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I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
There is something unique in the personality of John the Baptist. He is both noble and humble. Yes, the two go great together. They are not like oil and water. Nobility and humility can be mixed into one refreshing drink. John is a man of God. Mary is a holy woman of God. What is in common with both these two great giants is their tininess. They made themselves small and God made them great!
Today we went to visit the Church of the Annunciation in the city of Nazareth. Back in the time of Christ, Nazareth contained no more than five hundred residents. This beautiful Church, dedicated to our Lady, stands on top of the mountain where the old town once stood. I was shocked to hear from our tour guide that the entire old town of Nazareth was underneath the Church!
There is great humility in all of this. You see, no one knows for sure exactly where our Lady’s house once stood. So the first century Christians did what you would expect them to do: they built a huge Church. So I am confident that where we walked today, our Lady walked too. Where she stood, we stood there too. And where we worshipped, the angel of the Lord spoke to Mary.
Of course we are not even worthy to be there. The history of Nazareth is a complicated one. The Church we celebrated the Eucharist in was destroyed and rebuilt at least three times. On December 19th, 1692, the Church was given back to Christians by the Muslims. It was the noble humility of Franciscan friars that convinced the Sultan to hand the site to them.
The Catholic nuns and priests in the holy Land can do very little. The Muslims majority keeps the tiny Christian’s community mouth shut. The Jewish authorities keep their hands tied behind their backs. But even though the Christians are squished between these two powers, they manage to do great things!
Yesterday, we went to visit an orphanage in the town of Bethlehem. Under Islamic law, abandoned children cannot be adopted. Therefore, these poor children are doomed to spend the best years of their lives in state institutions. Catholic institutions can only keep them up to the age of six. Why? Because the Muslims are afraid that by the time these children reach the age of reason, they will convert to Christianity. So, they must leave.
The young mothers that gave birth to these children did so under great risk from their families. Honor killings are common in Muslim countries. So, when these children are abandoned and dropped off at the orphanage, no questions are asked. The future of these children is very dim. They will never have a last name. And in Arab countries, your identity is your last name! Regardless of all these limitations and risks, Catholic nuns spend their lives loving, educating and helping these poor children day in and day out. They show to their Muslim neighbors what it means to love, forgive and give.
Muslims are fervent believers. They believe in God. They practice what they preach. The virtue they hold dearest to their “hearts” is obedience. They pray because they must. They worship because they must. They fall to the ground because they must. But what they do not do is lift a finger for those who break the rule, break the commandments or break what is sacred. For this reason alone, they call God Master and never Father.
Christ the Lord taught us that the greatest commandment is love: love for your enemies, love for your neighbor and love for your God. And when one breaks the commandment of love, as did the Tax Collectors and prostitutes and Pharisees and Scribes, then the next greatest commandment is that of forgiveness.
A great man realizes how small he is. Consider yourself unworthy, cover your bases by opening your heart to loving, giving and forgiving. This will ensure that you find God’s house in Heaven.