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Monday, December 05, 2011

“A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.” (John 1:6-8)

Third Sunday of Advent

 December 11, 2011
Third Sunday of Advent
John 1:6-8, 19-28 Reading Here 
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

“The newly married couple had moved into their first home in a suburban neighborhood. One morning early on while eating breakfast, the young woman observed her neighbor hanging laundry outside on her clothesline. ‘Those clothes are really dingy,’ she smugly commented. ‘You’d think she’d know how to wash properly. She probably uses cheap laundry soap.’ Her husband looked on, but remained silent.

“From that morning on, every time her neighbor hung laundry to dry, the young woman made the same critical observation. But then, a month or so later, the sharp-eyed newly-wed was surprised to see bright, sparkling wash on her neighbor’s clothesline. She exclaimed to her husband, ‘Look! She’s finally got it right! I wonder who taught her.’

“Without even looking up from the morning newspaper, the young husband replied quietly, ‘I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.’” (Original source unknown)

What a revelation to the young woman! The dinginess was in her own vision, not her neighbor’s laundry. Something dark had clouded her own eyes, preventing her from seeing the actual brightness of what hung on the clothesline. And so it often is with us. Too easily do we make pronouncements and cast judgments from eyes focused through grimy windows. But, if we are fortunate, someone insightful comes along to restore clear vision to us.

The gospel passage we hear today describes the mission of such a clear-sighted man. The evangelist writes, “A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.” (John 1:6-8) Yes, John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare people’s hearts and minds – to open their eyes, clear their vision – for Jesus who was to come bearing salvation.

I am, indeed, one of the fortunate ones whose life is being enriched by the clear-sighted vision of, not one “John,” but 4 of them! Yes, among the 26 Holy Cross Brothers with whom I live, four are named “Brother John,” and each, in his unique way, has opened my eyes to a reality hitherto hidden. That is, each is quietly guiding me day by day along the challenging road of growth in grace.

An article recently discovered in a Catholic periodical sums up best what I’m learning from my elder brothers in Holy Cross – from the 4 named John, as well as the other 21 variously-named community members. Authored by Fr. Daniel O’Leary, the article is entitled “Sense of Heaven.” Following are excerpts:

“During the second half of my life, I am learning to grow by subtraction. These are the decades of inner work. We move into another place, the afternoon of our life, which cannot be lived by the drives and energies of life’s morning. ‘What is a normal goal to a young person becomes a neurotic hindrance in old age,’ wrote Carl Jung.

“At this time of life, one learns that to be transparent and honest is more important than to be successful or respected; that it is more blessed to be truly human and spiritual than religious or clerical.

“Bette Davis reminded us that ‘old age is not for sissies.’ She was right. Without a certain discipline and purpose of mind, the shadows of bitterness, cynicism or despair can easily begin their deadly work in us. But we must also, from time to time, sit back in wonder at our lives, savor the flavor of many graced experiences, of those unexpected moments of love that still fill us with gratitude and hope.

“The gradual harvesting of our lives brings many revelations. I have noticed, for instance, how often our pet beliefs, our commitment to rules and rubrics, to this or that certainty, seem to lose their influence over us. This usually happens when we finally surrender to the embrace of a God who is utterly different from anything we ever imagined.

“These contemplative years, then, are never meant to be a slow and slumbering slide into terminal places. They may, in fact, contain epiphanies of a vital presence, when we hold ourselves still, ‘quivering with each moment,’ as the mystic Rumi wrote, ‘like a drop of mercury.’ Such vibrant attentiveness, uniquely in later life, is what the mystics call ‘the sense of heaven.’” (“The Tablet,” October 8, 2011)

“The sense of heaven” – surely was this what John the Baptist was all about, calling people to “vibrant attentiveness” for the things of eternity, things which Jesus was soon to come and teach. John’s particular mission was to till the soil of the human heart in readiness for the reception of the seed of life that Jesus was to sow.

“The sense of heaven” is also something I daily experience in the lives of the Brothers with whom I live – not just the 4 named John, but all of them. These men, older in years and wiser in grace, are showing me by example how to let go of what’s unimportant in order to hold onto more tightly what really is important. Bearing the burden of age with all its accompanying diminishments, these Brothers of mine seem already to have one foot in heaven even as the other, though halting or shuffling, marches steadily on – sometimes even dancing – in anticipation of what’s ahead.

“A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.” (John 1:6-8) Let us this continuing Advent give attention and honor to those who bear witness to Jesus, the light, as they invite us to live even now with one foot already in heaven.

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