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'Allow God to surprise you'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Illuminare la Notte gathering for young adults

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during the one-year anniversary celebration for Illuminare la Notte, a night of prayer, adoration and fellowship for young adults. The celebration took place June 24 at St. Martha Church, Miami Shores.

Children represent the future. “What will this child become?” This was the question asked by Elizabeth and Zachariah’s relations and friends. And this is the question that parents ask about their sons and daughters. Children are the future – and they carry their parents’ hopes into the future.

In today’s Gospel reading, hope is born for Elizabeth and Zachariah. Elizabeth was well beyond child-bearing age – and so this hope seemed to be beyond the realms of possibility and for Zachariah, at least at first, beyond belief.

But our God, as Pope Francis likes to say, is a God of surprises. And he is also a God who keeps his promises: He is faithful even when we are not.

And so, with the birth of John the Baptist, hope is born – and not only for Elizabeth and Zachariah, but for all those who in Israel awaited for the fulfillment of God’s promises. When all seemed lost – for the glory of David’s kingdom was only a distant memory – God acted. Yes, hope is born, for Elizabeth and Zachariah, for the remnant of Israel, and for us. For John is the prophet, the precursor, who opens the way for he who is to be the Lamb of God, the one who will save us from our sins. John is the prophet who bridges Old and New Testaments and introduces to the world Jesus Christ, its one and only hope, the hope that will never disappoint.

John is born. Elizabeth’s neighbors and relations, the Gospel tells us, heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her and they rejoiced with her. These people must have been pretty good people – first of all because they rejoiced when something good happened to their friends. (This is an attitude we should all try to emulate – in our world today, with so much competition, so much effort given “to keeping up with the Joneses,” instead of rejoicing over our friends’ good fortunes, we pout.) And second, they understood that children were “blessings” and not “burdens.”

So we should give those who gathered at the home of Zachariah some credit: They recognized that Elizabeth was indeed blessed and appropriately they rejoiced. Every once in a while, especially when we are stressed out, we should pause, take a deep breath, and count our blessings – and be happy for them; and, if you are tempted to count other people’s blessings, okay, count them – but be happy for them – just as Elizabeth’s friends were happy for her.

But as they gathered to rejoice with her, they expected that Elizabeth and Zachariah would name the child after his father or one of his ancestors. In other words, like too many of us today, they accepted the blessings of God but wanted to get back to “business as usual.” Thanking a loving and generous God for the blessings he showers upon us and others is, as we say in the Preface at Mass, “right and just” – but it is not sufficient. Elizabeth and Zachariah remember God’s word – the instructions that God gave Zachariah through the angel. Zachariah, deaf and dumb because of disbelief, asks for a tablet and writes: “His name is John.” The response to God’s blessings is gratitude, to be sure; but it also must be obedience. The obedience of faith loosens Zachariah’s tongue and opens his ears.

Too often, the more that God blesses us, the more comfortable, the more complacent, the more apathetic we become. Sometimes, it’s only the hardships and trials we endure that bring us closer to Christ. But Elizabeth and Zachariah show us that the proper response to God’s blessings is obedience and praise. When everyone around them wanted to thank God and then go back to their normal lives, Zechariah chose the higher path.

The people asked, “What will this child become?” We know now the answer to that question. John the Baptist opens the doors of our world to hope. He prepares the way to that hope that is Jesus Christ. God continues to surprise us, because he continues to act in our history, in our lives.

John was the precursor of the Lord, preparing the Way for him and preparing us to accept him as our Way, our Life and our Truth. And it is Christ born of the Virgin Mary, a man like us in all things but sin, and he opens for us, for our families, a future of hope. Once the relatives and neighbors of John the Baptist asked, “What will this child become?’ The same question may be asked about you. As you seek to answer that question, allow God to surprise you. For you –young people – represent the future and the present hope of the Church.

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