Today is the Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist. And twenty-five years ago today, on a blazing hot summer morning in Washington D.C. at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, I was ordained a priest.

May I tell you a strange truth? I remember nothing of it. I  have seen footage of it, but have no personal memory of the event. I don’t know why my memory is dead in this matter. Perhaps it is the implausibility of the former agnostic in me saying that I would obey the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington and all his successors. Perhaps it is the hippie of a teenager who listened only to The Who and Arrowsmith accepting the laying on of hands as the Gregorian Veni Creator was sung. Perhaps it is the cynical, stubborn, stiff-necked college student with the brass forehead saying that he accepted the mysteries of the faith and would base his life on them.

But of course there have been more dramatic moments in history. Surely the strange event of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus, a full grown man, and calling him the “Lamb of God” must rank up there with the stranger moments in history.

Yes, even more, on this Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist we celebrate the birth of the final prophet of the Old Testament. He stood at the culmination of the Old Covenant and emphatically pointed to the new. He drew back the curtain on all that the ancient prophets longed to see. His birth is a great harbinger of a new epoch, the final age of Man. When he points to Christ and then steps back, we see the Old Covenant yield to the new. One era is ending; another is beginning. This birthday bespeaks a coming sea change: something is ending, but something greater is beginning. Types, symbols, and shadows are about to give way to the true reality they signified.

A great and dramatic moment in this “old giving way to the new” occurs when the two meet by the riverside. (It is true, they had already met in utero, as Mary and Elizabeth shared company. John prefigured this riverside meeting by dancing for joy in his mother’s womb at the nearness of Christ). But the drama of this moment at the riverside cannot be overstated, for John supplies a strange and wonderful answer to a question asked 2,000 years before. And the answer he supplies to this question signals that the new has arrived.

To understand the moment we must go back in time to approximately 1900 BC. The place is a hillside called Moriah where Jerusalem would later be built. Abraham has been commanded there by God and has been told to prepare to kill his son, Isaac, in sacrifice. The text says that, upon arriving at the foot of Moriah,

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”  “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb?” (Gen 22:6-8)

Do not miss the great foreshadowing here: a long-promised son, about to die, carrying wood upon his shoulders, ascending the very hillside where Jerusalem and Golgotha will one day be located. Yes this is a wondrous foreshadowing.

And then comes the great question to his father: “But where is the Lamb?” Yes indeed, where is the Lamb who will die so that I don’t have to? Where is the Lamb whose blood will save my life? Where is the Lamb?

Now you know the rest of that story: an angel stopped Abraham and then pointed to a ram with its horns caught in a thicket. And you may be excused for saying, “Aha, God did provide the lamb—end of story.” But truth be told, this ram, this lamb cannot really save Isaac “Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4). Isaac’s death is merely postponed and then it is off to Sheol with him where he will lie and wait for the True Lamb who alone can give eternal life.

And so that question got wafted up onto the breeze and echoed down through the centuries that followed: “But where is the Lamb … where is the Lamb?”

And now we are standing by the banks of the Jordan River 19 centuries later. John the Baptist sees a full grown man coming toward him and says a very strange thing: “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29). Yes, there is the  true Lamb who alone can take away our sins. John the Baptist supplies a strange and wonderful, though long-delayed, answer to a question Isaac asked 1,900 years before: “Where is the Lamb?”  “THERE is the Lamb!”

Happy birthday of John the Baptist. His birth is the culmination of an age, an era, a Covenant. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets. His birth signals an end and a beginning. The Book of Hebrews says, By calling this covenant “new,” [God] has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear (Hebrews 8:13). Hence John would later say, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must increase; I must decrease (John 3:29-30).

And happy anniversary for me, a strange stand-in for Jesus, but somehow chosen by Him and ordained by Him 25 years ago today.  I do not answer the question “Where is the Lamb?” but rather, “What is He doing here?” At the end of the day, the answer can only be rooted in the mercy of God, who takes away the sins of the world, and of Charles Pope of whom He says, “You’ll do, though it will take a lot of grace.” I know only this: I am unfit to untie His sandal.

May God be praised for the mystery of His plan and the surprise of how He fulfills ancient promises: even me Lord, a strange stand-in for the Lamb of God, but here I am. I’m not sure I signal the beginning or end of anything, just a continuation of the ministry of the Lamb of God, who answered an age-old question and fulfilled an ancient dispensation. And just like John, who pointed to Jesus, here I am doing the same. Thank you, Jesus. The bride is all yours; I am but a worthless groomsman. But do have pity on me and help me to rejoice with you in your bride.

Go to the 3 minute mark to begin the footage of my ordination.

26 Responses

  1. John Clem says:

    Congratulations Charlie on your 25th Anniversary to the priesthood. The whole family is very proud of your service to the church. God Bless!

  2. Laura K says:

    Happy anniversary! Thank you for sharing some of your ministry with us online, even those of us outside your archdiocese. I pray that God gives you many more years.

  3. John says:

    Happy Anniversary! We’re praying for you on this special occasion. May God be close to you today.

  4. edraCRUZ says:

    Happy anniversary to you, Monsignor Pope. May The LORD GOD Bless and keep you. Yes, to me you are another form of Elijah, St. John, the Baptist. Of course, you are in persona CHRISTI. We are proud of your priesthood. We bless you, Monsi. You are a father to us.

  5. Lindsay Celestin says:

    Thank you Msgr Pope, thank you; and May God give you another 25 years of ministry.

  6. Deacon Jimmy says:

    Happy Anniversary Msgr Pope! A quarter of a century to spread God’s Word is but a blink of an eye. I will lift a glass to you today (after work) and look forward to the next quarter century! Thank you for spending and consuming yourself for Christ. Gratia et pax.

  7. Father Lolek says:

    J.M.J.

    Ad multos annos, Monsignor Pope! I remembered that you were ordained on June 24, 1989. Congratulations. My special prayers for you and especially Bishop Knestout, Father Fangmeyer and Father Potts. May Our Lady, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist always protect you.

  8. Annie Robinson Kapfer says:

    You may not remember, but those of us there do and know it was beautiful and so obviously filled with the Spirit. It was a blessing to be a part of it. Happy anniversary!

  9. Robert Strauss says:

    I have been reading your blog now for over a year and your insight and interpretation of scripture as well as how they apply to current times are an inspiration and true blessing. Happy anniversary and may God thru the glory of His Son, Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit continue to increase their grace in you. Peace.

  10. Lou in Paradise says:

    Thank you, Happy Anniversary, and may God bless you.

  11. Anita says:

    Happy 25th, Msgr! May God grant you many more years of priestly service. Thank you and God Bless you!

  12. Matt says:

    Congrats on 25 years a priest! Keep up the work “good and faithful servant” of the Lord!

    The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

  13. David F says:

    Congratulations Monsignor

  14. Alfred says:

    Happy Anniversary, Mgr. Pope!!!

    (from one whose life you have touched)

  15. Claire L. says:

    Congratulations Monsignor! I must repeat what has been said here “you are truly a father to us”. Thank your for service to the Lord and for making us grow. Your teaching reaches far, I live in Québec Canada and here today we celebrate Saint John the Baptist day, Quebec’s patron saint and protector. Many other people must be reading you farther away. I’ve been following your blog regularly for at least 3 years now. I thank the Lord we have you, his humble servant, so obediant. Happy 25th anniversary and today I pray Saint John the Baptist to put you under his protection by God’s grace.

  16. Claire L. says:

    Congratulations Monsignor! I must repeat what has been said here “you are truly a father to us”. Thank you for your service to the Lord and for making us grow. Your teaching reaches far, I live in Québec Canada and here today we celebrate Saint John the Baptist day, Quebec’s patron saint and protector. Many other people must be reading you farther away. I’ve been following your blog regularly for at least 3 years. I thank the Lord we have you, his humble servant, so obediant. Happy 25th anniversary and today I pray Saint John the Baptist to put you under his protection by God’s grace.

  17. Vic Mortelmans says:

    Congratulations, mgr Pope! Looking at how profound and thorugh each single article on this blog is, that must have been 25 years very well spent!

  18. Ralph says:

    Remembering you from Mt Calvary, Happy anniversary!

  19. marisa says:

    Happy Anniversary Father! Thank you for all your writings. It has helped me understand more of the mysteries of God and His Church while also attending RCIA in 2012. May God grant you many more years of priestly service. Thank you again and God Bless you!

  20. Maria says:

    A very Blessed Anniv. Rev. Msgr , with very many returns ; thank you for sharing your precious time and prayers with the readers as well !

    For some anniv . ‘fun’ for readers of the blog- here is something about biblical #s –

    24 , having to do with govt. as well ( guess John The Baptist too got into that part with Herod ! )

    http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/documents/the%20significance%20of%20numbers%20in%20scripture.htm

    May The powerful intercession of the Virgin of The Immaculate Conception continue to extend her merciful , protective mantle , to help to do away with what ought to be, in the lives of those entrusted for the care and tending , in the meek and gentle manner of The Lamb , with the comfort of The Dove , in the infinte power of the Sacraments !

  21. JohnR says:

    I too offer my congratulations on this anniversary of your ordination. May God bless you and may you continue to offer your thoughts and guidance to those of us from far flung corners of the world. I always value the work you do and your written words. (from Western Australia)

  22. Nate says:

    Congratulations and thank you for the last 25 years!

  23. Christina says:

    Congratulations Monsignor Pope!
    Thank you for all of your insightful writings. I am learning more and more about Scripture because of your daily postings. You keep me on track. And may you have another 25 years of holy priesthood.

  24. Debbie Resta says:

    Congratulations to you, Msgr. Pope! Your wise and prudent spiritual direction during early 1991, while you were at Mt. Calvary, has really sustained me through the years! Thank you so much! God Bless you in your priesthood!

  25. Nancy Dolinar says:

    Godspeed Msgr. Pope, we need you another 25 years. You bring heaven closer. God loves you dearly for all you do.

  26. Peter Wolczuk says:

    I didn’t think of this saying, which I first heard a few years ago, in a more timely manner for this post but – I did think of it today – when reading of a prominent preacher who runs street missions for the homeless.
    It seemed that he was driving to work to deliver hot chocolate and day olds, before the sun rose, and noticed someone sleeping in a ditch, wrapped in cardboard and smelling of body odour and long unwashed feet.
    The unfortunate was barely coherent so, giving no thought to his own comfort, he helped the man into his van and took him to hte hospital where it was discovered that the man was severly dehydrated and undernourished.
    I shared with Reverend Al, as we like to call him that doing God’s work may not pay much but the retirement plan is out of this world. It’s unknown what drew Reverend Al’s attention may never be proven but we know Who it was.
    For your work you also deserve a share of the saying.

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