Sunday Sermon for January 16, 2011, the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 49:3, 5-6; 1Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

Last week we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord and today we are back into Ordinary Time until Lent begins. However, the readings for today are almost a continuation of last week’s readings. Last week we heard the first of the “Suffering Servant Songs” from chapter 42 of the Prophet Isaiah and today we hear part of the second of the four songs, from Isaiah 49. Last week we heard about John the Baptist and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus after His baptism; today we hear the Baptist speaking about this event in giving witness to our Lord.

In each of the first two Suffering Servant Songs we hear the same point: God is going to make His Servant a Covenant to the people. It does not say that God is going to make a covenant with the people or with His Servant; rather, the Servant will be the Covenant. We saw last week that at the moment of our baptism that we were incorporated into Jesus Christ and became participants in the Covenant, Who is Christ. This New Covenant supercedes the Old Covenant which was only for the Jewish people. In the first reading we are told that it is too little for the Lord’s Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel; instead, He is to be a light to the nations so that God’s salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.

This is the truth regarding who we are as Christian people: we build upon the foundation of Judaism, but we are much broader, incorporating peoples from all nations through baptism. However, when we look closely at Scripture, we will notice that every covenant God enters into with His people has a sign that would remind the people of who they are in relation to God and they are to define themselves according to the covenant rather than by any other means. The sign would be seen often so that the people would be reminded often.

Since we are only baptized once, we too need a sign that reminds us of our covenant which defines who we are as children of God. Notice how the New Covenant, once again, supercedes the Old in that we are not just the people of God, we are now His children and, therefore, heirs with Christ. For this reason, the sign of the Covenant should not only remind us of our baptism, but should renew and celebrate the profound mysteries that took place within us on our baptismal day.

We have that exact sign revealed to us in the Gospel reading today. St. John the Baptist points out Jesus to his disciples by saying “Behold, the Lamb of God. Behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world.” We can all recognize these words as those spoken by the priest right before Holy Communion. The Eucharist is the sign of our Covenant, but more than that, it is our Covenant because the Eucharist is Jesus Himself. The reception of Holy Communion reminds us of our incorporation into Christ, our redemption, our sharing in His divine nature, the reception of Grace, etc. However, our reception of Jesus in the Eucharist also renews and celebrates these divine mysteries which as they are realized in us.

So, in the second reading St. Paul tells us that we have been sanctified in Christ and that we are called to be holy with those everywhere in the world who call upon the Name of our Lord, Jesus. We were, indeed, sanctified on the day of our baptism; we were made holy through the removal of sin and the infusion of Sanctifying Grace. Now, as St. Paul points out, we are still called to be holy.

The holiness at baptism was entrance into Grace; now we are to increase the grace of God within us through prayer, penance, the reception of the Sacraments and works of charity. We are never alone in this because, as members of Christ, He is always with us, provided that we are in the state of grace, but St. John the Baptist tells us that God revealed that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. So we have the Holy Spirit with His sevenfold Gifts helping us as well. All of this is in place already, but what may not be in place is our defining ourselves by who we are as members of Jesus Christ, being determined to grow in holiness and calling upon Jesus and the Holy Spirit for help. As you receive Holy Communion, renew your baptismal vows, meditate on what happened at your baptism and now, in the reception of Jesus in the Eucharist, and resolve to live your life according to who you are in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit