Many of you have probably seen the movie The Bourne Identity (1). The movie begins on a thrilling note as the protagonist, Jason Bourne is found barely alive, floating at sea. It is soon discovered that Bourne has no memory of who he is. In him we can witness firsthand what a terrible experience it is when someone loses their identity. Such a person is sad, restless and lacks peace and direction. At times we as Catholics can be like Jason Bourne. Even though we come to Church each Sunday, often times we are unsure about our mission. What is our main task as a Church? What is the most important job that we have been given to do? We risk losing our deepest identity. The gospel of today is a remedy against this. The example of John the Baptist is a strong reminder and example of what our identity is as a Church and individual disciples of Jesus.
Our identity as Catholics and the Church is that we are meant to lead other people to Jesus Christ. Our most important mission is to evangelize. John the Baptist is an example for us because his whole existence is like a signpost leading people to Jesus. Especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has reminded herself many times that this fundamental identity. For example, in 1975, Pope Paul VI wrote the following with respect to Catholic identity:
Evangelization is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14)
We have just begun the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This annual event strives to further the Ecumenical Movement, which works to bring about greater unity among Christians. One of the important reasons why the Ecumenical Movement began was because of a growing realization among Christians that our disunity hindered our ability to fulfil our primary mission of Evangelization. The Ecumentical Movement in large part began among missionaries. For example, in India, Anglican missionaries would come to a village and share the gospel among those who had never heard of Jesus. Soon after, Catholics missionaries would come to the same village and explain that although the Anglicans were right about Jesus, they were the wrong Christian group to be part of. Of course, the same thing happened when Catholic missionaries arrived first. The Indian people, seeing this situation, would ask why they should become Christians if Christians themselves had such disunity. Divisions among Christians hindered our main mission of leading people closer to Jesus; it went against our primary identity as an evangelizing community.
In order to fulfil this mission, we must have a clear understanding of who Jesus is and what he does for us. Today there can be a lot of confusion on this question. In the Gospel we see that John the Baptist is very straightforward in announcing who Jesus is and what He does for us. Notice that John the Baptist is not saying, “look everyone, there is Jesus, a great teacher, a good guy, or a sage, moral leader”. No, John says, “behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”. Later on, He testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. In a few short statements, John the Baptist has proclaimed the core of the Gospel, which is often called the Kerygma, meaning “the cry” or “the proclamation”. The Kerygma is something we should all know by heart. It explains very briefly who Jesus is and what He does for us. In four easy points, the Kerygma is as follows:
- God created you for a relationship with him
- Our relationship was broken through sin
- Jesus - true God and true man - restores our relationship
- We respond by inviting Christ to be the centre of our lives
In order to lead people to Jesus Christ, as did John the Baptist, we must have a clear understanding of who Jesus is and what He does for us.
More than knowing about Jesus, our relationship with Him must change our life. There is a big difference between simply knowing about something and having that thing change your life. Let us take, for example, the relationship that different people have with the Vancouver Canucks. Compare the relationship that a sportswriter will have with the team to that of a die-hard fan. The sportswriter might know everything about the Canucks: the history of the franchise, the statistics on all the player and every possible detail about the team. This knowledge, however might not have any impact on the rest of the writer’s life. It is just a job. For a die-hard fans, the situation is completely different. Their relationship with the team impacts all aspects of their life: how they spend their free-time, what they wear, what makes them happy (victories, not losses) and what they talk to other people about. When it comes to Jesus, we need to be like the die-hard fan. John the Baptist was such an individual. He knew about Jesus but this knowledge changed all aspects of his life. Its not enough to know about Jesus, our relationship with Him must change us.
In order to complete our mission of bringing people to Jesus, we need to be able to articulate to others the difference He has made in our life. We, like John the Baptist, need to be able to testify about Jesus. When we are able to explain to others in an open and honest way the story of how God has worked in our life we are able to draw other people to follow Jesus. For a long time this was something that I struggled doing. During my time at University my friends would ask me questions similar to the following. Why are you Catholic and not some other religion? Why do you go to Church on Sunday? Who do you that think Jesus is? At the time, I struggled to answer these questions. Perhaps it was because I only a minimal relationship with Jesus back then. In order to better articulate our faith to others, we can begin by asking ourselves three questions:
- When in my life did I make the personal, intentional choice to put Jesus in the center of my life? Or, when did I chose to follow Christ in a deeper way?
- What was my life like before making this decision?
- How has my life changed since I chose to make my relationship with Jesus a priority in my life?
When we are able to articulate to others the difference that Jesus has made in our life, we can better draw other into a relationship with Him.
Jason Bourne eventually re-discovers his identity. This revelation does not suddenly make his life easy. Quite the contrary, in fact. After finding out his identity, Bourne’s life becomes one challenging adventure. Knowing his identity, however, gives Bourne a sense of purpose, focus and peace. When we as Catholics remind ourselves of our identity, much the same thing happens. As individuals and communities we are given a clear focus and goal that unifies all our activities and energies. Today let us be reminded that our greatest mission is to be like John the Baptist. We are called to lead as many people as possible to know, love and serve Jesus Christ. This is our Catholic identity.
(1): Some ideas for this homily come from Catholic Christian Outreach’s Commission Study. In particular the Bourne Identity reference and the 4-point Kerygma.