Christ is among us, but igcognito!

12-17-2023Weekly ReflectionFr. Robert Aliunzi

Dear Friends,

As we have heard several times already, Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord: His coming to us sacramentally at Christmas, His coming to us individually at the end of our lives and His coming to us collectively at the end of time. But He comes to us all the time. He is among us. That is why in the First Sunday of Advent, we talked about preparation by being watchful, being alert, because we do not know when Christ will come again; in other words, the key word in this First Sunday of Advent called us to Watch.

Last Sunday, we also talked about how to prepare and be watchful by preparing the way of the Lord through repentance and fundamental changes we have to make in our lifestyles. And today’s Third Sunday of Advent invites us to focus on Christ’s Coming or His presence among us especially nowadays when we have so many distractions.

Now suppose we are told that the Christ whom we are waiting for is already here in our midst as one of us as Saint John says in today’s gospel: “…..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,” (vv. 26-27), what difference will that make to on you? How would we treat each other if we realize that the person next to us could be Christ Incognito? I came across this story from one of the homilies of another priest which I would like to share with you. It goes:

A certain monastery was going through a serious crisis. Some of the monks left, no new candidates joined them, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation to them as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old and depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. The abbot of that monastery heard about a holy man, a hermit living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and now looks like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.

With this revelation the abbot goes back to his monastery, summons a community meeting and recounts what the holy hermit told him that one of them is the Messiah. The aging monks looked at each other in unbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude towards others. Could it be Brother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and drinking and cannot fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah has adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging his real identity; this only made them more confused, and they could not make a headway figuring out who was the Christ among them. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, excepting himself, could be the Christ.

From that day, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the very Christ. They began to show more love for one another; their common life became much more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual directions. Word began to spread and, before they knew it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that Christ was living in their midst as one of them.

The reason why, nowadays, we could not recognize Jesus as our Lord and Messiah, is because like the Jews in Jesus’ time, we have definite ideas on how the Messiah was going to come. For the Jews, Messiah would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His kingdom by destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where He came from, humanly speaking, because He came from God (John 7:27). So, when finally, Jesus came, born of a woman like every other person, they could not recognize Him. He was too ordinary and too unimpressive.

Dear friends, let us learn from the experience of this story to treat each other with kindness, sympathy, and respect because each one of us however, poor, sinful or ordinary is Christ Incognito.
I love you!