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The Voice Crying out in the Wilderness

June 24, 2014
Bolivians celebrate as it is announced that the next Missionary Congress will take place in their country in 2018.
This an adaptation of my homily for the  second Sunday in Advent, Year A. The readings were: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72;  Romans 15:4-9 and Matthew 3:1-12.
On this Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist it is good to reflect on the meaning of being a “voice”.
The voice crying out in the wilderness “prepare the way of the Lord!” I love John the Baptist. He’s my role model. I guess we can say that John the Baptist is the  first proclaimer. Maybe we can say that he is the first  missionary.
I’ve been  thinking about missionaries a lot for a number of reasons. The first is that  last November, Pope Francis published his first Apostolic Exhortation. It’s  not like an encyclical, or a letter; it’s more like a book! It’s 214 pages!  It’s called Evangelii Gaudium: The joy of the Gospel. And he writes about a  lot of things, all in the context of the joy of the Gospel and the joy with  which we should always share the gospel. In it he writes, “I am a mission on  this earth.” [EG 273] That really struck me. It’s more than simply I am called  to be a missionary or I have a mission: I AM a mission. And he doesn’t mean  that he alone is mission; he means that all of us are mission. We are the  mission of the Father: The Church is the mission of God. And who better to say  that about than John the Baptist? John was mission. On the day he was born his  Father, Zechariah (remember he had lost his voice because he doubted the  angel) regained his voice and prays a beautiful canticle (Luke 1:68-79), the  Canticle of Zechariah: “You my child shall  become the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to  prepare his way; to give his people knowledge of salvation, by the forgiveness  of their sins.” From the day he was born, John had a mission and he  became that mission: to prepare the way. Even before Jesus himself was  proclaiming the Good News, John was proclaiming the Good  News.
I’ve  actually been thinking about mission since this summer at World Youth Day.  That event was all about mission: Go be missionaries. The theme was from  Matthew 28:19, “Go make disciples of all nations.” That passage has been my  favourite since my first World Youth Day in 2002. In fact the whole section,  from verse 28 to 20 is my favourite: “All  authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make  disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the  Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have  commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the very end of the  age.” Everything we need to know about what we have to do as  Christians is there: Go, baptize, teach and remember.
And  especially, I’ve been thinking about mission because at the end of November  last year, I had the opportunity to attend the Missionary Congress of  the Americas in Maracaibo,  Venezuela. It’s a congress that takes place every 5 years to promote missions  and encourage missionaries from the whole continent, from Canada down to  Argentina, including the Caribbean. There were some 4000 participants, mostly  missionaries; 400 priests, 70 bishops – it was a great gathering and the motto  was very simple: “share your faith”. And so I’ve been thinking about how we  share our faith; or rather how we don’t share our faith.
It may be  a Canadian thing, I don’t know (it’s certainly different in  Latin America) but either we are too afraid, or shy, embarrassed  or ashamed. Or perhaps we are too “politically correct” and we really believe  that we shouldn’t meddle in other people’s business. We’ve really bought into  the idea that anyone can believe and do whatever they want as long as they  don’t bother me and that faith is private and personal; but it’s not. We  gather as Church in community because faith is public. It has to be shared.  And so our idea of mission is to take school supplies to children in the  Dominican Republic. We go on mission trips to build homes in Mexico; dig wells  in Uganda. I went on a mission  trip  with a group to paint a church up in the Yukon .  Don’t get me wrong, these things are important. We are called to do acts of  charity. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who  are sick and in prison (Matthew 25:34-40). Jesus himself healed the sick and  comforted the afflicted. We must do all that, but if that is all we do, then  who is preaching the good news? Who is proclaiming the Gospel? Who is making  disciples of all nations? Who is baptising? Who is teaching? Who is the voice  crying in the wilderness? We love that expression that is attributed to St.  Francis that says, “preach the Gospel at all times and use words if  necessary.” We love it because it gives us an excuse to not use words. But we  must use words. I don’t even  need to know my faith in order to fill shoe boxes with toiletries and send  them to Honduras; but we must know our faith so we can share it. We cannot be  ignorant of our faith.
When I  arrived in Venezuela we had to wait for two hours for the bus to  pick us up and so I began speaking with a gentleman at the airport. Turns out  he was an evangelical pastor. Guess what that conversation was like! He was  evangelizing me and I was sharing my faith and we were evangelizing each  other. It was a great conversation. We really shared a lot and I believe that  we grew in communion with each other. But if I didn’t know Scripture and if I  didn’t know what the Church teaches about Mary and the Eucharist and about the  Papacy (because that is what he wanted to talk about), I could not have had  that conversation. Could you have that conversation? We have to share our  faith and we must use words.
That’s  what the Year of Faith was about. Remember the Year of Faith? We had three  things to do with our faith: Learn about it; live it and share it. Did you  take up the challenge? We have to learn about our faith. It’s not enough to go  to Mass on Sundays and pay attention to the homily. We have to read Scripture;  we have to study it; we have to study what the Church teaches and understand  it, so we can teach it. We have to live our faith, that’s why we have to do  charitable works, why we send money and resources to the victims of the  typhoon in the Philippines. And we have to share our faith. In  order to do that, words are necessary! And it’s not just with our family and  close friends, although that’s a good place to start. We are called to go out.  Pope Francis keeps telling us to go to the peripheries, to the margins. The  doors of the Church have to be open so that people can go out. That is what  the Church calls “missio ad gentes”: mission to those who are outside. We have  to go out to the wilderness. Part of today’s readings are about that: That  beautiful prophecy from Isaiah is for “all the nations.” It’s not just for the  Jewish people. And Paul writes to the Romans that the promise is not just for  the circumcised; the Jews. It’s for the gentiles; for everyone! Not just for  those in the Church. And what does John say to the Pharisees and Saduccees in  the Gospel? “Don’t think that salvation is just for you because you are  children of Abraham.” Salvation has come for everyone – not just for those in  the Church! And we have to go and get them. We are to happy being the ones  listening to the voice crying out in the wilderness; but we have to become the  voice in the wilderness. We have one mission: Go make disciples of all  nations!
At the  end of Mass the deacon says “Go”. In Latin it used to be “Ite, missa est.”  “Missa” that’s where the word for “Mass” comes from. “Ite, missa est.” It  means, “Go, you are sent” or “Go, you are dismissed.” (later, when the whole  celebration was called “Missa”, this phrase in Latin comes to mean, “Go, the  Mass is over.” But originally it literally means, “go, you are dismissed” –  “dimissa est”) The root of that word, “missa”; “Mass”, “dismissal” is the same  root as the word “mission.” That’s what the Mass is all about: to send us on a  mission. Everything the Church does is because the Church is missionary. The  Church would not have grown had it not been missionary. The Gospels were  written because the Church is missionary. The Bible was put together because  the Church is missionary. The printing press was invented because the Church  is missionary. Great art and sculptures and music was created because the  Church is missionary. We have Mass because the Church is missionary. We have  Catholic Schools because the Church is missionary. We baptise because the  Church is missionary. Everything we do is because we have one mission: to make  disciples of all nations and we have to become that mission.
I can’t  tell you what words to use, except that we must learn about our faith so we  can share it. Perhaps a good place to start is by always using words of hope;  always preaching with joy (that’s why the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation is  called “The Joy of the Gospel”). Truly, John the Baptist is not just for the  Advent season, as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. We must  prepare our own hearts at all times and we must help others prepare too. Let’s  be, like John the Baptist, the voice (using words) the cries in the  wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

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