Paradox of John the Baptists at the polling place


By Father Joseph Breighner

So what did Election Day and Advent have in common? For me, quite a bit. Let me tell my story as succinctly as possible.

When I arrived at the polling place, it was a few minutes past 11 a.m. I had a noon Mass I was scheduled to celebrate. There was a long line in front of me. I asked a couple of folks who had just voted how long they had waited, and most said about 45 minutes.

I began to chat with a couple of men around me, and one of them said: “Father, why don’t you just walk up in line and ask people if you can move ahead of them?” I explained that I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. One man responded: “I’ll do it for you!” So, he went up the line, explaining my time dilemma, and everyone agreed to let me go toward the front of the line. Like Jesus, I had my John the Baptist preparing the way before me.

After registering to vote, I got in the second line to actually vote. Despite the advancement in line, it was about 20 minutes to 12. Then, one of the judges asked the people in this line if they would mind if I voted next. She explained my time commitment. They all invited me to vote next. I had found another John the Baptist.

I thanked everyone profusely, and left for Mass. I arrived a lot closer to Mass time than I had expected. As I drove into this Catholic institution of higher learning (notice that I’m not actually naming the school), I saw some cones blocking some of the parking spaces. I asked the workman if I could have one of the spots. I explained that I was here for Mass. He replied quickly: “You can’t park here. These are for VIPs only.” I then felt like Jesus in John’s Gospel passage: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not!”

Laughing, I then proceeded to find another place to park. The contrast was so striking. In the secular arena, I was treated with kindness and deference. In the “religious space” I was told that I was not an important person.

Let me emphasize that I was laughing during this contrast. I had not sought any special treatment in either arena. I have never wanted to be a VIP; I just felt the need to tell what I consider an amusing story.

Advent is the time for waiting for our God to enter human history. As we know, Jesus did not come seeking glory. As St. Paul so eloquently put it: “Christ did not think equality with God something to be clung to, but He emptied himself, taking on the status of a servant, being born in the likeness of humans, accepting death, even accepting death on a cross.” Our God is the God of self-emptying love.

Historically, while Jesus did experience the resistance of civil authorities (Herod and Pontius Pilate come to mind), the most sustained and constant resistance was from religious authorities. He was not a VIP in their minds.

Advent is a time not just to renew our faith in Jesus. It is, as all times are, a time to put on the faith of Jesus. Our human egos seek preference and privilege. Our divine identities seek to love and to serve.

As I’ve said so often, the world sees us as minds and bodies. As Christians we see ourselves as mind, body, and spirit. We are reminded again at Advent and Christmas of the God who came to give us his own Spirit and his own life. We can, as St. Paul said, “put on the Mind of Christ.” Looking at life through God’s eyes, we see our power to love like God. And we see all others as people filled with that love or looking for that love.

Love will be born at Christmas. Advent is a time to expand our hearts with love, and share that love with the world. To love and be loved is our highest – and only – real privilege.

Copyright (c) Nov. 29, 2012 

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.