I was ordained a bishop on the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 1986 (please note that it was the “Birth” and not the “Beheading”). It seemed particularly appropriate that the later part of Chapter 1 of John’s Gospel should be proclaimed during the Eucharistic liturgy on the day of my episcopal retirement, January 4, 2017.
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”
Saint Augustine makes this contrast between John and Jesus, highlighting the humility of John, whose role was to prepare the way of the Lord: “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives forever.”
Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.
…When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: “ My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word: we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.”
John saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.
In today’s gospel we find John directing two of his disciples away from himself and towards the one whom he proclaimed as the Lamb of God. As a result John’s two disciples became disciples of Jesus. Having responded to John’s invitation to go towards the Lamb of God, they subsequently responded to Jesus’ invitation to come and see. John was not possessive about his group of disciples. He encouraged them to go towards someone else who had more to offer them than he had.
To love others in the way God loves them is to want what is best for them, and that will often mean letting them go to others who can help them to grow as human beings and as children of God in ways that we cannot. It is above all the Lord who can help us to grow fully as human beings and as sons and daughters of God. The greatest act of love we can show to others is to let them go to the Lord, to direct them to the Lord as John the Baptist directed his own disciples: “look, here is the Lamb of God.”
There was only so much John could do in leading his disciples to Jesus. They had to make their own personal response to the call of Jesus to come and see. There is only so much any of us can do to lead others to the Lord. At some point, we all have to make our own personal response to the Lord’s personal call to each one of us: “Come and see. They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day” (John 1:39).
✠ F. B. Henry
Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Calgary