S. Suzanne Fitzmaurice, OSB December 15th, 2023
‘Then who are you?’ this is the question posed to John in a variety of ways throughout
his ministry. Everyone wanted to know just who he was, what he was doing and why he
was doing it. They wanted to be able to identify him, to put him into a specific category
so they could feel they had a handle on just who he was. They wanted to anticipate what
he would do next and how he would act in the future. They didn’t want to have to guess.
They not only wanted clarity but wanted certainty about where this was going.
But John was having none of that. When asked who he was, John said he was not Elijah.
He was not a prophet. He was not the Messiah. He did not want any of these titles.
Instead, he wanted to live out his own particular calling by ministering through baptism.
As he put it, he was making straight the way for the Lord. He was the witness to the one
God sent. John knows that others want to define him by the lives of those who came
before but instead he doesn’t allow anyone to define him in a way other than how he has
chosen to live out his call.
This need to know who someone is, (to define them) is an all too familiar occurrence in
all our lives. When someone joins us in the dining room or someone new or unfamiliar
joins us for prayer, we often turn to our neighbor and ask ‘who is that?’, ‘where are they
from?’, ‘who are they here with?’. We too want to know who is interacting with our lives
and how do we connect them to our world. Are they family, friend, college student,
oblate, former co-worker, new guest? Have they been here before? Are they here to visit
someone, work as a volunteer, reconnect with an old friend, a classmate or teacher? Are
they here to give or attend a retreat or a workshop? Or are they simply seeking some time
away? We want information so that we are better able to interact with them and to be
At the same time, like John, we are often asked to define ourselves and our actions
according to those who came before us, or those around us. We too are asked if we are a
baker like sister so and so, or if we are crafty, or even at times, we are defined by our role
or job, ‘oh you are a teacher or a counselor’. Yet each of us know that it is not that cut
and dried. While aspects of these may be a part of us, we are more than each piece. Like
John, we are challenged to clarify who we are for others but to do this we must first have
a sense of who we truly are.
John saw himself as someone who helped people get to a place that they were able to see
the ‘one among you who you do not know’ He was clear that his calling was one of
pointing the way. As we near the end of Advent, we too are challenged to look at who we
truly are. This past year as I studied women from 1500 years ago who sought to answer
this question, I saw a pattern of women who were not concerned with being placed within
a set category. They didn’t let those around them define who they were by what they had
seen before or by who they had encountered in their past. These women embraced their
ability to define themselves. They lived their gifts fully each day and made sure that in
doing so, they were helping people ‘see the one among them who they didn’t know’ in
their time and in their place. They did not need to be defined by those around them and
they didn’t need to fit into a specific box or category. Like John they were there to show
people Christ in their midst. We too are called to be courageous in not letting others
define us or put us into a box. We are called to embrace our own unique way of living out
our calling in this time and in this place with the people we encounter each day.
John O Donahue once said: Longing is the voice of your soul, it constantly calls you to be
fully present in your life, to live to the full the one life given to you. ‘Live everything.’
You are here on earth now, yet you forget so easily. You traveled a great distance to get
here. The dream of your life has been dreamed from eternity. You belong within a great
embrace that urges you to have the courage to honor the immensity that sleeps in your
heart. When you learn to listen to and trust the wisdom of your soul's longing, you will
awaken to the invitation of graced belonging that inhabits the generous depths of your
destiny. You will become aware of the miracle of presence within and around you.’
As we near Christmas let us be mindful of the importance of living out our calling each
moment of every day as we too point the way.