I set thee apart for myself

bartolomeestebanmurillo_stjohnthebaptistasaboy“I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother’s womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself” (Jeremias 1:5).

The Word of God, Alive and Full of Energy

This word from God uttered in mystery long ago, and received in faith by the prophet Jeremias, and applied, by a splendid intuition of the Church to Saint John the Baptist, becomes today, by the singular grace of this Holy Mass, a word addressed to each of us, to you and to me.

The word of God is not uttered once and for all, and then, locked away, as it were, in some sort of sacred archive. When the word of God is proclaimed in the sacred liturgy, it rises to newness of life; it is invested with a wondrous energy; it becomes efficacious, doing in us that for which it comes forth from the mouth of God. Thus do we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “God’s word to us is something alive, full of energy; it can penetrate deeper than any two-edged sword, reaching the very division between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, quick to distinguish every thought and design in our hearts: (Hebrews 4:12). I beg you, then, in the words of the psalmist: “Would you but listen to his voice today! Do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 94:8).

Claimed and Set Apart by God

It is to you, then, that the Word of God comes today. It is addressed directly to each of you, a blazing arrow shot from the heart of God into your hearts: “I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother’s womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself” (Jeremias 1:5).


What is a vocation? It is the unfolding of a mysterious design of God and a gracious summons of His mercy. Implicit in the Church’s doctrine of the universal call to holiness — that is, that you and I are called to be saints, nothing less than saints — are these astonishing truths: God claimed you — you — for His own before ever he fashioned you in your mother’s womb. Before ever you came to birth, God set you apart for Himself. This is the divine message that shapes one’s journey through life, and gives it meaning.

The Call to Holiness

Holiness cannot be stereotyped. Holiness comes in a splendid variety of forms, and colours. There is no age, no state in life, no occupation, no background, no place, nor race, nor culture that is, of itself, foreign to holiness. We, therefore have no excuse. God would have each us become a saint. To resist the call to holiness is to resist the will of God. “This is the will of God,” says the Apostle, “your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Under the Hand of God

We heard, concerning John the Baptist, in the Holy Gospel: “And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel” (Luke 1: 66, 80). Submit, then, to the hand of the Lord today, by placing yourselves humbly and willingly under the immense, and tender, and powerful liturgy of His Church. Open your eyes, your ears, and all your senses to every word uttered, to every note sung, to every gesture, and movement, and to the sacred silence which envelops this Mass and allows for the penetration of its particular grace into the most secret place of your souls.

Ready to Appear Openly

It will happen with you, as it happened with Saint John the Forerunner. You will grow up into holiness. Your spirit will mature. At the hour prepared by God, you will be ready to appear openly, not to Israel, as did Saint John over two-thousand years ago, but to Ireland today, just as it is, beset by dire predictions of the end of Catholicism — as men and women called to nothing less than holiness. “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

To the Altar of the Lamb

All of this begins — and all of it must return — to the altar of the Holy Sacrifice. There, the Lamb is immolated; there the Lamb is offered; there the Lamb is given us as food and drink. It is time to hasten to the altar, for I hear the voice of the Baptist, the “Friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29), saying, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:36).