Sunday, December 12, 2010


It started out as a beautiful late spring morning. Our second child had been born a few weeks earlier and we were headed to Portland’s Saturday market as a new family to enjoy a sunny day together.

As we rounded a corner on a back-road a few miles from our house a car appeared out of nowhere flipping out of control straight at us.

I had no time to react. Everything was moving in slow motion. At that moment, I had this strangely peaceful thought: Mary and I would be killed. But the kids in the back seat would survive the crash and be in good hands being raised by my in-laws.

I glanced at Mary and she at me in what may have been our last earthly look into each other’s eyes. I remember thinking, “I love you.”

Then, as the car was feet away from rolling up into the front window of our minivan it veered wildly and flipped into a ditch, turning upside down. All this happened in about three seconds. We slammed on the brakes and stopped our car. I jumped out with my cell phone and ran to the other car. A young man in his early 20s was inside the crumpled wreckage, but other than a few cuts and bruises, he was OK. Dazed and confused, he told me he had nodded off just for a moment as he was driving home from the overnight shift and awoke to his car flipping out of control. I called 911. When the paramedics arrived, they tended to the young man’s wounds.

Thankfully we all had angels on our shoulders that day and were saved. We rejoiced as we resumed our trip into Portland.

Perhaps you have your own personal story of a moment in your life where you were spared certain death and given new life.

In today’s Gospel, John The Baptist wanted to know if Jesus was the “one who is to come” to save all humanity from the finality of death and offer us new life, a new salvation. Jesus allows the truth of his ministry to speak for itself, giving John the answer he needed to hear prior to his own certain death.

Jesus quoted from our first reading today by the Prophet Isaiah, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared, then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”

John The Baptist knew the time of the Messiah was fulfilled. Jesus’ cousin John provides a positive role model for us all today. John got it. He knew the messiah was coming to save humanity from the clutches of the devil.

But do we clearly hear John’s message to the world today? John The Baptist spoke out for the poor and the needy of the world, reminding us that this is our path to salvation. This is how we will be saved from the finality of death… by showing mercy, love and compassion. We need to shake our prideful, self-righteous ways through baptism to new life, then role up our sleeves and help the poor among us. The rich did not like the message. John was true to his convictions even to the point of imprisonment and death.

“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.”

John cleared the path for the good news to be heard – he plowed the roads, so to speak, so Jesus could arrive in his full glory.

How can we emulate John’s model in our own world today?

My brothers and sisters, our parish experienced a moment recently when we were called to love and serve a poor, homeless man. And we responded beautifully.

Perhaps you heard about the man who rolled his wheelchair into our Saturday Evening Mass just as Father was beginning his homily a few months ago. His name was Michael and he was in deep, deep pain. As he approached the altar, he cried out for all in the pews to hear, “I’m dying. I need help.”

Father interrupted his homily and bent down to quietly talk to Michael. Several parishioners jumped up to help. As they approached Father and Michael, they heard Father say, “I’ll come talk to you after Mass.” As Michael wheeled his way to the vestibule, Father continued his homily without missing a beat.

Michael stayed through the entire Mass.

“And the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

Eventually, Michael told me his story. He was a Vietnam War veteran who lost his foot in the war. He’d been living on the streets for years. Michael was at the end of his rope. He had been beaten and robbed a few days earlier. He lost everything he had in a backpack. His face bore a black eye and cuts from the scuffle. He was crying. He was desperate. He needed someone to treat him as a human being.

When it came time for the sign of peace, a number of parishioners came up to Michael to shake his hand. During communion, Father came out to give Michael a special blessing. When Mass was over, Father came out as promised and talked to Michael for a long while. Several people came over to offer Michael money, a new winter coat and a motel stay for a couple of nights so he could heal his body. Michael even got a backpack with warm winter gloves, a stocking cap, food and food gift cards. Michael was so thankful shedding tears of joy and humbled by the gestures of compassion.

This was the message John The Baptist prepared the world for. Christ is coming. For our salvation, we must show God we love Him by loving our neighbor as ourselves. Today’s Gospel encourages us to extend dignity to every living person we encounter. It’s what Christ did as the sign of new salvation being opened up to the world. This is what it means for us to be followers of Christ.

There is much sadness and misery all around us. If we are blind to it, we cannot see it. If we are deaf to it, we cannot hear it.

John The Baptist was probably no better dressed than our homeless friend Michael. His disheveled looks are a reminder that we need to look beyond the outward appearance of the person to see the truth of Christ’s love being heralded for all of humanity.

Michael was our messenger.

“And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

For our own salvation, we answered Christ’s call. We did not complain, we did not judge, as we were warned in today’s second reading from the Letter of James.

It was a beautiful moment in which the Kingdom of Heaven broke open here on earth for all to see.

On this Gaudete Sunday, let us REJOICE for the coming of our Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ is almost upon us. Rejoice and be glad!

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