Many years ago, I visited one of my parishioners at MCI Cedar Junction, the same place which was once called Walpole. He pleaded guilty to a charge of shooting a teen, who was for him a rival gang member.
One day about 2 years earlier he went to see his friend at the Catholic school in the parish where I worked. The sisters, who ran the school, chased him off. He was an dangerous influence, they said. Several months later, he and a fellow graduate of that same school were on the front page of the Boston Herald, pictured being arrested for that shooting. The sisters may have had a point. Maybe they should have addressed if differently.
When I went to visit that man that day, among other things he told me that he was on the grounds of the school in search of help. He knew he was getting into trouble and so he went to the Catholics to help him. The Sisters chased him away in fear.
Never forget, we are always a refuge for those who society rejects and fears. That is because we have the key to eternal life, which society cannot offer. People find they need a new outlook to find their way and the currently way of life is leading them to places they realize they do not or should not go. They will come here and ask how they can change their lives. That is why they come here.
In the Gospel, we see St. John the Baptist understand that dynamic telling the people how to correct their current sins. However, there is an interesting message here: look at what those sins are: There are those who have more than they need. Then there are tax collectors and soldiers. The former are told to ensure that they exact what is just from their neighbors, who hated them for what they did. However, it is was a legitimate position in the empire. The latter are giving a unique warning. Notice the sins. When was the last time you read an examination of conscience and you saw the words: Have you extorted anyone? Have you slandered anyone? Why would those sins be listed? Because they were commonly practiced. Why did the soldiers extort and slander people. It is an old military tactic, with those two sins, they can turn people against each other, weaken communities and conquer villages. All military forces around the world practice this. The Russians are masters at it, by the way. These soldiers are probably working for Herod who had virtually no morals. He was as evil a dictator as you can imagine.
So when John is telling them not to practice this tactic, he is also telling them to align themselves with the proper authority which is Christ, not Herod. Which is exactly what that young prisoner needed to learn, align with Christ, not your local gang leader.
John warns the messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the fire he speaks about is the Holy Spirit’s transforming action. Jesus will come in the power of the Holy Spirit and bring forth a fire of transformation in the Holy Spirit. This brings up an ancient symbolism in our faith going back to the Jews: All authority will fall and become subservient to Christ through the fire of the Holy Spirit.
The transforming fire of God will wipe away his enemies, will soften hardened hearts and bring forth the Authority that is Christ. John is telling those who are listening to Him to realign their loyalties. Get ready for Christ is coming and he will separate loyalties and realign them. Those who are united in Christ will find salvation, those who are loyal to less honorable authorities will become subject to the fire that comes down from God and the winnowing fan that separates the wheat from the chaff.
This is all true. Remember the big clock. Forty years after this scene, the temple and the Jewish state are wiped off the map. The temple will never to this day be built again and the Jewish state will not exist again for almost 1900 years. Everything that John says will change.
The Gospel is calling us to look at what our alliances are personally and as a nation.
All those are pitiably deluded, whose theory of government makes no account of man’s last and highest end, of the right use of the goods of this life. Others too in goodly number are in error, who hold that the laws of statecraft and of human progress cannot be made to square with the precept of Him who proclaimed: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
These are the words of Pope Pius XI in 1930, you have the Soviet Union which has come to power. Stalin who has operated rejecting religion since 1922, preceded by Lenin who rejected Christianity. You have the NAZI’s coming to power soon in Germany, who also reject Christianity. You see this same rise in Mexico, the first country to accept an embassy from Soviet Russia. All of this is happening in Europe, we know what happened. At the root of it is exactly this principle taught by Pope Pius XI building country that rejects the truth of our destiny as human beings and our union to Christ.
We are doing the same thing today, except it is happening in this country, Canada and Europe. Whole countries including our own, trying to build a society that rejects Christ. What is our future and how do we deepen our discipleship in Christ in our personal lives? What is our country’s future if it continues to follow the ways of more atheistic republics of the twentieth century?
It is an important question to reflect upon and while you are at it, read the article in Boston Magazine entitled Has Boston Given Up on God? And reflect again on my questions: What is our future and how do we deepen our discipleship in Christ in our personal lives? What is our country’s future if it continues to follow the ways of more atheistic republics of the twentieth century?
Please feel free to share this homily with others. If you have questions or comments, please come to discuss them at St. Anthony parish 43 Holton St. in Allston. Weekend Masses in English are Saturday afternoon at 4:00 and Sunday Morning at 10:00. Brazilian Portuguese Sundays at 8:00am and 7:00pm.