This past week, we’ve heard a lot about words, and the power of words, all surrounding last week’s horrific events in Tucson. We’ve heard about words that incite, or inflame, as well as ones that inspire and console.
Now, in a kind of divine irony, we find ourselves face to face with a gospel, the gospel of John, that dares to begin the story of our salvation with this bold proclamation: “In the beginning was the Word.” Then, just a few paragraphs later, it presents us with this dramatic scene we just heard, the Baptist’s first glimpse of Jesus on the banks of the Jordan.
Yet, in a gospel about The Word, it is the Baptist himself who speaks the first word – declaring Christ’s divinity and saying, “Behold, the lamb of God.” This was John the Baptist’s testimony – twice, in fact, the gospel passage here even refers to how John “testified.”
As St. Augustine put it: Christ was the Word, but John the Baptist was the Voice.
Yet sometimes the most eloquent testimony doesn’t need to be spoken. Sometimes, it is simply lived.
One person who understood that, and who understood the power of words and the power of a life well-lived, was Dunston McNichol.
Dunston McNichol was a financial reporter and investigative journalist for the Newark Star-Ledger. He was known by everyone in the business as “Dusty.” A few years ago, he won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering a financial scandal in the McGreevey administration. Earlier this month, Dusty McNichol died suddenly and unexpectedly at home. He was 54.
By all accounts he was a diligent, soft-spoken reporter of remarkable integrity and tenacity.
He was also a devoted Catholic.
A couple weeks ago, he was buried from his parish church in Trenton. After his funeral, one of Dusty McNichol’s colleagues – a non-Catholic — came up to the deacon at the mass and asked if it was true that his church was open all night. And the deacon said yes. The other reporter was amazed, and then told a story that that shed light on the life, and the faith, of Dusty McNichol.
A few years ago, when New Jersey legislators were working around the clock on a budget deal, Dusty told one of his colleagues that he couldn’t stay through the night. He said had an appointment at the church at two in the morning, and he had to keep it. Other people on staff agreed to cover for him, but they all wondered why he had to be at the church in the middle of the night.
Well, as the deacon explained to Dusty’s friend, they have perpetual adoration at the parish; when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, it can never be left alone. And Dusty McNichol – this seasoned investigative reporter who made his living uncovering crime and corruption – had signed up to be there from two to three a.m. He was committed to spending that hour with Jesus. It was a commitment he just couldn’t break.And so it was that Dusty McNichol gave his own testimony.
With that, he proclaimed the divinity of Christ and — like John the Baptist two millennia before him — he testified to what he knew to be true.
By barely uttering a word, Dusty McNichol declared: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
In John’s gospel, there is no nativity story, no background about Jesus or his ancestry. Instead, there is this: “Behold the Lamb of God.” This is St. John’s Annunciation. Here, God’s entrance into human history isn’t heralded by angel. It is proclaimed, instead, by a prophet on the banks of a river. One solitary man sees another, and cannot help but bear witness – to “testify” – and cry out for the world to look and to believe:
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
It’s a bold challenge.
Do we see what John the Baptist sees?
And do any of us offer that kind of testimony?
How many of us act as heralds for Christ — not so much with the words we speak, but with the lives that we live?
The fact remains: belief is more than the creed we profess, and faith is much more than the prayers we recite every Sunday at mass.
It is a testimony, lived every day.
It is the testimony of missionaries, who offer their lives to a broken and grieving place like Haiti.
It is the testimony of those who serve in shelters and soup kitchens.
It is the testimony of the unnamed saints we encounter every day, in offices or at bus stops, on street corners and supermarkets.
It is the testimony of all who seek somehow to bring Christ to a wounded world.
And it is the testimony of people like Dusty McNichol, who understood that commitment to the faith doesn’t sleep.
Sometimes, it asks you to be present at two in the morning.
All these examples and more testify to the Christian life. They speak of hope and belief in a world too often overcome by despair and doubt.
They all say: “Behold the lamb of God.”
And they remind us that the work of John the Baptist didn’t end at the banks of the Jordan.
It goes on today.
Because all of us are called to proclaim God’s presence in our world, just like John the Baptist.
It is the great work of our lives.
St. John’s gospel tells us “In the beginning was The Word.”
But, in fact, The Word…was just the beginning.
And the rest of it now is up to us.