I often think of John the Baptist at one particularly dramatic moment during Mass.
John is the forerunner, the one who gives testimony. “I am not the Messiah,” John says in answer to those asking if he was the long-awaited messiah (Jn 1:20). John is not the anointed one. He’s the one who points out Christ, who points to Christ.
I think of John the Baptist at Mass after the Lamb of God. Holding the consecrated host over the chalice, the priest reveals it to the people and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29). It’s a declaration. A proclamation. A crying out like the voice in the wilderness: “This is our God!”
I recently offered an Advent Mass at a friend’s home. Gathered in the living room, children helped set the altar. I explained the linens, vessels and vestments as we prepared. We sang Advent hymns, including my favorite: “‘Lo He Comes.” During the Mass, a soon-to-be first communicant read the second reading, and her younger brother assisted with the lavabo and purification. They were attentive, reverent and absolutely darling in their service of the sacred liturgy.
But the best moment was when I said, “Behold the Lamb of God. …” Turning from the fireplace-altar, holding the host aloft, I saw a host of little faces craning in awe, squirming to get a better view. For this instant, their wiggles were cast off; their eyes locked in at the host. Their parents gently encouraged them, saying, “Look, it’s Jesus.”
John the Baptist cries out to us, like parents urging their children, saying “This is the Lord!” But when we gaze upon him, what do we see?
Pope Benedict XVI declares, “He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him.” He tells us the origin and destiny of our hearts. He gives our lives purpose, opening a new horizon and awakening us to our eternal destiny.
“Behold the one who loves!” we might declare. Because he has loved us, we can follow in his way of love. It is a path, a story, an identity. And yet, when we look up at the host, do we see that?
“Behold the one who comes to you!” This is the marvelous thing about a Eucharist procession. I love opening the Forty Hours Devotion with a small procession through the Church. Bowing heads and striking the chest are little ways I see people echoing the Baptist’s words, “I am not worthy to untie his sandals” (Jn 1:27). I am always touched by people’s reverence when they see the host coming to them.
“Behold the one who is not withholding!” Can the little host really be enough for us? Yes, yes, yes! Pope Benedict warns, “It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.” Living with Christ does not mean being spared pain. Life without difficulty, life without sorrow, is not the goal. But through all of that, he will not withdraw from us.
“Behold the Lamb of God!” Behold the one who we will worship for eternity. We will gather around his throne, joyfully singing his praises. Like new John the Baptists, we will delight in pointing to him, forgetting our unworthiness before him at last. And then, the peace of having met our destiny will wash over us.