Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6 + Psalm 40 + 1Corthians 1, 1-3 + John 1, 29-34
Deacon Retreat: Diocese of Venice in Florida 19 January 2020
As we end these good days we have spent together, John the Baptist appears before us, and perhaps in spite of all the great deacon/saints in history like Stephen, Philip, Lawrence of Rome, Francis of Assisi, or a Deacon named Vincent who is the great martyr of Spain, there is still John the Baptist. Even though no Bishop ever laid hands on him, I believe his presence through this Gospel is a significant way to close this year’s retreat and return home.
Thomas Merton has been quoted as saying, “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for.” It is an intimate question that forces us to identity our deepest values. At the same time, when I say that I am living FOR something, there is recognition that I am incomplete and longing for something more than what I am now.
John the Baptist was living for God’s promised future. John admitted that what he did was only the beginning. It wasn’t just for the sake of virtue that people had to clean up their lives. They did it to get ready for something more. John was water; he was waiting for fire. John awakened the desires of his disciples. With him, they began to understand what they were seeking, what they were really living for, John knew that they shared his desire and that, though he could not fulfill it, God could and would.
Today’s meeting with John the Baptist invites us to ask Merton’s question, and as ourselves what we are living for and for whom we live. What is it we long for? Asking those questions demands courage. Longing is not a comfortable feeling or way to live. It exposes an emptiness and recognizes how incomplete we are. It’s easier to think about wishes and wants: a favorite food, happy and successful children, a winning team, or nice vacation. Those things are easy to attain, but they don’t really make a difference in life, and are quickly seen as shallow and incomplete because we always want more.
Leave here today with the words of Merton in your mind. The more you cultivate the virtues I have spoken of here, the more what you live for will be revealed. Live for Worthiness. Live for Communion and Holy Intimacy. Live for Justice with indignation, and live to emulate because as you do, there will be room in this world for what is more beautiful and more divine than we can imagine. As Deacons of this Church, like John, you baptize with water and pray for that fire Jesus Christ still brings to us: not fire that destroys, but a fire than brightens the night, warms the cold, and draws us from the darkness into the Light. Perhaps, if someone asked what you were living for, you might be able to say: I’m living for the fire and the light. If you are the deacon that carries the Easter Candle, think of that this coming spring. Now, let us take food for the journey home.