Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 19)

The older woman was there for Mass at the nursing home. She was gathered with a group of 30 other residents waiting for the priest to arrive. When the priest came in she said from her wheel chair – “Father, I have a joke.” The priest walked over to her and she told the joke – ending with “see I made you laugh.”

There she was, a woman in her eighties, confined to using a wheel chair, living in a nursing home, preparing to celebrate Mass and what she first wanted to do was to share some joy with the visiting priest.

In a very simple yet powerful way, she witnessed to her faith, sharing the joy of the Gospel she lived in her entire life. It did not matter that her mobility was compromised. It did not matter that she was a resident in a nursing home. It did not matter that she depended on a lot of other people to help her with ordinary things of life. She could still share the joy of the Gospel and she did it through a simple joke and in doing so she bears witness to a faith well integrated in her life.

John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him at some point after the baptism and says to all around: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” His words are familiar to anyone who attends Mass regularly. The priest says these words as he holds up the consecrated bread and wine just after the faithful proclaim the “Lamb of God.”

John is bearing witness to Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry. He goes on to explain his own mission in relationship to Jesus: “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” John fulfills his role of preparation for Jesus’ arrival. Now he humbly points his followers to Jesus so that they might become disciples as well. His words today are a witness to his faith in Jesus.

The first reading from Isaiah speaks of the Lord’s mission to the world, not just to the household of Israel. He says: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The light of Israel is seen in the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. John pointed this out as he calls Jesus the “Lamb of God.”

It is Jesus who will dispel the darkness of sin and death through his passion, death and resurrection. It seems nothing can be darker than the manner in which Jesus died yet three days later this darkness is shattered by the light of his Resurrection. Now his disciples and apostles will go forth in witness to this – to the ends of the earth so that all nations will know and will be invited to faith.

Psalm 40 is the text used for the responsorial. The psalmist proclaims God’s goodness to him: “I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped down toward me and heard my cry. And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God.” As the psalm continues, the witness entails the psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and blessings. This response is echoed in our response to the verses: “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.”

Jesus, John the Baptist, Isaiah, St. Paul and Sosthenes have all taken these words to heart in their lives. Each one gives witness by their way of life and their words to God’s goodness. The Baptist, Paul and Sosthenes all refer to Christ Jesus as the pinnacle of those blessings.

St. Paul reminds the Corinthians in the opening words of his letter that they have been “sanctified” in Christ Jesus and are “called to be holy.” One element of this sanctified life is bearing witness to God’s goodness and blessings in our lives, to share the joy of the Gospel through which we have a share in divine life.

The manner in which we do this can be multiple and varied. Sharing the joy of the Gospel through our interactions with others lies at the heart of this witness. Whether it be through proclamation, service, care, correction or kindness, the witness is given.

It can even be through telling a simple joke like the woman in the nursing home. The manner of the witness is not as important as the witness itself: “Now I have seen and testified that he (Jesus) is the Son of God.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.