Deacon Cornell Homily


Isaiah 49:1-6
Acts 13:22-26
Luke 1:57-66,80


June 23-24, 2018, Birth of John the Baptist

John is what you might call a pivotal character in our religion. Jesus said that there was no one born of woman greater than John, and one of the ways the Church signifies this is that only John and the Blessed Mother have feast days both for their birth and their death. The early Christians saw John as someone who stood on the boundary between the old Jewish testament and the new covenant instituted by Jesus and the way they told John's story highlighted both the continuity and the radical differences. Like Isaac and Samuel, John was born to a mother who had no children and were past normal childbearing years. Our gospel reading on Sunday is about John's circumcision, and of course, his father, Zechariah, is a priest in the temple, all of which root John firmly in the Jewish tradition. But much of his story contrasts with that of Jesus. Jesus is born of a young woman; while the announcement of John's conception was met with doubt, Jesus' was met with Mary's whole hearted acceptance of God's will.

Even to this day, I think that John is the pre-eminent model of a disciple. Jesus is certainly not a good model of discipleship; he is the one we disciples follow; He is the Messiah, the savior. The Church holds Mary up as the model Christian, with good reason, but the thing that always brings me up short there is the Immaculate Conception, being born without sin. Even with the grace of baptism that wipes away original sin, I so often fall back into sin.. So I would always go back to John, who had no special treatment but still served so wonderfully as the disciple who got the ball rolling.

The most important characteristic of Johnís discipleship is his wonderful humility; he knew who he was and who he wasnít. He knew what all of us, but maybe most importantly those in ministry, sometimes find hard to remember: we are not the savior; we are just the heralds of the kingdom. We must decrease while Christ increases. The contrast between when we celebrate John and Jesusí birthdays highlights this. We celebrate Johnís today, a few days after the summer solstice, when the days start to shorten, to diminish. We celebrate Jesusí a few days after the winter solstice, when the days start to lengthen, the light starts to increase.

There is another aspect of Johnís discipleship I would like to reflect on with you today. I donít think it is a very common way of regarding John but it was suggested to me by an article by Edward Sellner in a Chicago Studies back in 1994 on a spirituality of the marginalized.

By marginalized we mean those who live on the fringes of whatever mainstream we are talking about. Our Judeo-Christian heritage has always had a special focus, a special tenderness, for the marginalized, the anawim. In the Hebrew Scriptures they are symbolized by the widow, the orphan, and the alien, those who had no rights under the law, and so needed protection and care.

In our Christian, and especially our Catholic, tradition this special focus continues in our social justice stance, with its preferential option for the poor, in our care for the sick through our health care systems, in our zeal to educate those who are not served by the public schools, and in our care for immigrants of every generation. As a matter of fact, until the middle of the last century, the American Catholic Church was entirely marginalized from mainstream Protestant America. These aspects of our special focus on the marginalized springs from our anointing as king in baptism.

But there is another aspect that springs from our call as prophets that makes the marginalized so important to our faith. If you look at our salvation history you will see that every important figure, every major advance in our understanding of Godís revelation, has come from the marginalized. From Abraham, an insignificant Bedouin nomad who moved in exile to Egypt and in fear to Canaan, to Moses who spent most of his life either in exile in his father-in-law Labanís land or for forty years in the desert, to Jesus. Jesus not only lived in an insignificant land on the edges of the Roman Empire, but even within that land he lived out in the boondocks. In our day we have such figures as Mother Theresa, Mahatma Ghandi, and Martin Luther King.

I believe the marginalization of these people helped them to avoid the distractions of power that can come with being mainstream. In Johnís case, being on the fringe added a powerful edge to his message, and allowed him to remember who he was and was not. So what does this have to do with us?

I realize that it might be hard to think of ourselves as marginalized, living here in the lap of luxury in Stow and Boxboro and Action. But the marginality I would like you to reflect on is one we share with a majority of American Catholics: our marginality within our church. For most conversations I have, when someone says Church they are not talking about themselves but the institutional church as opposed to themselves. We certainly are geographically on the fringe of this diocese. When Bishop Reed came to celebrate Mass here at St. Isidore a few months ago, he stated, ďIíve never been here before."

Many women feel alienated by the hierarchy who they see as failing to put their money where their mouths are in proclaiming the special gifts of women. Many younger people are alienated because they donít have the foundation to understand our liturgy, our efforts at bringing the kingdom to life in this world. And the majority of American Catholics lack a strong sense of connectedness to the universal church or even their local church, the Archdiocese of Boston in our case.

So I pray that today and this week we will open ourselves to a spirituality of the marginalized that would use the tension of living on the edge to move past anger, despair, rejection, or most often, apathy. Instead, let the Spirit move us past those negative reactions to proclaim God's glory. Let the Spirit make us prophets in the line of John the Baptist, proclaiming boldly that the kingdom of God is near, that the Savior of the world has come. As Zechariah prayed over his new born son John, let us all become prophets of the most high who will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give God's people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins. In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

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