God always finds a way to leave an impression in our lives, sometimes by speaking through others. In this Sunday’s Gospel, he speaks through John the Baptist. John the Baptist is preaching in the desert of Judea announcing, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” We are aware of John the Baptist and his role, to prepare for the coming of Christ. Christ himself said that among those born of women, John the Baptist was the greatest (Mathew 11: 11). John’s greatness was realized through what he accomplished, the will of God. John prepared the way of the Lord through what he spoke.
We can call to mind a preacher of that sort in the Dominican tradition, St. Vincent Ferrer. Vincent Ferrer was a Dominican priest from Valencia, Spain. He entered the Order of Preachers in 1347. Originally commissioned to teach philosophy upon completion of his scholastic studies, he dedicated himself to apostolic preaching. He was said to have evangelized all throughout Europe in Ireland, England, Flanders, Germany, France, Italy, Scotland, and Spain. He once preached a sermon where he talked about John the Baptist. This sermon was translated from Latin by Fr. Albert Judy, OP, a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Albert the Great. An excerpt reads:
The proper office of the voice is to manifest and show the purpose of the heart, or the concept of the mind. The Philosopher [Aristotle] says: “Spoken words are signs of the passions which are in the soul, ” (Perihermeneias, 1). Properly speaking there is a great difference between a word and a voice, although commonly speaking they are taken for the same thing, because a word is the concept of the mind before it is expressed by the mouth, but voices are what are brought forth. So logic says, a voice is a sound coming out of the mouth of an animal, properly speaking. Christ is the eternal Word, because he had been hidden in the divine mind: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (Jn 1:1), hidden and secret. But God the Father sent a voice, John the Baptist, to manifest and show forth the divine Word, as he did when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” (Jn 1:29). Behold John says that he is the voice, by showing the difference between the Word and the temporary voice.
God spoke through John the Baptist and it is our ears that we are now called to be attentive to. Have we listened to Jesus’ words in Scripture? Have we listened for Jesus in the preaching at Mass? When we look at the image of John the Baptist, “clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey,” we realize that God speaks through people, hidden in the veil of unexpected appearances. Have we listened to God speaking through our family and friends? As we continue this second week of Advent, let us continue to prepare not only our hearts, but also our ears so that we may encounter God’s voice through others. Below is a prayer composed by a Jesuit from Canada, John Veltri, SJ entitled, “Teach Me to Listen:”
Teach me to listen, O God, to those nearest me, my family, my friends, my co-workers. Help me to be aware that no matter what words I hear, the message is, “Accept the person I am. Listen to me.”
Teach me to listen, my caring God, to those far from me– the whisper of the hopeless, the plea of the forgotten, the cry of the anguished.
Teach me to listen, O God my Mother, to myself. Help me to be less afraid to trust the voice inside — in the deepest part of me.
Teach me to listen, Holy Spirit, for your voice — in busyness and in boredom, in certainty and doubt, in noise and in silence.
Teach me, Lord, to listen. Amen.
*Painting is the “Landscape with St. John the Baptist Preaching” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger