‘One is coming mightier than I…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Lk. 3:16). ‘He must increase; I must decrease’ (Jn. 3:30). St. John the Baptist
I’ll admit it--I’m shrinking. Once 5’ 10.5’’, I’m down to 5’ 10’’ and dropping. I predict a clean 5’ 9’’ when death do us part. But that doesn’t diminish my fire. In truth, I experience incendiary moments when decades distill into dense oil then combust and flare like a klieg light. I’m consumed; joyfully burning up and out.
Martyr Fr. Alfred Delp employs Advent candles as a metaphor for the prophetic life: he sees them as ‘giving light at the cost of one’s own substance, so that one is consumed in the process…Christ’s mission of light shines so that we too do good at the cost of one’s own substance’ (Advent of the Heart, p. 53).
None exemplify this better than St. John the Baptist, whose words punctuate the Gospel (Lk. 3:10-18) for the third Sunday in Advent. John’s torch blazed a path for, and cast a glow on, his bridegroom; he burned bright and died young. Herodias hated John for reminding her that God didn’t recognize her marriage to Herod. Unable to kill her conscience, she killed him. Like his bridegroom, John endured ultimate scorn for the joy set before him.
I honor his witness this Advent by shrinking (as joyfully as possible) to shine for Jesus. We journeyed to Poland last week where we jested and jostled through the nation, beginning at Catholic University in Lublin where Pope St. John Paul II served as Professor of Ethics from ’54-’57. Abbey, Marco, and I gave it our best shot as we witnessed in a lecture hall then raced to finish our offering in the chapel (long story). Afterwards, we drove south fast to Wadowice, hometown of John Paul, where we stepped out of the car and into a Living Waters training, which was held in a Carmelite monastery/retreat center where the late great pope received his call to the priesthood! Cold and wearied by the COVID gauntlet, we combusted with our Polish colleagues who had suffered from shutdowns but gathered to retake holy ground. These wounded healers are witnesses of how Almighty Mercy overtakes shame then sends demons and detractors to flight. In the Spirit, I saw these witnesses join hands and encircle the nation, a ring of fire that barred sexual identity politics from entry. Glorious. Overwhelming.
Sleepless, I suited up and ran in the dark snowy night. I came upon JP’s home church and next to it a rather diminutive statue of John Paul, elevated, with him extending his shepherd’s crook (in the form of a long crucifix) as to bless any who stepped under it. I stood there for a few minutes. The Spirit fell like fire on my snowy self. I felt small, like a child and wizened elder. Both! In the Holy Spirit, in the spirit of two Johns, I felt Jesus’ pleasure and assurance, the joy of enkindling: small flames waiting to flare up once more.
I shall burn up, and out.
‘The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for Him; and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice’ (Jn. 3:39).