Here we are at the beginning of a new year with high hopes that this year will be better than 2011. We have our hopes even though we know that there is much in our world that is wrong. Without going into a long, dismal list of the many things that are wrong let me point out just a few of them. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening, not closing. Political corruption and the politics of gridlock darken our perceptions of those we have elected to office. Terrorism and abortion along with Mexican drug cartel murders cause us to realize that human life is cheap and is too often regarded as disposable. We face much that is sinful, evil, and criminal in our world. All of these things we know quite well are exceptions to the way things ought to be; they are out of the general order of what should present in our relations with others.
How do we know that? What gives us this perspective and recognition of what is good, what is just, what is fair, and what ought to be? Today’s Gospel gives us the point of reference. It takes us back to the very beginning of the Christian movement, the movement of God into our humanity in Jesus Christ. The story is so familiar, so simple, that we easily lose sight of its overwhelming importance. The jingle bells of Christmas divert our attention to the magnificent truth that God has entered into our humanity and thereby blessed it with His holy presence in all that it means to be human. In Jesus Christ God brings His Light to what it means to be human and how we should live with each other.
John the Baptist initiates this coming of God to us by introducing two of his own disciples to Jesus, Andrew being the key player. John points Jesus out to them by exclaiming: “Look, there is the Lamb of God!” It’s sort of like being at a social function when a very significant person enters the room and a friend says to you: “Well, look who’s here!”
A conversation then develops between Andrew and Jesus, a conversation sprinkled with seeking words like, “What do you want?” “Where do you live?” “Come and see,” and “Come with me,” all of them filled with the relational words of friendship. Let me emphasize here that these are the inviting words of friendship, not the commanding words of submission and obedience. These are words that invite us to live closely with Jesus.
My point is that our religion in its most distilled form is a friendship between ourselves and God in Jesus Christ. It is the one operative principle throughout Christ’s entire life. Even at the end of His live during the Last Supper, Jesus gets down on His knees, washes feet, stands up and looking each one in the eye says: “I no longer call you slaves … I call you friends.”
Jesus had no army. He neither needed one nor wanted one. He had the only one power with which to conquer the human spirit, the power of a loving friendship. That is the only thing that can invade and conquer the human heart. Brute force always fails; love always wins.
Our Catholic Faith is one of the largest and most influential in the world and it’s membership is presently over one billion souls. It has built thousands of churches, hospitals, children’s homes, nursing homes, schools, and even universities. It has rites, rituals, ceremonies, and the holy Sacraments of Jesus Christ. It has theologies, philosophies, systems of ethics, moral codes and even a Code of Canon Law abound. It is vast; it is intricate; and it is complex. But it is built on one thing and one thing alone, namely a personal, warm, intimate, and loving friendship with Jesus Christ. From that flows all of Christianity’s hope, power, and vision of the truth about who we are.
Jesus was tempted to be a military leader, a dazzling magician, a revolutionary who would construct a new social order, and a universal healer and provider for us in all of our hurts, wants, and needs. But He resisted all of those temptations and asked for only one thing from us – friendship! He loved us, and still does, even when we don’t deserve it. He forgives us even when we can’t forgive ourselves. He gives us far more than we ask for or even expect. He gives us a loveliness that is not pretty but powerful. He asks us to be more than nice; He asks of us everything. And in the midst of war, famine, despair, and powerlessness He gives us, in His friendship bringing with it the one gift our humanity needs more than anything else, namely hope.
Whenever we feel lost in a religious life that seems too complicated, or whenever we feel lost in a world that seems to be unmanageable and out of control, and whenever we’re tempted to give up on ourselves, remember that our faith in its purest form is the personal friendship we can have with Jesus. That is how it began with Andrew and his brother Peter. (Jn 1:35-42) And that is the solid rock upon which our relationship with Jesus is grounded.
For no matter what happens in our world, or in our spiritual lives, or in our relationships with others, we can always find our way once again with those seeking and questing words we heard in today’s Gospel message to you and to me. “What do you want?” “Come and see!”
Listening to God’s voice is of the essence of religion, it is the nourishment of our spiritual lives. When we come to celebrate the Mass the first thing the Church does is to offer us God’s word. Then having received His word for our hearts and minds we receive His Word made flesh for our human nature in Holy Communion.
There are those who defend themselves from intimacy; there are those who are afraid to love. Because of their fear of losing their own independent autonomy they either flee from religion or turn it into something ridiculous. Some seek to turn religion into a series of laws, rules and regulations that must be followed. That approach, however, requires only mindless obedience and thus misses the whole point about our relationship with Jesus.
The truth is that God has a word for you, personally. He has something He wants to say to you. The story of Samuel we heard in the first reading today is a story that we should make our own. The story in today’s Gospel account is a story we should likewise make our own. For God is calling you and inviting you to come and stay with Him, to come and be close to Him.
I don’t know how you pray your morning prayers but I would suggest that a good way to start your day is to repeat Samuel’s words each morning. When you begin the day with your first morning thoughts about God say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And then at the close of each day when you interpret the events of the day and try to make some sense out of them, repeat Samuel’s words: “Speak, Lord, for you servant is listening.” Each time you pray, after having told God about all that’s happening in your life and about all that you need from Him, say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
God has a word for you. He has something to say to you in words of friendship and love. For the sake of your own soul, let Him!