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December 13, 1996     The Message
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December 13, 1996

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13,1996 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 1i -" Commentary -_ controversial figure: Who was John the Baptist? GOspel Commentary for would be that the Gospel of John is gospels and Josephus indicate that the people 15, 1996: Third Sun- B: John 1:6. All four gospels indicate an first-century debate over and role of John the This controversy took only among Jews but Jewish and Gentile Not only do the gospels Such a debate but it is by Flavius Jose- ry Jewish : i i i By FATHER DON DILGER COLUMNIST author, and military leader. speaks of John the Baptist as a good man the Jews to be virtuous, to treat honor God appropriately, to put and to show their assent to his pro- a baptism. Josephus adds that great an influence over the people that decided to have him imprisoned and any possible problems. :ate to some extent the con- i John the Baptist even long , but the Gospel of John gives greater of this gospel an author or Inserted a para - - .,. graph msmtmg on the -loonn the Baptist's mission, but with on his role as secondary to Jesus: came to bear witness to the 'explains who the "true light" was. on light? At least one reason heavily influenced by the Old Testa- ment Book of Wisdom, a book which refers to the Torah or teaching of Moses as a great and imperishable light. In its debates with Judaism the Gospel of John contrasts Jesus' teaching with that of Moses. The author asserts that Jesus' teaching is the "true light." At a later time disciples of John the Baptist assert- ed that their hero's teachingwas the true light. The Gospel of John denies this and claims that the Baptist was only a witness to the true light. Other questions were asked about John the Baptist. Was he the Messiah, the Christ? "Messiah" and "Christ" translate the same concept. "Messiah" is a transliteration of a Hebrew word, while "Christ" is a transliteration of a Greek word. The Gospel of John portrays the Baptist as being asked this very question. He denies it emphati- cally, "I am not the Messiah!" The Gospel of Luke also notes that many wondered if John the Baptist might be the Messiah. Another debate was whether or not John might be the prophet Elijah. According to a story in II Kings 2, the prophet Elijah did not die but was snatched up to heaven in a whirlwind and riding in a chariot of fire. The common belief was that Elijah had to return to resume his mission to God's people. Could the Baptist be the returned Eli- jah? "No way," says the the Gospel of John. A fourth question was the kind of prophet John was. Was he A prophet or the prophet? Both the thought of John as a prophet, but was he the prophet. According to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 God would raise up "a prophet like Moses." The original intent of this passage seems to have been to estab- lish the legitimacy of Joshua as the successor of Moses. Later interpreters, however, kept looking for a new Moses and this expectation is found in the New Testament. Luke's Acts of Apostles claims that Jesus is this "prophet like Moses." The Gospel of John denies it in today's gospel-reading. Finally the Gospel of John joins our other three gospels in applying to John the Baptist the words of Isaiah 40:3 as the "voice crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" Here as in the other gospels John is portrayed as declaring his unworthiness to perform the service of a slave to "the One who is to come after him," i.e. to untie his sandal strings, to take off his shoes. Unlike the other gospels, in the Gospel of John there is no call to repentance, but in episodes following today's gospel-reading, the Baptist is depicted as continu- ing to point out Jesus to others, even urging his own disciples to leave him and follow Jesus. We are asked to be like John in repeated proclamation and pointing out of Jesus. We are asked not to keep on asserting our own "I" but to be submerged into the "I" of Jesus. We cannot extol ourselves by any title other than unworthy to be servants of the true light. That is the message of the life and work of John the Baptist. Readings: Isaiah 61:1.2a, I0-11; I Thessalo- nians 5:16-24 cs urged to embark on adventure in millennium preparations (CNS) of on an Lense personal :paration for third mil- letter, he urged fast on sacra- and of mind and .a grace-filled Weigand issued by cs in at POpe John the first 1, as the Years of 'I011 in preparation for the Holy Year 2000. Bishop James T. McHugh of Camden, N.J., and Bishop Edward J. O'Donnell of Lafayette, La., also called Catholics to renewal and reconciliation. Bishop McHugh's letter, released Nov. 29, told Catholics that "strengthening our faith in Christ and the church must be our primary goal during this first year. Through our life and activity in our parishes we also prepare the way for unity with our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches." Bishop O'Donnell, in a letter released Dec. 1, also focused on openness to people of other faiths oz" without re|igious affili- ation. "The pope warns us Catholics that this observance must not be a sign oftriumphal- ism for the church, involving us in competition and antagonism with others," he said. "Something good is right on your way" DELICIOUS DC,NUTS, CAKES, BAGELS, & COOKIES Business ce Needs Fire and Theft Product Liability Commercial Auto Workers Comp GENcY '93 George Helfrich In his letter to Sacramento Catholics, Bishop Weigand noted that each of the three years lead- ing up to 2000 has been assigned a theme by the pope: -- 1997, God's incarnation as Jesus, with a focus on the sacra- ment of baptism and the virtue of faith. -- 1998, the Holy Spirit, with a focus on confirmation and the virtue of hope. -- 1999, the person of God, with a focus on penance and the virtue of charity. The church's jubilee celebra- tion in 2000 will focus on the Eucharist. Bishop Weigand said the Sacramento Diocese would hold a eucharistic congress that year. He encouraged the people of Sacramento to pray in prepara- tion for the jubilee year and to have a renewed appreciation of God as present"really, truly and substantially in the blessed EuCharist." Participation in Sunday Mass "is central to the life of a Catholic," he continued. "Good external preparation alone is not the goal, however, rather a deep internal participation in the sacred mysteries of Christ, made truly present sacramentally. We would do well to review again what the Mass really is in all its dimensions." Bishop Weigand encouraged parishes to sponsor adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, calling it "an important way for the fruits of the Mass to be contin- ued in our lives." Families also should adopt simple forms of prayer, he said, such as reflec- tion on a Scripture passage, tra- ditional prayers or saying the rosary together. Catholics in Sacramento also were being encouraged to fast and abstain from eating meat on Fridays to help focus prayer for the millennium. Fasting "will remind us to hunger for the Lord and will help us to identify with the needy, with whom Jesus identi- fied himself," Bishop Weigand said. Abstaining-from meat will "serve as a weekly reminder in our homes or when socializing that we are different." He asked parishes, diocesan programs and Catholic institu- tions and organizations to not serve meat on Fridays at events they sponsor. "This will be a simple, con- crete and communal exercise of a people journeying towards the great jubilee," he said. Bishop McHugh noted that Pope John Paul II's apostolic let- ter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente" ("The Coming of the Third Mil- lennium") calls for the three- year period to be lived as a "new Advent." 'Fhe year 2000 is a special cel- ebration of Christ's coming," he said in his letter. "It is a year of favor from the Lord for all who will close out the 20th century and begin a new millennium. For Christians, reflection on our Old Testament ancestry, it is a time of liberation, of equality and of justice." Quoting the pope, Bishop McHugh said the Jubilee Year is "a year of the remission of sins and the punishment due to them, a year of reconciliation between conflicting parties, a year of manifold conversions and of sacramental and nonsaera- mental penance." The period of preparation "is not only a matter of personal piety, but it involves the whole church," Bishop McHugh said. The pope asks Catholics to use the time as a new Advent, with "increased sensitivity to all that the Spirit is saying to the church and to churches." In writing about relations with other religions in his letter, Bishop O'Donnell quoted pas- sages from the pope's letter on the millennium noting that "the church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they" departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel and instead of offering the world the witness of a life inspired by the value of faith...." ?v'e Catholics have not always shown the love of Christ to Christians of other churches," said Bishop O'Donnell. "We may not have been as helpful in the cause of ecumenism as we might have been, nor as involved in helping to bring justice to our community." "Nor have we always treated our non-Christian neighbors with due respect," he continued. "In other ages, we have been guilty of intolerance and even violence in the service of truth. For whatever shadows of those attitudes that still exist, we apol- ogize, especially to people of the Jewish faith who have suffered so much through the centuries by a misapplication of Christian principles." Bishop O'Donnell said the church also must acknowledge injustice and lack of charity to fellow Catholics, such as to African-Americans whose faith and love of the church "is all the more noteworthy" in light of seg, regation and discrimination with which many Catholics con- curred. True sorrow for such attitudes and actions requires "a firm determination to turn away from sin and weakness,  he continued. The overall goal of the preparations "is nothing less than a rejuvenated Catholic Church in Lafayette to wel- come the new millennium -- cleansed, strengthened, and better able to ii and proclaim the Word of God, Jesus Christ and his Gospel." Bishop O'Don- nell concluded.