In today’s gospel we are reminded of the incredible task and daunting responsibility of John the Baptist, the only son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. He lived humbly -- wearing his camel hair clothing and leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey, living his vocation to fully preach the coming of one mightier than him.
And then one day it happens. Jesus comes to the banks of the river Jordan. Even then John tried to avoid baptizing Jesus by saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus assures him this is in fact how it MUST be, and then John does his thing. He baptizes Jesus, so Jesus can baptize us in the Holy Spirit. This is why John is here, this is what he does. This is what he signed up for!
I was recently on a pilgrimage that included a meeting with a high-ranking Catholic priest. During our exchanges, among other comments on the state of the Catholic Church, the priest bemoaned the fate and task that had befallen many young priests today. He mentioned how one of his priests had said to him dejectedly “I didn’t sign up for this!” The young priest was lamenting having to deal with the fallout of the horrid sexual abuse scandal that still plagues the Catholic Church.
I confess my first reaction was: “I do not feel sorry for that person. This IS what he signed up for! And if he doesn’t think this is what he signed up for, then he signed up on the wrong thing!”
To be sure, many serve in response to a sincere calling, an honest and committed vocation to serve the Lord and the entirety of the Church. There are people who live with and hear the voices of the poor, the sick, the abandoned, and the abused. This young priest was confronted with hard questions from victims, families, friends, sincere parishioners all who just want to know 'Why? How could this happen? How will this be avoided in the future?' And so he wavered – he doubted – “I didn’t sign up for this!”
I am a firm believer that everyone will and does waver. We just do. Aw come on! Mother Teresa doubted! We are allowed to – but we go back to our vocations and do our thing!
· How many supervisors have wanted to say after yet another circular conversation with a recalcitrant report, “I didn’t sign up for this!”
· How many parents of a child with special needs, after cleaning up yet another unintentional mess by a now adult child, have despaired and thought, “I didn’t sign up for this!”
· How many children caring for an aging parent that barely resembles the confident strong parent with whom they grew up, have thought, “I didn’t sign up for this!”
· How many parents have buried a soldier-child and cried, “I didn’t sign up for this!”
John did all that was asked of him and then some! All while John’s followers wondered if indeed HE - John - was the messiah. Even as he told them, I am sure more than once, ‘ONE MIGHTIER THAN I IS COMING’.
But what if John had just said, 'All these people following me, asking me if I am the Messiah!? What if they don’t believe me? How can I convince them? What will I do to get this message across? Hmmmm, nah, too much, this is not what I signed up for! I’m out!'
John DID what he signed up for and then some. He preached and baptized.
But even when we think we’re doing what we signed up for life throws us curve balls. Things don’t go as planned; they don’t work out; things zig when they should have zagged; and we get disheartened. We don’t GET what we expected. What DID we sign up for? And what makes us think we can say 'I’m out.'?
As Catholics we were drafted at baptism, let’s be real, we didn’t sign up. But WE DID sign up to live Catholic when we completed our Confirmation. That is when we as Catholics receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit to increase our ability to practice the Catholic faith in every aspect of our lives. THIS we signed up for! THIS is one of our vocations.
We all waver, we all doubt, we all wonder why us. John wavered before Jesus and then followed through. It is not unreasonable for us to waver, and it is not unreasonable for there to be moments of doubt, anxiety, and fear. But I’ll paraphrase the words of the rabbinic sage Hillel the Elder - If not me who, if not now when? - words which John the Baptist could have easily used to reference HIS condition.
As you ponder your life, tasks, and responsibilities, let yourself doubt (kinda like John the Baptist), be confident that God accompanies us with love and mercy, and then let yourself stay TRUE to your vocation – whatever it is.
Andrea Hattler Bramson
A life long Catholic Andrea Hattler Bramson is the second of the seven children of Denny and Carl Hattler. She spent many of her formative years living in Puerto Rico attending Sacred Heart schools and loving life in the tropics. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Art Studio, and retired from the Federal Government in September of 2017 after 30+ years of service. Andrea has been the president of the Loyola Foundation for over 10 years, and has been a trustee for over 30. She has served on the boards of SOAR!, FADICA, NCEA, and was the president of the pastoral council of her parish in Reston, Virginia. Andrea is the mother of three and now lives in Bluffton, South Carolina with Brian, her husband of over 25 years, her daughter Victoria, and the two dogs that show anyone unconditional love. She moved to South Carolina so her home could be a 10 minute walk from her parents' home, who she loves dearly and from whom she continues to learn on a daily basis.
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