While waiting for my annual physical the other day, I attempted to glance through a magazine. Though I had no known reason for concern, I was nervous just the same. I’d already seen my blood work results. My improved cholesterol numbers guaranteed me another year free of medication. My blood pressure had been consistently good and I’d lost a few pounds. Still, I was anxious as I wondered what the doctor might find. For a second, I actually laughed at my predicament. Normally, I’m the calming force who encourages others along the way. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t do this for myself that afternoon. I looked at the reflection in the window next to me and wondered who the nervous patient was who’d suddenly occupied my body. Where was I?
Today, my parish’s new Nativity figures and crèche rest in storage with the Christmas Trees and greenery which adorned them. The splashes of red foliage and white vestments which proclaimed Christmas so dramatically give way to the green of a new liturgical season. Until Ash Wednesday, we’ll observe Ordinary Time. Math scholars among us will appreciate the reasoning behind this designation. “Ordinary Time” references those weeks between holy seasons when we count Sundays in ordinal fashion, one after another. As for me, I consider Ordinary Time to be the perfect time to acknowledge our ordinary selves and our ordinary efforts to live our typically ordinary lives as best we can. This time around, however, I’m searching for my ordinary self: the one who managed to escape me during that visit with the doctor the other day. Where was I?
When I turned to today’s scriptures to prepare for this writing, I was relieved to find that I’m not the only one whose identity has been in question. The first reading’s author (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) was actually an anonymous prophet of the time. He continued to write in Isaiah’s style to encourage the people and himself to embrace who they were and to live accordingly. He wrote, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant… I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” It seems to me that there was nothing ordinary about God’s designation or God’s hope for this Second Isaiah. Indeed, God had the poor man’s work cut out for him. As I read further, I became convinced that this prophet must have questioned his identity when things went very well and especially when things went awry. Did he ask, “Who am I?” in the midst of his troubles?
In the second reading (1 Corinthians 1:1-3), Paul opened his first letter to the Corinthians by announcing that he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Throughout his writings, Paul insisted that he was who he was as a result of Divine Intervention in his life. The best part of this was that Paul behaved exceedingly more bravely than most as a result. Even from his prison cell, he preached until the end. As I read, it occurred to me that Paul was able to do all that he did because he embraced who he was in God’s eyes and he lived accordingly. This seems easy enough. Still, I thought I knew who I am in God’s eyes, yet I couldn’t find myself the other day…
In today’s gospel (John 1:29-34), John the Baptist insisted that he had engaged in all of his preaching and baptizing to pave the way for the one who would follow him. John made it clear that he was not the one for whom the people waited. In the end, John’s work proved extremely important. After watching events unfold around him and listening carefully to God’s voice deep within him, John looked upon Jesus and found God’s Spirit within him. So it was that John courageously announced, “He is the Son of God.” With that, Jesus embraced his identity and went out to spread the good news as he knew it. In the process, Jesus identified Mary as both woman and mother, Peter as the Rock, Lazarus as his dear friend and every other person on Jesus’ path as accepted, deemed worthy, forgiven and embraced without condition. If those around Jesus knew nothing else about themselves, they did know that they were loved. If asked who they were, each one could proudly answer, “I am me and I am loved!”
You know, Ordinary Time does provides the perfect opportunity to acknowledge our ordinary selves, our ordinary efforts and our ordinary lives as God does. Though I didn’t do this very well in the doctor’s office that day (yes, I broke into a sweat and my heart pounded the entire time), I did find “me” on the way home. When the bright sun warmed my hands as I clutched the cold steering wheel, I began to whisper a “thank you” for this unexpected warmth. Before I uttered a word, I found that my heart had warmed as well. Finally, I realized that God knew where I was all along. Finally, I discovered, “I am me and I am loved!” So are you!
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