Thursday January 3, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Week Before Epiphany
Reading (1 John 2:29-3:6) Gospel (St. John 1:29-34)
When Saint John, in the first reading today, tells us that the reason the world does not recognize us is that it never recognized the Son, we should not be surprised by that because here we have Saint John the Baptist, the greatest man born of woman, the man who confesses in the Gospel today that the very reason he came baptizing with water was that Jesus could be revealed; yet prior to the Baptism of the Lord, Saint John tells us that he himself did not recognize Him. He was doing what God asked him to do, but he was doing it without knowing whom it was that was coming. All he was there to do was prepare the way, but he was preparing the way for Someone that he did not know until the Holy Spirit descended upon the Lord. At that point, he recognized Him.
The same is true for each one of us: Until the Holy Spirit descends upon us, we will not recognize the Lord. Now it was the other way around, obviously, with Saint John the Baptist: It was when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus that Saint John the Baptist recognized Him as the One that God spoke of. But for each one of us, it is when the Holy Spirit descends upon us that we recognize the Lord. Consequently, what we have, then, is Saint John telling us that the world is not going to recognize the Lord because they have rejected the Holy Spirit. If you do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, you are not going to be able to recognize Christ. The point that he is making, then, for each one of us, upon whom the Holy Spirit has descended, is that we are now children of God, we are members of Jesus Christ. We are to act in the very holiness of God Himself.
And yet the world is not going to understand. It is not going to recognize us. The world is going to think that we are crazy. The world is going to think that we are troublemakers because we are going to be different from the way that they live. The world is going to reject us. Yet we continually get angry when people reject us for doing what is right. We continually get frustrated when people do not understand and when they try to push us aside or when they belittle us or when they do not even give us the time of day. We think we deserve something different, but the world never even recognized God when He came in human form. How is it going to recognize those who are members of the Lord? It is not. The Lord made it very clear to us that if the world hated Him, it is going to hate us too: We are going to be rejected; we are not going to be accepted. It was all made very clear to us. We know these things and yet for some reason we keep thinking that it ought to be different.
At which point, then, we have to ask, "Do we recognize Him?" It is not that we do not recognize Him objectively: We know who He is. It is like Saint John the Baptist pointing Him out, saying, "Behold, the Lamb of God." But do we really know Him? If we really knew Him we would be acting the way that He acted and we would be rejoicing that we are being treated the same way that He was. But we usually do not do that, which means that we recognize Him at an arm's distance, but in the depths of our hearts, even though we are members of Christ Himself, we oftentimes do not know Him. We do not recognize Him in the sense of being able to understand, in the sense of being conformed to Him: in having His attitude, in having His mind, in having Him as the center of our lives. If He is part of our lives, but not the center of our lives, we still do not truly know Him. We know about Him. We recognize Him in the sense that we recognize His face, but we do not know Him in the sense of having that deep, profound relationship with Him, in being in union with Him. As members of Christ, as children of God - and Saint John tells us that is who we are: we are not just called children of God, we are children of God - we need to be conformed to our heavenly Father and to His Son. And the means by which we are so conformed is the Holy Spirit, who has been poured forth into our hearts.
Everything is there for us. The question is "Do we recognize it?" and the other half of the question is "Do we want it?" Again, objectively, we would all say yes. We want to be God's children. We want to be members of Christ. We want the promises that the Lord has made. But subjectively - that is a different matter. Do we really want to change to become like Him? Do we want to live His life? Do we want the holiness that is His? Do we want the treatment that was His? Do we want to not be recognized? Do we want to be rejected? Are we willing to do the things He did and that He told us we would have to do? Usually - tragically - the answer to that is no; most people do not want that at all. They want Jesus at an arm's distance; they do not want Him in their hearts.
We are God's children. We are members of Jesus Christ. How can we expect the world to recognize Him when we do not even recognize Him, as members of Him? That is the real trouble. How can we expect the world to recognize us as members of Christ when we do not even recognize Him? Again, not at an arm's distance, but within. If we are not willing to allow ourselves to be conformed to Christ, we are not really recognizing Him for who He is. We recognize Him merely as an acquaintance, but we do not really recognize Him as the One with whom we have union, as the One into whom we have been incorporated, as the One into whose image and likeness we are to be conformed. So how can we expect the world to recognize Him, how can we expect the world to recognize us, when we do not even recognize Him most of the time?
We need to pray for that. We need to really be serious. It is not a question of "want"; it is now a question of "will". It is not that I want to be like Christ; it is not that I want to be holy; it is a question of "Will I do it?" Wanting it is keeping it at an arm's distance and saying, "Wouldn't it be nice?" - it is that kind of fairytale existence. God does not want us living in a dream world; He wants us living in reality. He wants us to will it. He wants us to choose it, to say, "Yes, I will be like Jesus. I will live the life of Jesus. I will accept the rejections and the frustrations and the difficulties that come with being a member of Christ." That is not easy. But the only way that anyone else is ever going to recognize Him is if we first recognize Him.
So pray to the Holy Spirit to be able to see Him, to be able to recognize Him, and to conform yourself to Him so that the life of Christ can be lived in us and that through us others will come to recognize Him and be conformed to Him, as well. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the work that the Holy Spirit wants to do in each one of our lives. But it has to begin with our choice, the choice that will be directed and guided by the Holy Spirit. Pray to Him and ask Him for the courage, not only to want it, but to will it, and to say yes to Jesus Christ in all things.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.