Those who till the land and plant the seed are not always the same people as those who reap the harvest.
Important movements and major changes require a great deal of preparation. It was that way with Christianity. John prepared a core group of individuals for the coming of Jesus the Messiah and when Jesus first appeared in public it was in order to affirm John’s work by accepting his baptism as a means of personally identifying with his message.
John’s mission was effectively completed by his proclaiming Jesus to be the long awaited Messiah and from that moment onward Jesus took over the movement and John went deliberately into relative obscurity.
Years later it was Paul who with a few companions diligently worked among the gentile population so that eventually even the most Jewish of Christian leaders had to accept the universality of Christianity.
From that time on there have always been devoted, sometimes marginalized, Christians dedicated to preserving valid tradition while, at the same time, chipping away at layers of crust that form a barrier against healthy progress.
It is extremely important to keep in mind that the Church is not an organization. It is, in fact, an organism and as such must evolve in order to survive.
Jesus remains the head of this body and has given His word that it will last until the end of time. From this, I conclude that evolution is inevitable but that whether it is a smooth progression or a painful, bumpy, strife-torn is up to all of us.
The Second Vatican Council was anther major thrust forward, proclaiming that though the Church is a hierarchical institution, the urging of the divine guiding Spirit cannot be said to have been identified unless the entire people of God gives voice to it. (Constitution of the Church N12) In other words any definition or statement that is generally rejected by those in communion with the Holy See puts that teaching into question.
This had to be said then and must be repeated today because though it is a principle recognized by the early Church it was virtually ignored for many years and even now faces considerable opposition.
But more and more the people are being heard and where there is consensus there are strong and able spokespersons who are insisting that there be open dialogue and a continuing search for authenticity in questions of major concern such as the availability of the Eucharist in areas where the traditional model of the male celibate priest is becoming a rarity.
It is a lamentably slow process but progress is being made.
The spirit of John the Baptist survives. It was evident in the ground breaking vision expressed by the true leaders of the council and it is present today in the men and women of our Catholic communities who faithfully point to the levelling of the playing fields of priestly ministry, the dignity of the marginalized and the poor and the holiness of our natural environment…to name but a few of the major challenges crying out for attention.
May the fearless spirit of John, a spirit so admired by Jesus, be with us.