The Church continues her presentation of excerpts from the First Letter of John.
As it was several days ago, the First Letter of John continues to warn us about antichrists, deceivers who will infiltrate the Church and undermine the Church’s profession and practice of the faith. One of the particular intentions of antichrists is to cast doubts on Christ’s revelation “in the flesh” and by this is meant a denial of the Incarnation of God in Christ.
The Incarnation is the startling revelation that God in Christ accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. In our own time this denial often manifests itself in a reduction of Christ to being merely a religious symbol of God, rather than God himself or in the reduction of Christ to being merely a prophet or social activist or spiritual guru. These kinds of reductions are lies and these lies are usually told in service of some ideological purpose or agenda.
Antichrists lurk in all our refusals of Christ. Our “no” to Christ will always have a negative consequence. If our “no” to Christ is expressed in a stubborn refusal to accept who he reveals himself to be, a person will either leave the Church that he established or a person will remain within the Church and foment division and subvert the Church’s mission.
Thus does the Church insist that at our great Sunday liturgies that the Profession of Faith be publically professed. The profession of faith as expressed in the Creed might be likened as a solemn oath that we take by which we testify to the truth of Christ’s revelation and commit ourselves to resist those refusals of Christ that will divide and undermine the Church.
Our profession of faith as expressed in the public recitation of the creed at Mass reminds us that we are disciples of the Lord Jesus, not religious dilettantes. Faith in Christ’s revelation compels a decision- are we for or against him, we will gather with him or scatter? Our qualifications of the truth of his revelation manifest our refusal.
The Gospel for today presents the testimony of John the Baptist.
John is not himself the revelation of God. He makes this absolutely clear. Instead, he is a mere man with a mission from God, and this mission is to direct people to God’s revelation. God’s revelation is Christ the Lord.
All disciples of the Lord Jesus should pay careful attention to John the Baptist’s testimony, as it illuminates our own mission.
The mission of a disciple, of a follower of the Lord Jesus, is give testimony to Christ and to invite people to know Christ and become his friends. Like John’s mission, this is public work.
The great twentieth century spiritual master, Hans Urs von Balthasar once remarked that the Christian is placed by Christ out on the streets of the world. St. John Paul II did not travel the world so as to provide faith- based entertainment, but to give public testimony to Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict echoed this when he testified that faith in Christ is always public. Pope Francis’ emphasis on a Church that is willing to go out to what he terms “the existential peripheries” is also expressing the truth about what it means to be a disciple- being a disciple is a public, not private act.
If the Church is always public, then the parish can never be just a private club that is closed in on itself and attentive only to those concerns and causes that preoccupy its members. Instead, the parish, like the Church (of which the parish is only a part) looks outwards and towards the world, seeking to invite people to know Christ and share the gifts he wants them to enjoy.
Inward looking parishes may get some strength from their narrowness for a time, but will ultimately falter and fail. Christians who reduce their profession and practice of the faith to a private matter will ultimately undermine the faith they seek to profess and practice privately.
Like John the Baptist, our testimony to Christ must be boldly public.