|Not "Who Is Jesus to Me?" but "Who Am I to Jesus?"
The Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest & Doctor of the Church.
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Isaiah 45: 6-8, 18, 21-25.
• Psalm 85: 9-14.
• Luke 7: 18-23.
…or, from the proper:
• I Corinthians 2: 1-10.
• Psalm 37: 3-6, 30-31.
• Luke 14: 25-33.
…or, any lessons from the common of Pastors or the common of Doctors of the Church.
Ember Wednesday of Advent.*
Lessons from the feria, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Isaiah 2: 2-5.
• Psalm 23: 7, 3-4.
• Isaiah 7: 10-15.
• Psalm 144: 18, 21.
• Luke 1: 26-38.
The Thirtieth Wednesday after Pentecost, the Fifth of Philip's Fast; the Feast of the Holy Martyrs Thrysus, Leucas, Philemon, Appolonius & Callinicus; and, the Feast of the Blessed Priest & Ascetic Father Nimatulla al-Hardini.**
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• James 1: 1-18.
• Mark 8: 30-34.
9:14 AM 12/14/2016 — I’m not going to rehash what’s been said many times in this chapel about Saint John of the Cross who, together with Saint Teresa of Jesus—or, as many people refer to her, Teresa of Avila—instituted a general reform of the Carmelite Order, ultimately founding the Carmelites of the Strict Observance, commonly called the Discalced Carmelites, discalced meaning “without shoes” because they wear sandals. Known together as the Spanish Mystics, their approach to prayer was suspect for a long time in the Church because it departed dramatically from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and really didn’t come into its own until the election of Pope Saint John Paul II, who was introduced to their writings as a young man, setting him on the path of pursuing the Holy Priesthood.
What may be more beneficial for us today is to notice the odd contradiction that seems to slip by us in today’s Gospel lesson. The Baptist sends two of his disciples to Jesus. As Msgr. Knox translates it for us:
So they presented themselves before him, and said, John the Baptist has sent us to ask, Is it thy coming that was foretold, or are we yet waiting for some other? At the very time of their visit, Jesus rid many of their diseases and afflictions and of evil spirits, and gave many that were blind the gift of sight (Luke 7: 20-21 Knox).
What’s contradictory is that if Jesus had done all of that, and they witnessed it—which is supported by Luke’s statement that it all happened ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ, literally, “at that very hour”—then why is there any question in their minds?
Consistent with His cryptic, middle eastern method of teaching, our Blessed Lord answers them with a riddle of sorts in the very next verse: “Go and tell John what your own eyes and ears have witnessed; how the blind see, and the lame walk, and the lepers are made clean, and the deaf hear; how the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (v. 22 Knox). And if they were any kind of disciples of the Baptist at all, they would have recognized this statement, as it’s almost word-for-word from the Prophesy of Isaiah, though it’s the rare translation of the Bible that provides the reference for us; even Msgr. Knox doesn’t.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy, For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water… (Isaiah 35: 5-8 RSV).
That’s from Isaiah 35, and is one of the more popular proof texts used by Jews in identifying the Messiah when he comes. It seems incredulous that these two disciples of the Baptist, seeing our Lord do these things in their presence, wouldn’t have immediately made the connection. Of course, our Lord presumes that John would make the connection because of what He tells these two to do: “Go and tell John what your own eyes and ears have witnessed…,” because He knows that John would require nothing more.
We’ve discussed a number of times how our Blessed Lord’s arrival into the world was missed by so many who had been so longing for it because He didn’t conform to the template of a messiah as they had built it up in their own minds. That he conformed to what the prophets had always foretold we can plainly see as we read the Old Testament, but we see it because we are able, more or less, to read that Testament with a mind uncluttered by a social and political circumstance. Palestine was occupied territory, and the Jews of our Lord’s time—many of them, anyway—were unable to keep their expectation of a messiah from mutating into a search for a political or military figure who would lead the revolution to rid them of Roman rule, even though the prophets never promised that. It’s quite possible that the two disciples John sent to question our Lord had just this mindset, and John may have even sent them in an attempt to cure them of it. Many of those who followed our Lord had it as well, including Judas who would one day betray Him.
The question we must continually ask ourselves as we plod through this Vale of Tears is what we are expecting our Lord to do or to be. Some of us may want Him to be a social theorist. Some, I’m sure, look to Him as some sort of economic distributist. Others may look to Him as the dispenser of Divine Justice against all those who have wronged us or shunned the values we hold dear. Many of us, I’m sure, look to Him to be some sort of Divine “Mister Fix-it” who will one day parachute into our lives and solve all our problems. One would hope that all of us would come to recognize Him as a Savior who came to die for our sins. But no matter how we may have defined our Lord in our own minds, Jesus is Who He is regardless of what any of us think of Him; and, as we approach ever more closely the celebration of our Blessed Lord’s arrival in this world, and so contemplate at the same time our own eventual departure from it, the eternal question for us is not “Who is Jesus to me?” but “Who am I to Jesus?”
* In the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, at the beginning of the four seasons of the year, the fast days known as "Ember Days" thank God for blessings obtained during the past year and implore further graces for the new season; and, their importance in the Church was formerly very great. They are fixed on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of specific weeks in their respective seasons: after the First Sunday of Lent for Spring, after Whitsunday (Pentecost) for Summer, after the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross (Sept. 14th) for Autumn, and after the Third Sunday of Advent for Winter. At one time, the Ember Days were obligatory days of fasting; this requirement was dropped in the Missal of St. John XXIII in 1962, but violet vestments are sill worn on Ember Days even when they occur outside the seasons of Advent and Lent, with the exception of the Ember Days that occur during the Octave of Pentecost.
The significance of the Ember Days as days of voluntary fasting is multiple: not only are they intended to consecrate to God both the liturgical seasons and the various seasons in nature, they also serve as a penitential preparation for those preparing for the Holy Priesthood. Ordinations in the extraordinary form generally take place on the Ember Days, and the Faithful are encouraged to pray on these days for good Priests.
** Cf. the first paragraph of the first footnote attached to the post here for an explanation of Philip's Fast. Today is the fifth Wednesday because the season began on a Tuesday.
All the martyrs commemorated on this day in the Byzantine Tradition were martyred under Emperor Diocletian.
Bl. Nimatullah Youssef Kassab Al-Hardini (1808-1858), a Maronite Catholic priest born in Lebanon, was one of four brothers who all became either priests or monks. Known for his love of the Blessed Sacrament, he was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II on May 10th, 1998. A complete biography of him is available on the Holy See web site here.