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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Our Great Nickname! (Homily 1-19-2014)

If we're not different at all from the world, then we will not make much of a difference in the world.
One of the most important things that makes people unique is their names. We all have names given to us from our parents, and those names in some way show us that we are a person with dignity even before we can possibly earn it, just as God, through our Baptism into Christ Jesus, calls us His children even before we realize that we can never do anything to deserve it. He calls us “beloved.” God calls us.
But throughout out lives, we are called all sorts of other things, too. I'm not only referring to all those sorts of things that one cannot say with propriety (especially not in the middle of a homily), but even to those affectionate and heartfelt nicknames we receive in lifetime. Nicknames which people call us show relationship, such as “mom,” “dad,” “amigo,” “honey,” and whatever other nice things we call each other. But they also can show our personal values: for example, my grandfather was called by the name of his favorite baseball player because he loved the sport and that athlete so much.
Well, today we hear a lot about God giving nicknames to people. Through Isaiah God calls Israel his servant. This servant will later become the suffering servant who dies for the sins of the people. To Saint Paul God calls him to be an “apostle,” one sent ahead to bring a message – the message of Christ Jesus who has turned the world upside down and opened for us a new way to God. Saint Paul tells the people of Corinth that they are called to be holy (or “saints”). And in today's Gospel John the Baptist gives Jesus a nickname of His own: Behold The Lamb of God, Behold Him to takes away the sins of the world. (The word lamb, by the way, is the same word used in Aramaic for a servant, such as Isaiah mentioned in the first reading). John later testifies further that Jesus is the “Son of God.”
These nicknames from God describe more than the personal values of Israel, Paul, the Corinthians, or Jesus. They do not only establish a relationship, though they certainly do that also. What they do most powerfully is they define an identity. This is who this person is at the deepest level. Israel, and all of us with them, are called to be a servant of the living God. Paul, and all of us with him, are called to bear the Good News of Christ to others and live it in our bodies and through our lives. We like the Corinthians are created to become the saints that we know we are not yet.
But what of Christ? we aren't supposed to take away the sins of the world. Although we are adopted into God's family, we cannot be “the Son of God” as Jesus is.
No, but we are meant to bear the light of Christ within us, for we have also received a specific nickname, a calling, a vocation, that defines us at our deepest level. We are called Christians, meaning most literally “one of those people who belong to the Anointed One” (the Messiah). And that says it more perfectly than anything. We belong to Him. We are His, not anyone or anything else's, and throughout the Church year, we learn bit by bit what it means to bear the light of Christ we have received in Baptism for a world that needs it.

If we're not different at all from the world, then we will not make much of a difference in the world. If we simply conform to everything that society leads us towards, how are we going to help to move it in the right direction. No, the Church is meant to be a leader in this world, not a follower, because it knows and follows the one leader who takes us to our true happiness, even if it means through a cross. We are different because, call us whatever they will, we call ourselves Christians. We belong to the Lamb of God who has shown us a love greater than all the world, and we will not give it up.

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