Mark 1:1-8
'Priests as Mediators' by Rev. John De Celles
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
        he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
        "Prepare the way of the Lord,
        make straight his paths."

John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.  John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist.  He fed on locusts and wild honey.  And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

People often wonder why Catholics have to go to a priest to be forgiven their sins.  Some point out that St. Paul tells us that Jesus is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Tm 2:5).  But while Jesus is the only way to the Father and the only Mediator, Scripture makes it very clear that God calls other human beings to participate in this mediation.  From the very beginning of God's revelation to Israel 3,700 years ago, God has chosen individual human beings - people like Abraham, Moses and the prophets - to communicate, or mediate, His will to the world.  And in today's Gospel text, St. Mark reminds us that God sent St. John the Baptist to act as a mediator between Jesus and the Jews.

Why does God send mediators, both before and after Jesus?  Advent is a season of preparation for celebrating Jesus' coming into the world at Christmas.  At the heart of this mystery is the fact that God became man to communicate clearly and completely through His human body and with human words.  But Jesus took His body with Him when He ascended into heaven, while our bodies - the bodies of Christians - are still here.  And Jesus continues to send us to mediate through the body, through speaking and hearing His word, and through the holy symbols we see and touch, especially the sacraments.

The Gospel tells us that 2,000 years ago, St. John the Baptist proclaimed "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."  And in response Scripture says: "People . . . were going out to (John) . . . as they acknowledged their sins."  Today, we do exactly the same thing as we go to the sacrament of penance and acknowledge, or confess, our sins before God's chosen mediators - the priests of the Church.  And when we hear those mediators say "I absolve you from your sins" we hear in their human voices, not the voice of St. John, but the voice of Jesus Himself, who St. John tells us: "takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29).

The mediation of priests is a great gift to the whole Church.  But by their baptism "in water and the Holy Spirit," lay Christians are also called to be mediators of Christ in some way.  For most serious Christians, Advent is a time when the words of St. John can elicit a very strong response from us: we hear, "prepare the way of the Lord," and part of us shouts, "yes Lord."

But most of us don't go much further than that initial "yes."  Sometimes this is because we're afraid of failure, and sometimes it's because we really don't know how to prepare the way.  If you're afraid of failure, remember you are only a mediating instrument - you prepare the way only by allowing Jesus to act through you: let Him worry about the final results.  Remember that even the great mediator of the Messiah, St. John the Baptist, recognized that even his work was incomplete and only an opening for the Lord: "One who is more powerful is to come after me."

If you just don't know how to prepared Jesus' way, remember you start by preparing yourself, by accepting the word of God proclaimed by the Baptizer and by the Church: confess and repent your sins.

Few of us are called to be public mediators like St. John the Baptist or priests.  But this Advent the Lord Jesus Christ calls every single Christian to be His mediator to a sinful world by proclaiming in everything we say and do: "Prepare the way of the Lord . . . make straight his paths."

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