Sunday Scriptures

Proclaim the Faith at Any Cost

by Msgr. Joseph Calise 

Anyone who has ever seen Director Sidney Lumet’s movie version of the play, Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, probably shares my admiration for how skillfully he directed the turning moment when Lee J. Cobb threatens to kill Henry Fonda. They were fellow jurors on a murder case which Cobb presumed was “open and shut, guilty.”
However, Fonda holds out for a discussion of the facts as they heard them and systematically begins to change the minds of the other jurors, or at least overcast them with reasonable doubt.
Knowing that Cobb’s threat was not an actual threat but an unfortunate choice of words, Fonda is able to move from standing alone to leading the jury in a very different direction than presumed. The heroism of Fonda’s character is in his willingness to stand up for what he believed was right even if it meant standing alone.

No Greater Man
In today’s Gospel, we meet one of the most powerful figures in all of Scripture – John the Baptist. Remember, he is the one of whom Jesus spoke when He said, “No greater man was born of a woman.” When I think of John the Baptist, the image that comes to mind is the fiery portrayal of him by Michael York in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. Even in the womb he lets his mother, Elizabeth, know that Jesus is near in the womb of Mary. From conception to death, he was dedicated to evangelization.
Certainly the common denominator in all three readings this weekend is the power of the speakers. Baruch challenges Jerusalem to stand upon the heights as Paul proclaims his confidence that Christ will continue the good work begun in all who hold true. The second common denominator is unseen in today’s readings. We hear the challenges but do not hear of the audience responses. Certainly, we as the audience are being challenged to respond by imitating their example as proclaimers of the Word. However, there is another facet of evangelization that is subtly being taught. The one who has heard a message needs to speak that message without anticipating his audience’s reaction. The one dissenting juror could not be silent and true to himself at the same time. Baruch, Paul and John all had a message to speak which had to be spoken at any cost.
A few weeks ago, I found myself walking through a farmers’ market in Manhattan’s Union Square. It was an amazing experience. Homemade breads, fresh vegetables, flowers and spices were lined up all around the Square. But interspersed between the different market stands were some very interesting people. Front and center, there was a group of young Mormons distributing literature and engaging passersby in conversation. On the corner, a group of Hare Krishna monks was chanting and attracting a large crowd. A group of Jews was inviting other Jews to consider joining a movement called Chabad. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had the subway entrances/exits covered.
I do not know how well their evangelizing efforts worked, but I give them a lot of credit for being there. I am sure that many others shared my sentiments – we may not have agreed with what these men and women were saying, but we applaud the energy and bravery with which they spoke.
Baruch, Paul and John spoke with conviction. People listened to them because they believed what they themselves were saying. Some must have laughed, others were probably a bit afraid; some converted, and others were haunted by their failure to heed. That is food for their consciences.
As a Church, a people of faith, we have been entrusted with the central message of salvation, that “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that those who believe in Him might not perish but may have eternal life.” The challenge of that message is to proclaim it heroically even if that means standing alone.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent
Baruch 5: 1-9
Psalm 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Luke 3: 1-6

Msgr. Joseph Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.
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