If we turn to John the Baptist again, we can see that he was born for the purpose of being the forerunner of Jesus. Discerning the presence of Jesus seemed to run in the family: his mother, Elizabeth, recognized the presence of Jesus while He was in Mary’s womb, even though Mary had not yet revealed to her that she was pregnant. We know Elizabeth and John shared that recognition because upon seeing Mary, Elizabeth cried out, “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:43-44) That is, both the unborn baby who would become the Baptist and his mother were filled with joy in the presence of Jesus Christ who was still within His mother’s womb. Therefore we know that John’s orientation toward Jesus began from that very moment. It formed him in his purpose, which was to live his entire life preparing for the moment when he could say to others: “Behold the Lamb of God.”
This theme is actually the same one we encountered in the Advent and Christmas seasons. In Advent the readings directed us to quiet reflection so that we were prepared for the coming of Jesus and to then make a loving response. In the Christmas season we were directed to the manger which was now occupied by the baby Jesus. Our attention was drawn to generosity, something Jesus would emphasize in His gospel message once He began His ministry: the parents sacrificed, the shepherds praised, the magi brought gifts, and even the animals brought warmth and the gift of their feeding trough. All were saying in their own way, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
At all times we are called to be a witness, not always with words, but in the way we conduct ourselves in all the situations which are part of our lives. We are meant to offer healing, mercy, and love by offering our gifts of time, talent, and treasure to everyone we encounter, especially those in need. And like the holy ones who have gone before us, we need to continually pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance when opportunities to point others to Jesus arise. Finally, the ultimate message of the gospel is that our generosity is not limited to a season, but it is part of living a Christian life. Therefore we need to pray for this gift, and to share it with others when we can, so that we can proclaim together with John the Baptist and all the disciples of Scripture: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post January 30.
1. This is called The Baptism of Christ by one of my favorite artists, Blessed Fra Angelico, the great Dominican painter. This fresco is housed in Florence, Italy in the Museo di San Marco dell'Angelico. It was painted sometime between 1438-45. I love this because it is as if Jesus is already walking on the water, as if to prophetically point to His ministry which starts as soon as He steps out of the water, according to John's gospel. It is a powerful image, especially if you notice the way the Holy Spirit is depicted as surrounded by and emitting light. Jesus is the light of the world, the Lamb of God. He is God's own Son. I also love how Fra Angelico 'sneaks' St. Dominic into the side of the scene. Fra Angelico was a true Dominican, humbly reminding us that for some, (ordained deacons, priests, bishops), service can include the art of preaching. St. Dominic preached with words; Fra Angelico with paint.
2. This is a photo I took while in Nazareth, Israel. The bougainvillea steal the show, but the fig tree next to it reminded me of the encounter of Nathanael and Jesus in John 1:45-51. Nathanael scoffed until Jesus told him He saw him praying under the fig tree, something only God could have known. Nathanael believed immediately.
3. The third image is a painting which I found in an interesting article on the Flemish influence on Renaissance art which was posted prior to an exhibition. It is called The Visitation by Cosimo Roselli, (circa 1490-1500). I chose it because I loved the tenderness of both Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth seems to be kneeling in adoration of Mary's womb, gently opening the cloak of Mary, as if to be a prophetic witness to her own son who would be the forerunner of Jesus. It is as if she is showing John what he must one day do: open (or prepare) the way for Jesus.
For those interested in the article in which I found this painting, go to http://www.huntington.org/WebAssets/Templates/content.aspx?id=14531
4. This icon is one of my favorites written by Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. John the Forerunner Also the Baptist. I love the wildness of John, yet he is attentive to the Holy Spirit. As a prophet, his words take flight and even though they are often very challenging, there is a gentle side of John, humble in the presence of God. He not only teaches us how to point others to Jesus, but He teaches us how to recognize His presence. Only if we listen to our heart will we hear the word of the Spirit who speaks to us there. There we can join John in the great joy of knowing Him. You can obtain a copy of this icon, and see many other beautiful works by Fr. Bill, at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/st-john-the-forerunner-also-the-baptist-082-william-hart-mcnichols.html
5.This picture is a 'tip of the hat' to a newly ordained deacon and dear friend. A deacon is one who serves, preaching the Gospel in word and deed. In his preaching and humble service, this deacon is a forerunner in his own right: pointing others to Christ. (Congratulations, Dwight!)
6. Finally the last photo is one I took at the Jordan River in Israel. This is said to be the site where Jesus was baptized by John. Even though the water looks murkier now than it did then, it was still very moving to be at the spot where John proclaimed: "Behold the Lamb of God!"