Monday, December 12, 2011

Scary John the Baptist

It seems strange to have found my way back to the Catholic Church by reading what is to be found in the blogosphere.  Nonetheless, bloggers played a significant role in my finding my way.  Asking for prayers, for explanations, I wrote more than a couple (suggesting serious boundary issues on my part), and they couldn't have been more supportive.

Recently, one of them re-posted an old entry that I really enjoyed the first time I read it.  She had attended a Mass on an Advent Sunday.  During Advent, we read Isaiah, we hear of Mary, of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and of John the Baptist.  On this particular Sunday, Matthew's Gospel was read, creating the context for a homily that the priest began by saying "Scary John the Baptist."  When I was a kid, I was fascinated by John the Baptist.  I was ready to dive in.

John the Baptist is scary.  In his homily, the priest went through a list of reasons why he is a frightening character.  He calls people out, no matter their station.  It's not our weak "speaking truth to power".  He mocks--denies--their power.  He is almost feral.  We only have to give the quickest thought to how we'd react if we encountered him today.  He would be institutionalized in short order.

Sunday, we heard another account of John the Baptist's efforts, this time, from John's Gospel.  We heard of the priests and Levites going out from Jerusalem ("Go!  We don't want him here!") to ask John the Baptist who on earth he is.  In response to their questions, he tells them that he's not the Christ; he's not Elijah or the Prophet.  In frustration, they ask, "What can you say for yourself?"  He answers:

"I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said."

Our homilist pointed out that this is the answer of one who completely and totally identifies with his vocation, with why he was born, why he was put on this earth.

My reaction: this is why John the Baptist is terrifying.  All the other stuff--the wildness, the unvarnished speech, the diet of honey and locusts--they're the outward signs of someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to live out who he truly is, to do what he was born to do.  But the real cause of fear is that he completely disappeared into his vocation.

While it's conceivable that there are people walking the planet to day who are called to such a dramatic vocation, I don't think I'm one of them.  I could be very wrong, but I doubt that there are many.  After all, Christ said that no man was greater than John the Baptist. Nonetheless, I have absolutely no doubt that millions of us are scared to death by the prospect of truly taking on the tasks that are before us, of becoming who we truly are.

Becoming who we truly are is the path to freedom, but it most certainly is not free.  What am I going to have to give up to start down this path, much less get close to the destination?  What happens to me?  Loneliness?  Poverty?  Derision?  Rejection? All of this and more looms large in my mind as I try to peek past the gate and see down that road.  I'm not seeing any glimpse of anything good, of anything I want to hold on to as much as I want to hold on to what I already have.  In the absence of faith, fear takes hold.

Walking away from this path isn't free, either.  I drank out of shame.  I used alcohol and people to dull the pain of living a life I knew was sorely misdirected.  I drank to kill the little voice telling me that there is a better part, and it's intended for me.  Of course, it's no coincidence that John the Baptist was ultimately put to death.

If you've been following the blog, you know that the point here is to share the experience, strength, and hope that has come my way since I got sober; hopefully, others will share, as well.  In any event, this story probably doesn't make it any easier to think about taking the first step away from addiction.  That first step looks looks to be enormous.  The costs loom large and the returns uncertain.  In the coming days, I'll be writing about how I found that recovery is a good time to think small.  There's a reason why AA suggests that we take one day at a time.

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