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1/19/2020 Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

John the Baptist's mission was to help the people of Israel get ready to recognize and receive Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah.

God equipped John for this mission by letting him see the Holy Spirit come down upon Christ when Jesus was baptized - a significant vision. Centuries before, with Israel's unfaithfulness to Yahweh and the destruction of the first Temple, the prophet Ezekiel had actually seen the presence of God, the glory of God, leaving the Temple. With John the Baptist, the last in the long line of prophets, that divine presence finally comes back. He sees the visible presence of God return to Israel as the Holy Spirit descends upon Christ in the form of a dove. The Old Covenant, based on the law, had not been strong enough to reestablish full communion between God and man. But in Christ, a New Covenant has been established, and that communion has come to stay.

When Christians are baptized, they enter into that communion. We are anointed with the oil of chrism, which symbolizes the coming of that same Holy Spirit into our souls, just as it came upon Christ at his baptism. And at confirmation, a second anointing with that same chrism is the instrument of the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit, just as it came to the Apostles at Pentecost. In the Old Covenant, the physical Temple had been filled with God's presence and glory. In the New Covenant, the age of the Churchevery Christian has become, in Christ, a Temple of God's presence on earth.

And that is why every Christian has the same fundamental vocation - to become holy, to shape our lives in accordance with the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts.

This is exactly what St Paul means when he writes to the Corinthians, "you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy."

Sometimes we don't get excited about our call to holiness because we have a distorted idea about what holiness is. Holiness is wholeness - it's living life to the full, experiencing all that God created us to experience. It's the strength and beauty that last. The superficial pleasures and beauties of life are like firecrackers - impressive and enjoyable for a brief instant before they fade into nothingness. But the joy and beauty of the Christian soul grows steadily throughout life. On the outside, a Christian may seem plain, but on the inside, the true Christian is living on a whole different level.

It's like the difference between a stage set and a Romanesque church. When the curtain opens at the theatre, it reveals a magnificent stage set, beautifully painted and fabulously illuminated. But it's just a show. No one can actually live in those buildings. They have no substance - it's just a facade. That's our popularsuperficial culture - so bubbly, shiny, and attractive on the outside, but so fake, unsubstantial, and disappointing on the inside.

Romanesque style churches, built in Europe during the Dark Ages and still standing today, are quite different.  They were constructed with thick, strong walls and heavy pillars of stone and brick. On the outside there was almost no decoration - like fortresses, designed to discourage the barbarian invaders who were wreaking havoc everywhere. But stepping inside, you found yourself surrounded by glittering gold mosaics, shining marble columns, and exquisite, inspiring works of art.

That's holiness - on the outside it looks plain and tough, but that plainness is strength, the strength that protects an interior life that shines and glistens from floor to ceiling with breathtaking jewels of wisdom, virtue, and indestructible joy.

In the Second Reading, St Paul gives us a fantastic tactic for growing in this holiness.

At the beginning of this First Letter to the Corinthians, he gives an interesting description of what it means to be a Christian.

He says he is writing to the Christians in Corinth, who have joined the ranks of the Church, along with "all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." To call upon the name of Jesus Christ - this is the fundamental exercise, the essential exercise in our pursuit of holiness. We cannot become what God created us to be if we depend on our own strength alone. If we could do it ourselves, God would never have sent us a Savior. To call upon the name of Jesus Christ is to ask for help, to plug into God's grace - it means having a healthy prayer life. Without a healthy prayer life, our souls are like gardens without water - the plants wither and shrink, no spiritual flowers blossom and no spiritual fruits ripen.

If we didn't include developing a more committed, mature life of prayer among our New Year's resolutions, it's not too late. It's never too late.

A dozen times in every Mass we "call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," because the Church is a wise Mother and wants to teach us how to grow in holiness, how to become what we were created to be.

Today, as we continue this Mass, let's be smart children, and learn the lesson well. 

And then, throughout the week, let's keep on calling on the name of Jesus. Wherever we go and whatever we do, he is there beside us, just waiting to hear our voice.

 

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