HOMILY – JANUARY 31
Each of us was anointed with sacred chrism immediately after we were washed in the waters of baptism. Generally, in the Roman rite, that was not yet our confirmation, but rather looked FORWARD to the confirmation of our baptism that would take place when we celebrated THAT sacrament a few years later. The words that were used for that anointing were spoken in English for many of us, and in Latin for us old timers. But let me refresh your memory with a more literal translation of the Latin sentence. The person baptizing says, “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who freed you from sin and regenerated you from water and the Holy Spirit, himself anoints you with the chrism of salvation, so that, gathered to his people, you may remain a member of Christ the priest, prophet, and king, into eternal life.”
What powerful words! Similar to God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” Did you get that? “I KNEW you, I DEDICATED you, I APPOINTED you.” And that was even before you were born. Regardless of what the world around us wants us to believe, we have God’s word for it: he is at work on each of us already in the womb. You and I are known, dedicated, and appointed. At baptism and again at confirmation, it becomes clearer: “I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”
It’s a good thing God says those words to many of us, because I know if it was just me, I’d be scared spitless! Jeremiah was! He did his best to squeak out of God’s call a few verses later, when he cried, “Nooooo, God, you must be thinking of someone else, I’m too young, I don’t know how to speak.” And God replies, “Yeah, yeah,” and then the words we heard at the end of the reading: “They will fight against you BUT NOT PREVAIL OVER YOU, FOR I AM WITH YOU TO DELIVER YOU.”
Well, it sure looks like ISIS is prevailing in Iraq and Syria! It sure looks like Boko Haram is conquering in Nigeria. It sure looks like the Taliban is on the move against Christians in Pakistan. And what about in our own country? Six Catholic justices on the Supreme Court — and we get a 5-4 decision that can’t tell us the truth about marriage? Catholic Senators and representatives — who meekly and obediently follow their party platform and vote to approve partial-birth abortion? And what about all the Catholics that keep voting such people into office? Who needs ISIS and Boko Haram and the Taliban? As the prophetic people of God, we’re doing a pretty good job at silencing the very witness and testimony that Jesus Christ called us to bring to the nations! If he can’t rely on his own baptized and confirmed members who are known, dedicated, and appointed to be prophetic, to whom else is he going to turn?
Prophecy doesn’t come without cost. God already warned us that “they will fight against you,” but then he said, they will “not prevail over you.” So don’t worry. No matter what it looks like, ISIS is not prevailing. Boko Haram is not prevailing. The Taliban are not prevailing. Terrorists are not prevailing. Democrats and Republicans and Socialists and Communists are not prevailing. No matter what it looks like. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” “Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.”
Jesus escaped from his fellow villagers when they were about to throw him off the cliff on which Nazareth was perched. But he did not escape, nor try to escape, Mount Calvary. He accepted a criminal’s death to identify with all of us sinners. He accepted the appearance of failure to identify with us when we wonder if our prophetic witness is making any difference. And he manifested himself in the Resurrection to show us first that he HAS conquered, and that we CAN rely on him to be God-with-us. All we have to do is go back out to the nations, to our OWN nation, to our neighborhoods and cities and villages and farms and families, and keep on proclaiming the truth in charity. It’s not to prove ourselves right. It’s so that others, too, might come to the light of faith and come to eternal life. It’s for THEM–for the very people who look like they’re prevailing, winning, out-talking and out-smarting us. For those for whom Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” In the apparent weakness of things like compassion, and mercy, and the message and person of Jesus Christ, are the ONLY truths that will lead to LIFE, not just life here, but life forever. Be not afraid. Remember, your life might be the only Scripture some people will ever read. Make sure it’s in bold print!