a simple example of expressing a Gospel choice with our “real time” consciousness, as human beings showing love for the other from the other’s point of view.
Lastly, consolation and hope are ours for God is with us. Again, from John of the Cross in his poem on the Incarnation:
Now in God our tears
Now in us God’s joy.
Would not this be the Baptist’s message today!
(Sr. Joan McCorkell, OCD, is a member of the Discalced Carmelite Community in the Carmelite Monastery in Eldridge. Contact her at (563) 285-8387.)