If you think for a moment of some of the modern day people in our world who were considered holy during their life-time: people like Gandhi, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul II, and there are many others. Why did people flock to see them? Mother Teresa was just a very wrinkly little old lady and yet everywhere she went to speak she drew thousands of people. Why? We have plenty of little old ladies here, so why did they go to her? Because she was close to God; someone who was in tune with the ways of the Lord and who lived by them. People who met her said it had a profound effect on them.
We are attracted by holiness in people because it gives us a sense of the presence of God. There is a difference between holiness and piety. Piety is when people can be very devout and into all kinds of devotions etc. There is nothing wrong with this, but it’s not the same as holiness. And just because someone is pious doesn’t necessarily mean they are holy. Holiness is really about being close to God.
We are attracted to holiness because God is attractive. If He wasn’t we wouldn’t keep coming to mass, we wouldn’t continually seek him out in different places. You may feel that you come to mass because you are obliged to, or because it’s the thing to do, but that’s not really the reason. You come here because God draws you here. God continually draws us to him, but gently. He will never force us, and so we can resist if we wish. I have heard told that up to quite recently the biggest area of interest in bookshops was occult and spiritual books. That is another indication of people’s search for God.
God has created us in such a way that there is what you might call a ‘God shaped hole’ within us that only He can fill. Nothing else will fully satisfy us. Material things that we can buy will satisfy for a very short time only. People will satisfy us for longer, but never completely. Only the Lord himself will satisfy us completely because God has created us in such a way that we have a capacity for the infinite. Only what is infinite will fill us completely. So when we meet people who seem to be close to God, we are drawn to them, because we want to get closer to God. We can’t help it.
Sometimes when people get married they are disappointed after a while because they don’t feel completely fulfilled by their partner. No other person is going to completely fulfil us, because we would be asking them to do what only God can do. If we realise this then it’s no problem. But if we expect another ‘mere human being’ to fill this God shaped hole within us, then we’re going to be disappointed.
In today’s Gospel we are again presented with John the Baptist; this strange man that so many people wanted to listen to. Jesus said that he was the greatest man ever born of a woman, which is quite a thing to say about someone. He was a prophet, but also much more than a prophet. He was the one that God himself sent to announce the coming of Jesus.
So what did John say? When he saw Jesus he said to the people with him, ‘there is the lamb of God… follow him, not me. He’s the one you want, I’m not.’ Those words sound familiar, don’t they? When the priest holds up the host at communion he says, ‘here is the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’ It’s the same things that John the Baptist said. John said, ‘follow him.’ Mother Teresa said, ‘follow him’. Padre Pio said, ‘follow him.’ Our Pope says, ‘follow him.’ He is the one we are looking for, but we often don’t realise it. Jesus is the only one who can fulfil us, the only one we need to keep our sights on.
The world around us will change, but God won’t. The world around us will disappoint us, but God won’t. ‘There is the lamb of God… he is the one to follow.’