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What Does It All Mean?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, January 19, 2014
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The Christmas season ended last Sunday with the Baptism of the Lord. We celebrate the incarnation with a fitting combination of childlike wonder, nostalgia, feasting, and merriment. But the cycle of the church year and the lectionary readings remind us that our faith is more than a commemoration of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. That baby, like all babies, grew quickly. The adult Jesus who appears in today’s Gospel will begin changing people’s expectations and challenging the status quo. If we profess to follow this man, then we better be ready to expect the unexpected.

The most determined new parents soon discover that babies and toddlers can’t be programmed and that domestic chaos will become a way of life for many years. The most organized Type- A managers learn that they have to be able to handle the unexpected calmly and graciously if they’re going to succeed and help the people around them succeed.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus through the eyes of John the Baptist. According to John the Evangelist, the Baptist is the main witness to the divinity and mission of Jesus. John the Baptist was a man with a single mission. He’s calling people to repent of their sins and prepare the way for the coming Messiah. He’s baptizing them as a sign of their being washed clean of sin. He is, as a business or marketing consultant might say, “on message.”

Then Jesus appears and he says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” And yet twice he reflects wonderingly on the fact that he didn’t know Jesus at first. He says, “I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” His idea of who and what the Messiah would be seems to have been upended by the actual appearance of that Messiah.

Sometimes, even for the most focused among us, it can be hard to know how the things that we do day to day fit into a bigger picture. Like someone working a difficult jigsaw puzzle, we get so caught up in how one or two pieces fit together, or we get frustrated when another piece doesn’t seem to fit at all, that we forget to look once more at what we’re trying to achieve in the long run.

Our Scriptures remind us we don’t always have to be certain of every step and every implication of the things that we do. Life is much less an elaborate battle plan than a quest into the unknown for a cause we believe in with all our hearts and minds. It helps if we can take time out to see the big picture, to reflect on why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Today we begin once again to explore what discipleship means in our life, how we live our faith in our daily lives. Our faith often needs to grow quickly to meet the unexpected challenges of a secular and sometimes hostile world. And sometimes we might feel blindsided by challenges coming from God’s own movements in our lives.

God’s spirit speaks to us in many ways—through the Scriptures, through other people, even through the evening news. We need to be flexible enough to bend when our ideas don’t fit God’s message, but firm enough to hold to that message in the fickle winds of culture. If we’re alert to the signs around us, we will know how to respond.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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