The LORD said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory. Now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength! It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Refrain: Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
1) I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. (Refrain:)
2) Sacrifice or offering you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, "Behold I come". (Refrain:)
3) Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. "In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
to do your will, O my God, is my delight, And your law is within my heart!" (Refrain:)
4) I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know. (Refrain:)
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, "On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)
(Begin with Youtube video of Go Light Your World at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqBz_qvqBL4 )
In our first reading from Isaiah, we heard the verse "I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth". The principal refrain in the song we just heard is "take your candle and go light your world".
Light is an image that has always fascinated me. Back in my high school physics class, we studied how light has properties that we can't explain like how it can go around corners defying other laws of nature.
We should note that light is an image that is central to the gospel of John. In the very first few verses, he says that Jesus "was life and the life was the light of the world" (John 1:4). Later in his gospel, he records that when our Lord heard of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod, he says that John was a "light, consuming and revealing, but you wished to rejoice exceedingly for a while in his presence" (John 5:35). I remember meditating on that verse for days on end while I was in the Jesuit seminary and how I wanted to do my best to be a light in the lives of others.
Just a few weeks ago, we held our Longest Night service in the mausoleum for those who might be grieving the loss of a loved one which is especially difficult during the normally joyous holiday season. At the beginning of that service, I played this same video. I did that because later in the service, all those in attendance would be invited to come up and light a candle for their departed loved ones. I pointed out that, like the song and Scripture says, we all have a light within us. Perhaps we could call it the light of life and it radiates to others through the good works that we do in life. But once we have passed on, our personal light is extinguished unless it is carried on by those who survive and remember us. Then they must carry not only their own lights, but ours as well, especially in the good works they do in our name.
On January 8, 2011, we were all stunned by the senseless shootings in Arizona. We struggle to make sense out of these tragedies but there are no easy answers to the questions we always ask in these circumstances: "why did it have to happen?", "why couldn't God have stopped it?", "why do bad things always seem to happen to good people?". The answers probably won't be there until we ask our Maker directly in the next life. For now, we have to settle on knowing that God is there, not in the tragedies themselves, which he is powerless to prevent since he gave us free will to do either good or evil, but in our responses to the evil deeds.
That good is already evident in some of the stories that have emerged from the shootings.
- Dorwan Stoddard, 76, was a retired construction worker and an active church member who loved helping people in need. He took care of physical maintenance at Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson. He and his wife, Mavy, were ministry heads in the benevolence committee, working with people who had lost their jobs or homes. They were waiting in line to speak with the congresswoman when the shooting broke out. Mr. Stoddard pulled his wife to the ground and lay on top of her, shielding her from gunfire. He died several minutes later, with his wife, wounded, at his side.
- John M. Roll was the chief federal judge in Arizona and was fatally wounded in the attack. Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, described Judge Roll as a tireless advocate for his district: "Of all the chief judges of the circuit, I must say he was always the hardest working -- always looking out for his district. He'll be a great loss to his family, but he'll also be a great loss to the federal judiciary." On Dec. 21, Judge Roll sent an e-mail to Judge Kozinski with an attached letter from Ms. Giffords and another member of Congress from Arizona, Ed Pastor, a Democrat. The two members of Congress encouraged the Ninth Circuit to "declare a judicial emergency" to help cope with the increased workload by extending deadlines under the speedy trial act. In the e-mail, Judge Roll wrote that the Congressional letter was "unsolicited but very much appreciated." Judge Kozinski speculated - "just a guess," he said -- that Judge Roll might have gone to the event on Saturday to thank Ms. Giffords for the letter.
- Phyllis Schneck, 79, was New Jersey native and a great-grandmother who liked to sew New York Giants and Jets aprons for church fund-raisers.
- Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, was director of community outreach for Gabrielle Giffords. He was described as hard-working with an easy smile and a passion for helping people. Mr. Zimmerman, who had a master's degree in social work, was known as a peacemaker who handled difficult or angry people with care and skill. He spent nights and weekends helping to resolve the variety of constituent problems that arrive at the doorstep of a Congressional office. Mr. Zimmerman was engaged to be married.
- Christina Green, 9, was on the student council of her elementary school, so on Saturday her mother's friend and neighbor Susan Hileman thought she might enjoy seeing government in action: the local congresswoman meeting with constituents outside a supermarket near Christina's home. Christina loved animals and volunteered at a children's charity. She was born on Sept. 11, 2001, and she was proud of it, her mother said, because it lent a grace note of hope to that terrible day. Christina, who was born when the family was living in West Grove, PA, was one of the 50 "Faces of Hope" representing children from 50 states who were born on Sept. 11. Their images were printed in a book, with some of the proceeds going to a Sept. 11 charity. Her father, John Green, is a supervising scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Her grandfather, Dallas Green, managed the Philadelphia Phillies to the 1980 World Series championship and also managed the Yankees and the Mets. Her father John Green told The Arizona Star that Christina was such a good speaker that he "could have easily seen her as a politician." But she also seems to have inherited her family's baseball genes. She was the only girl on her Little League baseball team, and had told her father that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues. Her mother said she belonged to Kids Helping Kids charity and tried to help children less fortunate. Christina, a slender girl with brownish-blond hair, brown eyes and a gentle smile, also sang in the choir at St. Odilia Roman Catholic Church. In his homily at her funeral on Thursday, Bishop Gerald Kicanas noted that she wanted to make a difference in the world with her life. She had told her parents that she wanted to attend Penn State University and ultimately have a career that involved helping those less fortunate.
All of these people had done good things with their lives. But all of their lives have been cut short. Monday is our remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr., another person whose life was cut short by a senseless murder. It is now up to us to carry on their memory, or the memory of any of our loved ones. It is up to us to light a candle in their name, to remember the light that they brought into our lives. It has been said that no one is truly dead until their memory is gone from the hearts of all those who survive them. Let us all go light the world, not only with our own light while we live, but the lights of those who have preceded us into the next life but who showed us how to live.
(Copyright 2011 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.). If you have found this homily helpful, please drop me a short note at this same address. I would be glad to hear what you think!!
Our first reading today begins with the verse: "The Lord said to me: you are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory." Then the passage closes with another poignant verse: "I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."
It is our first reading today because it is meant to point to Jesus who would be the servant of the people and a light to the nations. "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28). It is this verse from Matthew's gospel which leads us into today's gospel from John in which John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". Now what do we think of when we hear the phrase "the Lamb of God"? Our answers lie in the implications which the phrase would have had for John the Baptist and for John the Evangelist.
First of all, the phrase could conjure up in the minds of the Jews the verses in Isaiah and Jeremiah about a suffering servant who would offer himself up for his people. Isaiah says: "He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly...Like a lamb about to be slaughtered...he never said a word"(Isaiah 53: 7-8). Jeremiah says "I was like a trusting lamb taken out to be killed, and I did not know that it was against me that they were planning evil things" (Jer. 11:19). What comes across here is the love of the Suffering Servant for his people. This is the first characteristic of the Lamb of God.
The second implication of the phrase is as a reference to the paschal lamb whose blood would save the firstborn of the Israelites. "John was the son of a priest. He would know all too well the ritual of the Temple and its sacrifices. Every morning and every evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the Temple for the sins of the people (Exo.29:38-42). So long as the Temple stood, this daily sacrifice was made. Even when the people were starving in war and in siege, they never failed to offer the sacrificial lamb until the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. It could well be that John is saying: 'In the Temple, a lamb is offered every night and every morning for the sins of the people; but the only sacrifice which can really deliver people from sin is in this Jesus' (1). So the second implication of the phrase is that suffering and sacrifice was required of the Lamb of God in order to achieve God's will.
The third and final implication of the phrase was as a reference to the great apocalyptic lamb who would destroy evil in the world, as noted in the book of Revelation, where the phrase is used twenty-nine times. The qualities of the Lamb of God in this book all have to do with glory and power which ultimately will belong to him. As we hear during every Easter season "The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive honor, glory and praise!...To him be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever" (2)
To sum up then, the love of the Son of Man for his people would cause him to suffer and die as a lamb led to the slaughter. But it would be this ignominious death which would ultimately lead to his glorification in heaven.
So what does all of this have to do with us? As followers of Christ, we are called to imitate his example. Therefore, just as he loved us, we are called to be servants who serve others out of love for them. And as anyone who has ever been in love knows, love demands sacrifice.
There is a song which we all know so well and yet how often do we really think about the words that we are singing? It was composed by Dan Schutte, one of the former St. Louis Jesuits, and it has become well accepted, not only in Catholic churches, but in churches of other denominations who have grown as fond of it as we have. It is called Here I Am, Lord. The first verse and chorus speak especially well to what we are discussing here.
- "I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.
I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." (4)
We are called to bring a light into the darkness of the lives of others by our love and sacrifice for them. Perhaps a story might better explain what we need to do.
- Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister, was attending a seminar one day in Greece. On the last day of the conference, the discussion leader walked over to the bright light of an open window and looked out. Then he asked if there were any questions. Fulghum laughingly asked him what was the meaning of life. Everyone in attendance laughed and stirred to leave.
However, the leader held up his hand to ask for silence and then responded "I will answer your question." He took his wallet out of his pocket and removed a small round mirror about the size of a quarter. Then he explained "When I was a small child during World War II, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun could never shine. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places that I could find.
I kept the little mirror, and as I grew up, I would take it out at idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game, but a metaphor of what I could do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light - be it truth or understanding or knowledge - is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.
I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world - into the dark places of human hearts - and change some things in some people. Perhaps others seeing it happen will do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life." (3)
We are called to shine the light of Christ into the lives of others. Where some saw only a filthy, diseased pauper, Mother Teresa saw the image of God. We are called to do the same. Through our acts of kindness, others can see the love of God for them. When the book of our lives is finally written, God should be able to tell each of us: "You were my servant...through whom I showed my glory" and "you were a light to the nations so that my salvation could reach to the ends of the earth". In the gospel, John the Baptist confesses that he did not recognize Jesus. Let the same NOT be said of us.
1. From the Gospel of John, copyright 1976 by William Barclay. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Used with permission. [Please be aware that all of William Barclay's commentaries on the 17 books of the New Testament from the Daily Study Bible are available on a CD-ROM which is included in the Daily Study Bible Library for $84.95 (reduced from a list price of $99.95) with three translations, Nave's Topical Index and a Greek/Hebrew Dictionary. One of the benefits of the Bible Library is that all references made by Barclay to Scripture passages are hyperlinked to take you directly to them.) Although I am an RC deacon, I find Barclay's commentaries to be a good down-to-earth beginning for my reflections (our differences in theology notwithstanding!!) and often use it to explain the text to my congregation.You can order either of these valuable resources, and many others at a discount, by clicking on the links above or through the Homiletic Resource Center. The full set of 17 books in print is available for $149.95 (list price is $189), while individual books are also available to complete your set for $10.49 each (list price is $14.95).]
3. It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, by Robert Fulghum. Ivy Books, 1988. (Quoted in Dynamic Preaching, Seven Worlds Corporation, 310 Simmons Road, Knoxville, Tn. 37922. Dynamic Preaching is modestly-priced subscription service ($39 annually by e-mail or $45 by disk or in print) may be purchased through the Homiletic Resource Center or by clicking the link above. But I highly recommend it, if for nothing else than the great illustrations it contains every week!)
4. Here I Am, Lord. Text copyright 1981 by Daniel L. Schutte and New Dawn Music.
(Copyright 2011 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Lord Jesus, you are the Servant of God who came to do the Father's will. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you are the Light to the nations who leads us all to eternal life. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Through baptism, we have all been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people. With one voice, we bring our needs to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That the leaders of the Church may be beacons of light to the people of all nations, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all in their power to bring peace on earth, we pray to the Lord.
That the elderly, the sick and the handicapped may see the love of God for them in our caring concern, we pray to the Lord.
That the Church may continue to proclaim the value and dignity of life, and that our lives may manifest our conviction to this teaching, we pray to the Lord.
That all those affected by natural disasters may be strengthened in their efforts to rebuild their lives, we pray to the Lord.
That the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. that people of all races might live in harmony may become reality, we pray to the Lord.
That one day all Christians may be united around the one table of the Lord, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Gracious Father, just as you sent your Spirit on your Son at his baptism, send your Spirit on each one of us who have been baptized in his name that we may recreate our lives and our world anew in your love and mercy. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.