lamb of God

Behold, the Lamb of God!

One of the first people to recognize Jesus as the Messiah was His cousin, John. When Mary journeyed to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb for joy, in recognition of the Messiah, quietly residing in Mary’s womb.

We have no record in Sacred Scripture of the relationship between Jesus and His cousin John as they grew up. Their relationship picks up as John begins his public ministry, calling people to repentance in order to prepare for the Messiah. However, it would not be hard to imagine that these two spent time together as boys, doing what boys do: exploring and hiking, finding creepy crawly things, helping their parents.

John’s role in salvation history is quite important, as author Jimmy Akin points out:

He served as the forerunner or herald of the Messiah and was to prepare for him by fulfilling an Elijah-like role by calling the nation to repentance.

In keeping with that, he baptized people as a sign of their repentance.

He also came to identify and announce the Messiah. According to John the Baptist: “I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31).

In the Gospel reading yesterday, John the Baptist makes a bold proclamation to his followers. He points out Jesus and cries out: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Jesus, he tells those gathered, will take away the sins of the world, and that the Spirit of God has made known to John that Jesus is the Son of God. John’s boyhood friend and cousin is the Messiah, the one who will save us all from sin and death.

To our ears, “Lamb of God” may seem like an unusual phrase. To Jews however, this phrase is quite familiar, and very important. This image is at the heart of the Jewish covenant story, as God brought them out of Egypt and slavery. Fr. Aaron Kuhn:

The original lamb was sacrificed during the time of Moses (1393-1273 B.C.), and its blood marked the doorposts of the Israelites and saved them from the last plague, the angel of death passing over the city and killing every firstborn child and animal (Exodus 12). The body of the lamb was eaten as a sacrificial rite. The blood of the lamb saved the people from death.

The gospel of John the Evangelist—the Beloved Disciple—which we heard today is a Passover message.  At the beginning of the gospel, Jesus is presented as the new Passover lamb, taking the place of the traditional lamb during the celebration of the Passover meal and instead offering his body as food and his blood to save us from death. “I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world … unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you … my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:51, 53, 55).

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul’s words seem to fit this scene of John’s declaration quite well:

For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. (1 Cor. 13: 9-11)

John the Baptist knew that his role in salvation was “partial:” his job was to point the way to the “perfect,” Jesus Himself. These boyhood friends now had to step into the roles God had created for them: prophet and Messiah. Just as they had to put away childish things, so must we. Our faith in the Lamb of God must always be growing, always deepening. “Behold! The Lamb of God!” Our own hearts must cry out for Him, our souls’ greatest desire. Our lives must always point the way to Him, our salvation, so that others may also come to know and believe.

“Behold! The Lamb of God!”


The Baptism Of The Lord

Place yourself at the scene: You see a small crowd gathered around a large, wild-looking man with hair and beard gone bushy – almost savage looking. He – John the Baptist – wears only a tunic made of camel and preaches that the Messiah is near. This John is an almost ferocious–looking creature, but people followed and listened, hungry for not simply spiritual direction but for the sorely-needed Chosen One. They follow this man, this preacher, to the Jordan River.

One by one, John baptizes them with water. He cautions them though: There is one coming who will baptize in water and the Holy Spirit. That is what we all need, because in that baptism is grace.

And one day, as John is preaching and baptizing, Jesus come to the Jordan. John halts: That is Him! That is the Lamb of God! He is the one who will take away our sins!

What does Jesus do? He doesn’t step up on higher ground and begin preaching. He doesn’t tell everyone that what John has said is right on target. No, he wades into the water, and is baptized.

This striking scene, that we celebrate today, gives us much to ponder. As Catholics, we too are baptized. And we are baptized in water and the Holy Spirit. This baptism (along with confirmation and Holy Orders) leaves an “indelible seal” upon us. That mark or seal actually changes us, and it’s permanent. We can’t undo it, even if we stop attending Mass, even if we declare ourselves a witch or warlock, even if … we are marked with the sign of Christ for all eternity. For children, it is the parents’ responsibility to nurture the faith of their child, to care for the child’s soul. As the child gets older, more and more of the responsibility for one’s relationship with God shifts to the individual, until that person reaches maturity. And each of us, when we dies, will need to account to God as to how and why we chose what we did for the care (or lack thereof) for our soul.

Jesus’ baptism was NOT a superhero movie scene. He did not enter the Jordan an “ordinary” man and emerge as a shining god or an all-powerful king ready to smash the Roman empire. No, it was a picture-perfect example of what we are to do. We need to seek the Lamb of God through trusted sources. We need to be humble enough to admit that we need help, that we need the grace God makes available to us. We need to strip off all the worldly things that hold us back from our beloved Father. Most importantly, we need to continuously seek ways to live out our baptismal promises: to reject Satan, to believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to live our faith as the Church teaches.

There are not “magicicians” or superpower heroes among the faithful. Instead, there are those who – every day – decide to live out their faith. As Father Bede Jarrett said, “Baptism doe not set us right, but, by the high privilege is affords, it gives us the power to set ourselves right.” And with the grace of baptism, so we must set ourselves right, every day.

blessed broken

Advent: Blessed And Broken


Today’s readings have a theme: brokenness and blessing. In the first reading, from Judges, the wife of Manoah is barren. Barrenness (infertility) during this time was often seen as a punishment from God for a transgression. This transgression need not be the woman’s; it could be a family member. However, Manoah’s wife has a vision from an angel and is told she will have a son. The son is Samson, who becomes the last of the judges of the Jewish people.

Then, in the Gospel, we have the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. They are known to be holy and upright people, but have never conceived a child. They have grown old waiting and hoping. Then, Zechariah is chosen to enter the sanctuary of the temple (something only priests could do.) He too has a vision of an angel and is told his wife will bear a child. Zechariah gets a little feisty over this, and questions the angel: “We are old! How in the world will we have a baby??” Well, it happens, and the child is conceived. Unfortunately for Zechariah, his questioning is received poorly by God and Zechariah is struck mute.

For anyone who has struggled with infertility, the brokenness of the situation is harsh. It seems as if everyone you know is having a baby. People ask, “When are you going to start a family?” It hurts to walk through a store and see moms and dads pushing carts with babies, cooing and laughing as they do their shopping. And after a while, you start asking God, “Why me? Why us? We are good people! We’d make good parents! Why are you doing this to us??”

Then there is poor Zechariah. He’s been a good servant to God his entire life, but when a profound vision and blessing are given to him, his first reaction is not to believe. Who can blame him? Most of us would likely react in the same way. His disbelief costs him his voice (which returns when his son is born.)

We all are broken. We sin. We suffer. Sometimes, it seems as if all we do is suffer: the roof is leaking, the car is out of commission, bills upon bills pour in. Or maybe the suffering is physical: the effects of chemotherapy or a diagnosis of a chronic illness. Many families suffer because of the addiction of one of their members: a son or daughter, sister or brother who is an alcoholic or drug addict. The readings today beg the question, “Hey, God! Where are  you???”

The Japanese have a term called wabi sabi. The Japanese believe that things that are broken not only have value, but beauty. A vase that is cracked has the cracks sealed, perhaps with a gold sealant. A kimono that is torn is patched with a bit of gorgeous fabric. The brokenness becomes not a  distraction but an enhancement, making what was broken lovelier and pleasing.

Yes, we are all broken. We suffer and sin. We muddle our way through days limping and coughing. We are burdened with bills and blindness. We wonder where God is in all this mess.

In both the readings today, we have couples who are broken. They are devoted to God, but wonder where He is. What they don’t know is that God is preparing them for huge blessings. How were Zechariah and Elizabeth to know that God was preparing them for a son who would be the precursor to Jesus? How were they to know that their brokenness would give birth to the man who acclaimed, “There is the Lamb of God!”?

Today, spend some time looking at the brokenness you have in your life. Keep in mind that idea of wabi sabi. Where has God mended the brokenness in ways you could not have imagined? Where are the blessings you might never have had if not for the brokenness? Yes, our lives are filled with brokenness, but God always provides blessings as well.

[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s blogger is Elise Hilton, who regularly writes the“Living the Good News” blog for Diocesan Trinity Publications. Hilton is a writer, speaker and former educator, who now serves in the Marketing & Communications Department for Diocesan Trinity Publications. She is also an avid reader, wife, mom of five and passionate about music.]

Are you the one

Advent: ‘Are You The One Who Is To Come?’


[Throughout the 2016 Advent season, we will be bringing you posts from a variety of writers. Our hope is that each of these will be a meaningful way for you to slow down, pray well, and prepare for the coming of our Lord. Today’s blogger is Fr. Michael Denk. He was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer. His reflection today is based on the readings for the Third Sunday of Lent.]


Advent: God Transcends Human Opinions


A couple years ago, I joined many of my friends in attending the episcopal ordination of a wonderful priest.  As we were waiting for the procession, many complaints were made regarding the appearance of the cathedral.  Finally, one of my priest friends asked me: “What do you think?”  My response was: “Read the bulletin and see how people are nourished from the altar of this cathedral!”

Jesus said to the crowds that when John the Baptist “came neither eating nor drinking, they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’” And when “the Son of Man came eating and drinking they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Lk 11: 18-19).

People during the time of Jesus and my friends in front to that local cathedral have one thing in common: opinion has been formed and expectation has been set.  They expected the works of God to be within their frame of mind.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Thus says the LORD, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I, the LORD, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go” (Is. 48: 17).  Our Lord and our Redeemer will teach and lead us and not vice versa.  We should open our eyes to see the wonderful works of our Redeemer.  These works of God transcend our opinions and frame of mind.  They require our opening to God’s infinite power.

Indeed, we are preparing to celebrate a wonderful work our God, a marvelous exchange: God becomes man so that human beings can partake in the divine life.  Certainly, this act of God is beyond our human expectation. Amen.

Fr. Lam Le is today’s guest blogger, reflecting on the day’s Mass readings. A native of Vietnam, Fr. Lam is now pastor of St. John Paul II Parish and St. Mary Queen of Apostles in the Diocese of Grand Rapids.