Like many people, I spent a lot of time earlier this week reflecting on the year that was passing and deciding what goals I would set for 2019. I congratulated myself for the things I had accomplished in 2018, and I started to think what I could do to improve myself in the New Year.
Because I believe "the unexamined life is not worth living," as Socrates is credited with saying, I think New Year's resolutions are a good thing when done with the right intentions. God desires our greatest happiness and wants us to use the gifts He has given us, so I think He would approve of the time we take each year to reflect on how we can become healthier, holier, and more true to the people He created us to be - as long as we consult Him a bit in the process.
But this year, I left New Year's feeling a little more self-indulgent than self-improving. When I started reading the Gospels for the second half of this week, St. John the Baptist's humble way of pointing others away from himself and toward God was a refreshing reminder that life is, in fact, not all about what I personally accomplish, but rather about how I lead others to Christ in the process.
In Wednesday's Gospel, when the priests and Levites were asking John the Baptist who he was, he simply responded, "I am not the Christ," and told them about the one who would come after him, "whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie." While he could have responded to their question with a lengthy description of himself and his ministry of baptizing and preaching, he merely pointed them to the more important thing - who Christ would be.
In today's Gospel, John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples. When Jesus walks by, he says, "Behold, the Lamb of God," and the disciples leave him to follow Jesus. I imagine there was more to that conversation, with John the Baptist telling his disciples, who had been loyal to him to that point, that it is okay to go ahead and leave him behind.
It did not matter to John the Baptist that he would be losing some of the followers that he had probably worked hard to gather. Based on what we know about him, I imagine it was actually his biggest success to see his ministry fall to the background as Jesus started His own. In fact, later on in John's Gospel, when Jesus has begun doing his own baptisms, John the Baptist says, "This joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:29-30).
Like John the Baptist, I am not the Christ. My role in this world is insignificant compared to Him. And also like John the Baptist, I hope any success I have points others away from me and toward the one who loves them and helps them more than I ever could.
At least, that is what I should hope. But let's be honest, I am not John the Baptist. So now I have a new goal for 2019: to grow in humility, using this prayer as a guide.