Memorial of St. John of the Cross | December 14, 2019

St. John of the Cross, the medieval mystic and Doctor of the Church, whose memorial we celebrate today is noted to have said:

“To love is to be transformed into what we love. To love God is therefore to be transformed into God.”

What a perfect summary of the journey of Advent to Christmas! We take a spiritual journey to be transformed into what – or rather who – we love – God made flesh in Jesus.

These readings today feature two pivotal spiritual figures of Advent as well – Elijah – the firebrand prophet of the Old Testament from ancient Israel, and John the Baptist, the fiery desert preacher who invited his listeners to empty out of their hearts and lives everything that was keeping them from God, so that they would be ready to see the Messiah when we he would appear.

Both of these men are often portrayed as stoic figures, hard-nosed, desert dwellers who said what they meant and spoke truth to power. (Its hard to imagine either of them appearing on the cover of a Hallmark Christmas card!)

Elijah it is said to have called down fire from heaven to prove the God of Israel was real and the gods of other nations were not. John the Baptist seemed to speak words of fire.

In both cases, their ire was not focused on everyday people as much as on kings and religious leaders who they  saw were not leading the people towards God’s love but away from it – often fashioning idols out of ideas about how God should be loved, rather than inviting them into an awareness of and experience of God’s love for them.

Both men also displayed the love of God in very concrete ways too. They spoke about the need for people to reform their lives, but also reminded people of God’s love, especially those who had no one to love them. John the Baptist and Elijah were transformed into what they loved. They became prophets of God’s life giving word. Jesus is the coming in flesh of that love.

This was the message of John the Cross too – who said that “in the twilight of life we will be judged on love” – how we have shown love to others.

In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us what John of the Cross knew, what John the Baptist knew, and what Elijah knew – that being transformed by the love of God, and loving people as God loves them is hard and often costly.

Often those who cling to money or power find such a love to be threatening – it exposes to themselves their own emptiness and resistance to that call to love.

Elijah was chased by kings who sought to kill him.

John the Baptist was beheaded.

Jesus was chased down as a child and had to flee as a refugee to another country. AND he was crucified. But he rose again.

All for love.

Once we have known the saving love of God ourselves, it is something we cannot help but share.

In the midst of a world which often seems desperate for an experience of that divine love, we lift up these wonderful examples of God’s love at work, and, of course, Jesus, who is that very love in his whole Person.

And we exhale  … because we know that God is love and that God has the final word.

God give you peace!

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As Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I have the opportunity to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.