“Listen, and You Will Live”
Matthew 11: 11 Amen, I [Jesus] say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.
Pope Francis, “A Homily on Holy Saturday”, 30 March 2013 – “Let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened, and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which He cannot forgive, if only we open ourselves to Him.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours I, 13 – “I want to unfold. / Let no place in me hold itself closed, / for where I am closed, I am false. / I want to stay clear in your sight.”
In the Summer of 1977, I turned 23-years old (June) and was in Paris (June & July), living in Rue Blomet Street and was studying French at the Institut Catholique.
This gave me a chance to go visit Chartres Cathedral, located 50 miles southwest of Paris, the seat (thus, “cathedral”) of the Catholic Bishop of a Diocese founded in the 4th century (!). And so, I traveled one morning by train to spend the day in the Cathedral, and where I attended two riveting, learned lectures by the incomparable docent, Malcolm Miller. The whole experience was for me, in the language of the Rosary, a “glorious mystery.”
Malcolm Miller’s famous opening line was, “Welcome to the greatest library in the world.” And like a “greatest” library, there is always too much to read, and there are not enough lifetimes to be able to make a sufficient case that, “Yes, I know that place.” Malcolm Miller has studied onsite for nearly sixty years, and he is still learning the place.
But God was up to something important with me when He led me to just one of the thousands (more?) of sacred images. It was to the sculpture of St. John the Baptist standing with four other figures (see footnote #1) in the North Portal (outside doorway).
Stopping, I looked up; and looking up, I saw him (see the photograph above, made by my brother Bill in October 2022). He, John the Baptist, did not see me, though I was convinced that he knew that I was standing there. What I mean is that at that moment, it was not merely a statue of John the Baptist, but it was a portal through which John opened his heart to me – the longing in that man! – helping me to see and to understand him. And as that “be-friending” happened, I felt that there was being accomplished in me a “likening” of me to him, (it took me over forty years to understand this sufficiently, which does not mean completely) setting my life and work into a form like his.
Who can understand such matters? Yet, a person can know for certain that something profound has happened to him or her while remaining puzzled for years about what it meant.
For this reason, Christians repeat our remembrance (but it is never, or never should be, a mere repeating) of that moment when the Divine Trinity became a “portal” through which the Second Divine Person descended. Each “repetition” of Advent and Christmas is a deepening of our insight. God by likening Himself to us in all things but sin makes it possible for us to become more and more like Him.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Ia, 43.5, from the “Treatise on the Trinity” – “Reply Obj. 2. The soul is made like to God by grace. Hence for a divine person to be sent to anyone by grace, there must needs be a likening of the soul to the divine person Who is sent, by some gift of grace. Because the Holy Ghost is Love, the soul is assimilated to the Holy Ghost by the gift of charity: hence the mission of the Holy Ghost is according to the mode of charity. Whereas the Son is the Word, not any sort of word, but one Who breathes forth Love.”
An Advent Text: Matthew 3:1-6
1–2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
3 John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
4–6 John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
In Peterson’s translation (above), he uses the word “message” twice, and in both cases with the possessive pronoun “his”.
First, that possessive pronoun “his” is surprising, because John would not have understood his message as, well, his. This word that burned within him was “His”; i.e., it belonged to, came from, God; it was not “his”. John spoke “in God’s name”.
It would have been John’s enemies who would have sought to call his message into question by coolly suggesting that John’s message was (merely) “his” – “He is such a troubled man”, they might well have offered. A biblical predecessor to John the Baptist knew well how it would be with John, the last of the Prophets of the Old Testament:
Jeremiah 20 –
8 Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage I proclaim;
The word of the Lord has brought me
reproach and derision all day long.
9 I say I will not mention Him,
I will no longer speak in His name.
But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding back,
I cannot!f 
Do you recall a time when your hearers did not appreciate the truth that you spoke, that you had to express? Do you remember how they endeavored to scold and silence you by suggesting, without subtlety, that your truth was merely yours … and not about a reality greater than all of us (the truth is always bigger than we can handle very well) and for the sake of which you were “impelled” to speak?
If John the Baptist had been an intemperate, angry man – which he most certainly was not – Matthew 11: 11 Amen, I [Jesus] say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist. – then the crowds going out to listen to him speak might have been those who also wanted to be intemperate and angry. (Rage is contagious, a viral load more toxic than any mere COVID virus, and it likes crowds.) But instead, what John said to them moved them profoundly to lay aside his or her habitual way of being a person. As they listened to John, and felt the power of his witness, they really wanted to live differently, better, with more transforming significance in and for the sake of the world.
1 Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy and eat; come, buy wine and milk
without money, free!*
2 Why spend money on what cannot nourish
and your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.*
3 Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and you will live. 
The “Messenger” is the Message
Second, the English word “message” derives from the Latin verb “to send”, or more specifically from its past perfect form meaning: “one who has been sent”. I highlight this because of the way we, in our contemporary usage of the word “message” place too much emphasis on what is communicated/spoken/written and not enough on the person (“the one who is sent”) who communicates it. “Message” was intended to hold both aspects in tight coordination – the message is the messenger; the messenger is the message. The same with the God-Man.
Why does this matter? Because what is communicated, especially when it is about religious or spiritual truths, depends essentially on the kind of person who is speaking it. We hear not just what is communicated but, as we are listening to him or her, we assess what kind of person is speaking to us. If the speaker is attuned to what he or she communicates, then, and only then, will we accept what we hear, give it access to us. We trust what we are hearing, or more to the point, we trust the speaker and, therefore, his or her message.
In the life of Jesus, this attunement was perfect between what He spoke and who He was. This is what people meant when they exclaimed about Jesus: “He speaks with authority [think “author” not the “right to compel”] and not like the Scribes.”
John completely lived inside of the words he spoke. He really meant what he said, he was completely attuned – word and person. The crowds who came “heard” the existence of John the Baptist – the kind of person he was – as much or more than they heard the words that he spoke. They trusted him.
In this way, John the Baptist is a perfect precursor to the One “whose sandals he was not worthy to loosen” (this image is one of hospitality, helping a guest at the door out of his or her sandals). Jesus, even more than John the Baptist, was Attunement itself, or to use another powerful theological word: Jesus was Atonement (at-one-ment).
On Tuesday of this second week of Advent, December 6th the Church celebrates the life and work of St. Nicholas of Bari (270 – 343 CE). And particularly important right now, Nicholas is the Patron Saint of Russia.
Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. In the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus—further expanding the example of generosity portrayed by this holy bishop. [Foley, Leonard. Saint of the Day: The Definitive Guide to the Saints (pp. 585-586). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.]
During this week, choose three people whom you will inspire, bless, startle with a kindness unlooked for, by “secretly tossing a bag of gold” – some concrete kindness – to each. This “bag of gold” could mean that you call him or her up on the phone, “I was just thinking about you, and I decided to call. I wanted to tell you how much I remember your goodness to me.” This kind of thing. Or, say, carry three $5 bills in your car and give $5 to each person begging at a corner you come to – no questions asked; just give freely. And as you give it, ask for his or her first name. Then say, “Merry Christmas, George or Julie (speaking his or her name with kindness).”
John 1 –
10 He was in the world
that had come into being through him,
and the world did not recognise him.g
11 He came to his own
and his own peopleh did not accept him.*
12 But to those who did accept him
he gave power to becomei children of God,
to those who believed in his namej*
13 who were born not from human stock
or human desire
or human will
but from God himself.k* 
 Left to right (five monumental statues of which we are seeing here the last three to the right); Isaiah, standing on his sleeping ancestor Jesse and with the flower of the genealogical tree of Christ at his breast; Jeremiah, the prophet of the New Covenant, holding the cross foretelling Christ’s Passion; Simeon, holding the Christ child in his arms during the presentation in the temple; St John the Baptist, emaciated from his time in the wilderness, carrying a sacrificial lamb, and St Peter, dressed as a Pope and standing on a rock, from the right splay of the central bay of the North Portal, built 1198-1217 CE, Chartres Cathedral, Eure-et-Loir, France. The North Portal was the last of the 3 portals to be built at Chartres and is monumental in scale. Its sculpted works follow the theme of Redemption. Chartres cathedral was built 1194-1250 and is a fine example of Gothic architecture. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Text by Manuel Cohen; photo by William F. Ganz, MD.
 Many famous alums of this university, such as Bishop Robert Baron, Fr. Matthew Fox (of creation-centered spirituality), Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean Vanier.
 Notice by the American Friends of Chartres Cathedral (https://www.friendsofchartres.org) – “Malcolm Miller has guided at Chartres Cathedral for more than 50 years and continues to do so for private tours. He has also lectured widely in the United States, Canada, UK, and Australia, has authored several books on Chartres Cathedral, made TV documentaries, and has been awarded two of France’s highest honors: Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite and Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.”
This text – Matthew 3:1-12 – is found in the Catholic Lectionary for the Second Sunday of Advent.
f Jer 6:11; Jb 32:18.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “to impel” – “1. transitive. To drive, force, or constrain (a person) to some action, or to do something, by acting upon his mind or feelings; to urge on, incite.” Fr. Joe Conwell, SJ associated this verb “to impel” with “a force moving from within a person”, and he applied it specifically to a person’s experience of being moved, “impelled” by the Holy Spirit, the third Divine Person, to choose and to act. The verb “to compel”, we may then suggest, is a force directed at a person from the outside, as, for example, a bully does, compelling a person to submit to him or her.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “to rage” – “a. intransitive. To show signs of insanity; to rave in madness or fury; to speak or act furiously. Also: to have frenzied or angry feelings; to be full of anger.”
 The New Testament noun for this: μετάνοια, ἡ, [English, metanoia] I. change of mind [A Patristic Greek Lexicon, s.v. “Μετάνοια.”]
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “to attune” – “b. figurative. To bring into harmony or accord.”
 “The third step is a particular judgment of value. It regards the trustworthiness of a witness, a source, a report, the competence of an expert, the soundness of judgment of a teacher, a counselor, a leader, a statesman, an authority.” [Lonergan, Bernard. Method in Theology: Volume 14 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) (p. 45). University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. Kindle Edition.]
 Atonement – “Reconciliation between estranged parties, bringing them into agreement. The focus is the universal problem of sin, which humankind is unable to solve, and which disrupted the perfect harmony between God and creation, causing separation (Isa. 59:2) and death (Rom. 5:12; 6:23). Atonement, therefore, is God’s way of bridging the gap and giving life (Heb. kpr, “to cover,” “cancel,” “purge,” “purify,” “decontaminate”; Gk. katallagḗ, “reconciliation”).” [Kenneth D. Mulzac, “Atonement,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 127.]
 By “Church” I mean the Roman Catholic Church and to its Liturgical Calendar. However, holiness belongs to the whole Church, East and West, to all denominations. In fact, as we have seen in our time with people such at St. Teresa of Calcutta, holiness belongs to God, and therefore it belongs to anyone at all who can respond to the gift of such holy and profound people.
 Britannica – “Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia and Greece; of charitable fraternities and guilds; of children, sailors, unmarried girls, merchants, and pawnbrokers; and of such cities as Fribourg, in Switzerland, and Moscow.”