January 2, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thursday Before Epiphany
Reading (1 John 2:22-28) Gospel (St. John 1:19-28)
In the Gospel reading today, Saint John the Baptist is asked who he is and he simply tells them, “I am not the Christ.” But it seems also that Saint John maybe did not recognize the fullness of who he was. He recognized that he was the voice crying out in the desert, but he did not recognize that he was Elijah. He recognized that there was One who was coming after him whose way he was preparing – which is exactly what Scripture says Elijah is going to do, that he is going to prepare the way of the Lord, that he is going to be sent before the Lord to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the children’s hearts back to their fathers. Yet, he denied that he was Elijah. And so what happened then is that God allowed Saint John the Baptist to recognize what he was supposed to do but perhaps did not allow him to recognize fully who he was, because it is from Our Lord Himself that we are told that Saint John the Baptist is Elijah. He had the spirit of Elijah, the spirit which was passed on to Elisha, to John the Baptist, and so on; but it was not immediately recognizable – at least to the Baptist. He simply understood the vocation to which God was calling him, which, as I pointed out, as you look at it was in fact precisely what Elijah was to do. He maybe just did not put all the pieces together to realize it himself.
But what is important in understanding this and aligning it with the first reading we heard today is not that we know exactly who we are – that is not what matters – but what matters is that we know what we are supposed to do. We know who we are in the sense that we are baptized; we know who we are in the sense that we are Catholic; we know who we are as members of Jesus Christ and children of God and so on. But what happens is that, with many of us, we become very introspective and we try to figure everything out. God is not going to allow us to see it because we want to control it, and it is not going to work.
And so, Saint John in the first reading tells us simply that we need to hold firm to what we have from the beginning, and if what we have from the beginning remains in us, he said, “then you will remain in the Son and in the Father” and the promise that He made will be ours and the promise is nothing short of eternal life. That is His promise, so we do not need to worry about figuring everything out because it is not going to happen anyway. All we need to do is remain in God, remain in Christ and let Him lead us just as He led Saint John the Baptist.
The Baptist kept his focus on God and he did exactly what the Lord required of him to do. He fulfilled the vocation to which God had called him without even fully understanding the depths of what that vocation was. That did not take anything away from His vocation; he fulfilled it perfectly. But he did not worry about asking the question of “Who am I supposed to be?” He simply did what God wanted him to do. He did not try to control it; he did not try to figure it out; he did not try to say, “Okay, if I’m Elijah then I have to do the following things.” But rather, what he recognized is that God was asking him to do certain things. Those things that God was asking him to do would have made it very obvious to someone who knew what they were looking for that this was someone who had come in the spirit of Elijah, but Saint John was not worried about that. He simply was worried about doing the Will of God and that is all that we need as well.
That is why Saint John would say, “The anointing you received from the beginning remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you.” That does not mean you know everything and you do not need anybody to help you; but rather, what it means is that you have enough grace and enough clarity because of what God has already given that you can discern very easily when there is something which is not true, when there is somebody who is telling you a lie. And it is easy, then, to discern where God wants you to be. Not easy, necessarily, in the sense that it is going to be obvious to you what God wants of you at every moment, but rather what will happen is that if there is something that is not correct that will become evident to you as long as you are praying, as long as you have your focus on the Lord. That is the same point.
What we need to be about is just keeping our focus where it belongs – not trying to figure ourselves out; that is useless. Focusing on ourselves is preparation for eternal condemnation. What good is it? The Lord came and made a promise of eternal life, so let’s focus on eternal life, which is to focus on Jesus rather than to focus on hell (which is to focus on ourselves). There is no hope in us; we need to be clear about that. That is the antichrist. If we are going to get caught up in ourselves, we are doing the devil’s work for him. We need to be caught up in Christ. Let us focus on Him, focus on His Will and what He wants us to do; and, like John the Baptist, we will simply do what God wants us to do without worrying about who we are or what we are or anything else. We simply need to be content with who God has made us to be, accept our dignity, and just do the Will of God. That is all He is looking for. So, put the focus where it belongs and seek to do the Will of God in all things. In that way, what has been given to us will remain in us: the grace of God and the dignity which is ours.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.