Second Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year A
[Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34]
This past week, Edmonton and area found itself covered in fog. I was out of town on retreat and so missed it, but, having grown up in Nova Scotia, I know well what it is like to be fogged in. Fog robs us of clear vision. This renders movement difficult, even dangerous, because
we cannot see what lies before us. Only when the fog lifts are we able to see what is around us and move again freely and with confidence.
The texts this morning from Sacred Scripture address a different type of shrouded vision, one that is no less dangerous than what was recently experienced here with the blocking of the sun; indeed, it is even more so. I refer to the blindness that besets us when God is clouded from
sight. We are told that the Edmonton fog was the result of something called the “inversion effect”; temperatures in the higher atmosphere are warm rather than cold, creating a sort of cap under which fog particles develop and are captured. Spiritual fog is created by what we could
likewise call an inversion effect; in this case, the overturn of right perspective, whereby I replace God with myself, the divine commands with my own desires, in the determination of my life’s meaning and course. This self-reference creates a “cap”, a boundary, by which the light of God’s wisdom is eclipsed from view. I am consequently captured by deep shadow, unable to discern with any degree of clarity or certainty the true meaning and destiny of my life.
With this as background, let’s hear again the words of Isaiah. Speaking through the prophet, God says this of the servant he would send: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Here God promises to give the world a light that will lift the fog, so to speak, restore us to right vision, and enable us to see clearly our need for salvation. That light, moreover, will be a person, the one designated by God to be the world’s Saviour.
Christianity proclaims without equivocation that the light, the Saviour, promised by God, is none other than Jesus Christ. Among the first to testify to this truth is John the Baptist. Of Jesus, he says in today’s Gospel passage two things. First, that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” By allowing his own blood to be sacrificed on the altar of the Cross, Jesus will cancel out the sin of humanity and restore the human race to unity with God. He alone can do this because, as John goes on to say, he is the Son of God. Jesus is God’s own beloved Son, who descended from heaven to assume from Mary our human nature in order to redeem it. This makes Jesus the light that lifts the fog of confusion and dispels the darkness of error and sin. In him, we see clearly how we are to live, the wrong we have done, and the way forward in hope.
As I followed the news reports for this past week, I learned that the forecast of fog was accompanied by a warning of poor air quality. A number of dangerous pollutants were captured in the low atmosphere, impurities we could well have been breathing in to our detriment. The fog of self-reference that clouds out the wisdom of God is also accompanied by dangerous toxins that infect our minds and settle into our hearts: the poison of pride, the contaminant of envy, or noxious ideologies inimical to the Gospel. Here the call of the Gospel is to step away from this toxic environment and into the ambit of the Holy Spirit, who is the breath of God, the divine atmosphere, as it were, who reveals Jesus to us as he did to John the Baptist, and who through Baptism purifies us of the pollution of sin.
It is important to remember that this revelatory and purifying action of the Holy Spirit happens not just once; he is at work throughout our lives. Just as the fog in Edmonton, once dissipated, can easily return if the conditions are right, so, too, will our spiritual vision be repeatedly clouded over if we allow personal desires or societal influences to subvert the place of God. For this reason, the Spirit is always present, constantly at work, reminding us of what Jesus has taught and revealing him to us anew as our true light and unique hope. Likewise is the Spirit steadily active to purify our souls. I learned in a recent forecast that, even after the lifting of the fog, the harmful toxins would remain for a time in the air. As the Spirit brings us the light of Christ and restores us to clear vision, we become aware of the sinful toxins remaining in our souls needing to be purified. As St. Paul teaches, we are all called to be saints, something we cannot attain by our own efforts, so the Holy Spirit brings us the wondrous gift of divine mercy to restore us to holiness of life.
Entering now into the mystery of the Eucharist, let our hearts be open to this work of the Holy Spirit here and now. In this liturgy, he has already brought us the light of Christ by inspiring the sacred biblical texts and enlightening our understanding of them. Shortly, the Spirit will transform the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord, thus revealing him as wondrously present in our midst. The Spirit also acts to transform us by healing our souls of their many toxins and thus deepening our union with Christ and one another. By the grace of the Holy Spirit at this mass, may all clouded vision be lifted and our sullied hearts purified, so that we, like John the Baptist, may give effective witness before others that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and light of the world.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
January 15 th , 2023