St. John the Evangelist Parish
When he arrived in Milan in 384, a young St. Augustine had grown dissatisfied with the gnostic world view he had embraced for some time. He began to look beyond the materialistic world in search of things eternal … His pendulum swung from end of the spectrum to the other… Until his encounter with Christ – the living God … the image of the invisible. Augustine then learned to find God in all things – above the world in the realm of the eternal and heavenly, as well as in the natural, material world – in nature and in humanity.
In this is what the Baptism of the Lord teaches us today – the invisible God took on our human form, our nature, He became one of us … His baptism is a testimony to His identification with us – how this God of ours came down from the heights of heaven to enter our world, to be in us and among us…
St. Augustine learned this and it’s a lesson for us too – Christianity is relational… it is not an ideology that is expressed in ideas … Christianity is a lived reality – it is incarnational … “I am the image of the invisible God.” We need the material, the matter, the things we can sense – touch, taste, smell, hear … we need these things because that which touches the senses has the capacity to lift the soul … Hence, we need the priesthood – because the priest sets us up for an encounter … Christ still makes Himself known to us in many ways but in no clearer way than in the Holy Eucharist and the priest is the vessel of that encounter. As Christ met the people and walked with them, identified with them, so too the priesthood today – priests are meant to walk with their flock, identify with them … Jesus didn’t have sins, but priests do so we are all on the same level… but it is by the sacramental grace of the priesthood that enables Christ to be seen, to be heard, to be encountered through their ministry and administration of the sacraments. The priest makes Him present on the altar in the Eucharist, the priest ministers the mercy of God in the confessional, the priest ushers the dying into eternal life … the priest goes into battle with the powers of evil to save souls … Priests are meant to fight for souls!
Friends, today, our diocese in a crisis… for 2 reasons – there is on the one hand a crisis of faith and as such, secondly, a crisis of vocations. The crisis of faith is that so many folks are lost to the ways of the world and grown cold and indifferent to the things of God – faith is a matter of trust … trust opens the heart to believe and see the image of the invisible God… The crisis in vocations stems first from this crisis of faith…
Today, the diocese of Springfield has one seminarian – who will not reach ordination for another 3 ½ years … think of all the priests who might retire in that time – or God forbid, die. If we lose too many, parishes might close, Masses would be consolidated… it will become very difficult to find a priest readily available to escort the dying home to God … this is a reality we face.
But its not all bad – there is hope because Christianity is not an ideology … it is relational, it is lived and breathed … it encompasses the whole of one’s life – heart, mind, body and soul… by virtue of our own baptism we become children of God ourselves – He lives within each of us – as Augustine so beautifully points out – “you were with me, but I was not with you and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Christ is in and among us – He is in and among you… Therefore, in this time of crisis, we, all of us now, must make Him visible… we therefore, need not only to create a culture that is supportive of vocations but also a culture of faith within our homes, families, communities and so on. We cannot be afraid to be the image of God for others – to speak of His mercy, of the salvation He offers to those who trust in Him… to be a voice of encouragement to the men of our diocese who might be called to be the next generation of priests in our diocese. So many people are lost to the ideologies of the world – they are just searching for meaning … lets help them see God in whom we find our true selves … and for those called to priesthood will find their vocation … will find what exactly it is they were destined to become.