June 24, 2021 – Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Yesterday was my 9th anniversary of ordination. This homily was originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish in June of 2012…it was my very first homily.
Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. John is mentioned 91 times in the New Testament. He was involved in some pretty dramatic events:
- He baptized Jesus in the Jordan and heard God speak
- He was beheaded and his head served on a platter to King Herod
We also know that John the Baptist was not a ‘mainstream’ guy
- He lived on the fringe of society
- He was a desert dweller
- He is described as wearing camel skin, having long scraggly hair and a beard, and it was written that he ate locusts and other insects
Descriptions of John may conjure up an image of someone who is not quite “all there.” But he was also described as “a voice crying out in the desert.” John had a powerful message that he was not afraid to share with whoever would listen. He preached a message of repentance.
Although he was loud and somewhat ‘in your face,’ the core of his message was one of love: Be open to Christ, prepare for Christ, and welcome Christ.
He was a voice crying out in the desert.
I work with an organization called HOOP (Helping Our Own People). Our work is simple. We stop at our storage facility and pick up clothing and toiletries. We stop at a local church and pick up soup, sandwiches, and fruit. Then we take these items out and distribute them to the homeless near downtown Indianapolis. No questions asked, just give them what they need and spend some time in conversation.
There is a deserted parking lot not far from Lucas Oil Stadium. A chain link fence runs the length of the parking lot and separates the lot from a wooded area that slopes down to the river. Some of the fence has been cut away, allowing people to come and go through the opening. When you step through that fence, you step into another world…8-10 tents and tarps serve as homes for up to twenty people.
On one particular night, we stop and honk our horn to announce our arrival, and people emerge to get food and whatever else we have to offer. One of the regulars, Paul, did not respond. Thinking he might be asleep, I went thru the fence, and down the path to his “home.”
He was laying on a piece of plywood, with a tarp thrown over a branch to serve as his roof. He was covered with a thin sheet and a trash bag full of his worldly possessions sat next to him.
He lives on the fringe of society. He has a long scraggly hair and a beard. Seeing Paul may conjure up an image of someone who is not quite “all there.”
I woke him up and told him HOOP had arrived. He sat up, stretched and smiled. His first words were: “I am so blessed. God is good.”
During our walk back up to the car, he told me multiple times how blessed he was, how good God was, and how grateful he was that we were there. Paul is always upbeat and positive.
After he ate and we chatted, I shared with him that donors had been generous and we had plenty of sweatshirts and blankets. It was going to be quite cold the next few nights.
He told me that he was blessed and that he had everything he needed. I tried again to get him to take some things, but he insisted that he had everything he needed. He said, “But I do have a favor to ask. There are a couple of new families who have moved in down by the river. Would you stop there and make sure they get everything they need?”
Like he always does, he ended by asking if I would join hands and say a prayer for he and his friends. On this night, I said, “Paul, you are so blessed. Would you pray for me and my friends?”
He smiled, we all joined hands, and Paul prayed for me and my friends.
Through his words and his actions, he was sharing a simple message of love: Be open to Christ, prepare for Christ, and welcome Christ.
Paul is a voice crying out in the desert.
I hope you will take the time to be still and listen to the voices crying out – they are inviting us to welcome Christ into our lives.
You can also be the voice – through your words and actions, invite others to welcome Christ into their lives.