Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time: There He Is. Here We Are
The Christmas Season ended last
Monday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Today’s Gospel immediately follows the Baptism of Jesus as
John tells his disciples that this Jesus is the Lamb of God
who takes away the sins of the world. He relates to them
that after he baptized Jesus, he saw the Holy Spirit come
upon the Lord. The first reading, from Isaiah, also points
to Jesus, as the light to the nations of the world.
In the second reading, the
introduction to the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul
points out what following Jesus has done for us. Imagine
that instead of writing the Corinthians, Paul was writing to
you and me. Actually, through the Holy Spirit, he was.
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will
of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God that
is in Tarpon Springs, to the Church that is in the Smith
House, the Filopkowski House, etc, to you who have been
sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all
those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, their Lord and ours.”
Paul is telling us that Jesus Christ came so we can be holy,
set aside for God.
I have to tell you that I have never
considered myself holy. A while back one of the children
at Guardian Angels School referred to me as the holy guy.
I cringed. I’m not holy, at least not in the way that
the little one was referring. I think he had angelic in
mind. I am anything but that. I’m sure that most of
you here also don’t see yourselves as holy, certainly not
angelic. You might consider others that way, but not
yourselves. But we have an obligation to strive to be holy.
We can’t think that we are not good enough and will never
be good enough. Jesus Christ died on a cross to make us
Paul says that we have been called to
be holy. But what really is holiness, at least what did
Paul mean by holy? To be holy is to be set aside for
God. Jesus came, suffered and died, and then rose again
to give us His life and to set us aside for God. Christ
died so I can be holy. He died so you also can be holy.
Actually by coming and sacrificing himself for us, he has
made us holy. So holiness is not something that we do, it
is something that Jesus has done for us. He has set us
aside for God. He has made us holy.
But why are we called to holiness?
Well, in the first reading, the Servant was called to be a
light to the nations. We also are called to be a light to
the nations. The world needs people to bring light to its
darkness. It needs people who are going to put others
before themselves. It needs people who are going to reach
out to those pushed aside by society. The world needs to
experience the presence of God in people who are committed
to his Kingdom.
“I want to be holy, just like
you,” Matt Maher sings. How are we to do that? Well,
Matt sings in his hymn Just Like You, that we need to have
reckless abandonment to his truth. Reckless abandonment to
the truth. At his baptism, Jesus publically committed
himself to the will of the Father. If this meant that he
was to die to establish the Kingdom of God, well, so be it.
Would this be easy? No. In the Garden of Olives Jesus
sweat blood over what he would have to do. But He
abandoned himself to the truth knowing that somehow the
Father will conquer through him.
All the saints did this. They all
chose the Truth of God, abandoning their lives to whatever
God was calling them to do. Some of the saints lost their
physical lives. St. Ignatius of Antioch was adamant that
Christians should not try to bribe the Romans to release
him. These well intentioned people argued that the Church
needed him. But he trusted in God. He abandoned himself
to God, declaring his Christianity in the Coliseum, knowing
that somehow God would conquer.
Skip ahead fourteen centuries. Go
to Tudor England. Thomas More was confronted with a
choice. Do what was politically, and even physically
expedient, or die for the truth of the Lord. St. Thomas
More could have joined so many others in rationalizing that
Henry VIII should be the head of the Church. If Thomas had
done that he would not have been beheaded. He would not
have lost his family’s fortune. But Thomas abandoned
himself to the Lord. No one cares about Henry VIII
anymore. This king is an embarrassment, even to the
English. But people still care about St. Thomas More.
Many, particularly Catholic lawyers, still look to Thomas
More for his example and guidance.
Some of the saints radically changed
their lives. St Anthony Abbot felt called to give
everything away to be thoroughly committed to God. So many
of the ancient Christians looked to him as a man thoroughly
committed to the Lord. Saints Augustine and Benedict would
begin religious orders inspired by Anthony’s way. Nine
hundred years after Anthony died, a young man named Francis
decided to follow Anthony’s example. Francis of
Assisi’s reckless abandonment to the Truth of Jesus Christ
still inspires us to find peace in God alone.
One final example among the mryriad
of saints: St. Damien De Veuster, Damien of Molokai,
Damien the Leper. Everyone in Hawaii, and in the world of
the nineteenth century for that matter, everyone was afraid
of leprosy. But when Damien first saw the lepers in the
horrible Kaluapapa section of Molokai, he didn’t see their
disease. He saw their tragic lives. How could he call
himself a Christian and abandon these poor sick people?
Sent to spend just a day or two on the island to re-assemble
a small chapel, he refused to leave the lepers. A few days
turned into a lifetime commitment to live his Christianity
in service to the poorest people in the world. He
recklessly abandoned himself to the Truth of Christ’s
way and the certainty that he also would contract
leprosy. For all the saints Jesus’ way is the way of
We all want to have wonderful, full
lives. We want this for ourselves and for our children.
How do we get there? How do we do this? How can we get
the most out of life? How can we live life to its fullest?
We can live full and beautiful lives by committing ourselves
to God, by abandoning ourselves to His Truth. This is how we
respond to the call to be holy.
There He is. There is the Lamb of
God. He is there getting baptized by John. There He is,
accepting the way that would lead to the cross. There He
is calling us to join Him and sacrifice ourselves for
others. John said that he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon
Jesus. The Spirit has descended upon us too, calling us to
holiness, calling us to trust in God, calling us to be light
for the world.