13 January 2019Baptism of the Lord

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Baptism of the Lord

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Baptism of the Lord
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: Our Mission(s)

The boys jumped into the water. One comes up holding the cross. The people cheer. The girl releases the dove
The scene that took place last Sunday afternoon in Spring Bayou, here in Tarpon Springs, Florida as the Greek Orthodox Church recreated the Baptism of the Lord, the aspect of the Epiphany that we in the Roman Catholic Church celebrate this Sunday. The boy arising from the water with the cross represents Jesus who at his baptism by John the Baptist publically accepted the mission the Father had set for him, a mission that would end with the cross. Today's feast encourages us to reflect on the main mission God has assigned for each of us as well as the many missions of our lives.

Our main mission in life is to love God with our whole mind, our whole heart and our whole soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Each of us are called to do this in a way that is most in keeping with our spiritual individuality, our unique reflection of God. For some, the main mission is to do this through the sacrament of marriage. Notice that I say the sacrament of marriage. Marriage as a sacrament, celebrated in the Church and lived in the Church, makes Christ real in the love of the husband and wife for each other. When this love is the love of Christ, sacrificial love, the married bring Christ to the world. Their mission in the world, your mission in the world, so many of you, is to love your spouse with the love of Christ. If you are blessed with children, then your mission takes on a new dimension as you raise your children in the love of Christ you professed on your wedding day, and you live every day. This is the spiritual basis of the maxim: if you want to be a good father, a good mother, then love your spouse. Are you the perfect husband, the perfect wife? Of course not, that is not possible. But be aware that God is merciful.

He doesn't just see the times that you are not at your best. He sees the myriad of times that you love him through your spouse and your family. For some the mission in life is to serve God and His people through the sacrament of holy orders or through the consecration of religious life. The priest, the sister, the brother, do not have jobs or careers. They have lives given to God. That is the ideal. In reality, their humanity often limits their gift of themselves to God, but God is merciful and sees the intentions of their hearts despite their flawed living of these intentions. We trust in the mercy of God to see the times that we listen to him and follow him, not just the times that we miss his call to service. For some the mission of life is neither marriage nor consecration to the priesthood or religious life, but the life of a single person using as much time and energy as they have to serve the Lord in his people.

Perhaps some are young and have not entered the stage of life where they might marry, perhaps others were married but are now widowed or single. Perhaps some have not been called to the vocation of marriage, but have been called to the vocation of being a committed single. If you have more time than the married, you have to realize that you have a greater opportunity to serve the Lord through others. All of us have main missions in life. We also have many secondary missions. Many times I come upon a mother or father who tell me about a child or Teen that needs extra attention. "He/she has become my project," the parent says. "I am going to get him/her through this difficult time in life." This is wonderful. You people are really amazing parents. I get to witness this all the time. Sometimes people recognize that they need to use their talents outside of their main mission. A man or woman has great people skills and can help people find solutions to their problems. Another is a natural educator and offers his or her skills in faith formation or the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

A third has talent in music and serves the community in the choir. All of these are secondary missions that we all have and which we cannot justify ignoring. Sometimes, many times, God gives us a mission when we least expect it. Many of you spend significant time every week driving your children places. Let me point out to you that you have a ministry as a chauffeur. For example, you are driving you children home from school, or to a soccer match, and you hear a neighbor's child say that he didn't eat anything since last night. You could ignore that, and ignore God, or you can find a way to get that child some food. None of you here would ignore a hungry child. Perhaps, though, you may not realize that you have been given a grace to serve God by dropping your schedule and taking care of that child.

What is more common in your ministry as chauffeurs is that you hear the children or teens speaking about someone in an uncharitable way. It is easy to make believe that you don't hear them, but perhaps God has put you in that car in that situation to help the young integrate their faith into their daily lives. We priests have wonderful lives because we are continually called upon to listen to God and care for someone in need. I think we have the greatest lives in the world because we are always called upon to be Christ for others. But then again, I don't know what it is like to be a married man or a physical father. You would be justified in saying that with your spouse and your children, you are continually being called out of yourselves and into service for the Lord. We often ask ourselves questions whose answer is beautifully obvious. Why was I created? or What is God's plan for me?

His plan is that you and I will make a difference in the world by gifting the world with the unique reflection of his love that only each of us could provide. You see, you and I are not mere numbers in a vast planet of people, perhaps even in a vast universe of rational creatures. You and I are much more than this, infinitely more than this.

You and I are Christians. We are lovers, Divine Lovers. We love the Divine and the Divine loves us and loves through us. We exist to love, to love God with our whole mind, heart and soul and to love others as God loves them. There are people in the world who will meet God by meeting you. There are people in the world who will meet God by meeting me. They are people who are searching. They are searching for meaning in life. They are searching for reasons behind their joy and pain, their sadness and fleeting pleasures. They seek lasting happiness. They search for answers and they rely on us, you and I, to help them find these answers. The Lord was baptized by John the Baptist. He accepted the mission the Father had set for him. We also have been baptized, only with a baptism of the Holy Spirit. We have been called to accept the main mission and the many missions the Lord needs us to fulfill. As we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, we pray that we might be open, aware, and determined to complete the mission and the missions that God assigned to each of us.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Baptism of the Lord
Not Worthy
(January 13, 2019)

Bottom line: Like John the Baptist we are not worthy, but in Jesus we become worthy. We can truly say, "I'm OK, You're OK - because He's OK."
Back when I was in college a popular book came out: I'm OK, You're OK. Written by psychiatrist Thomas Harris, the book encouraged people to affirm themselves and others. It had some good points, but I have to admit I took pleasure in a book that came out as a response to I'm OK, You're OK. Its title: I'm OK, You're Not So Hot! That's probably how some of my classmates felt about me. Many people follow the "I'm OK, You're OK" approach to life. It's a pleasant philosophy, but is it really true? As we will see at the conclusion of this homily, in one sense it is - or at least can be, but first we have to face some hard truths. When we look at our long, sad history, human goodness does not exactly shine through. Our history shows wars, greed, cruelty, rape, mass murder, concentration camps, genocide. And if that's not enough ask these questions: If we are so good, why do two people deeply in love with each other, have such a hard time staying together?

And why do we love hearing other people's faults? Once I mentioned in a homily that gossip was circulating about me. People were disappointed when I didn't say what the gossip was. Maybe you're curious yourself. Come to Generations of Faith - I'll talk more about it. We can take a deeper look at the I'm OK, You're OK philosophy. Some of the people we most admire acknowledge they are not OK. One of the greatest men in Bible is King David. Yet he committed terrible sins - adultery and murder. When the prophet Nathan confronts him, David admits, "I have sinned against the Lord.' David then writes a Psalm which states, "Have mercy on me, O God...My sin is always before." Another great figure in the Bible is Job. Misfortune befalls him and his friends think he must have done something wrong to deserve it. Job defends his innocence, yet when he meets God face to face, he says "I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." And today we have John the Baptist. Jesus calls him the greatest man born of woman. But John, speaking of Jesus says, "I am not worthy..."

That is our stance as Catholics. When we come to Mass we begin by telling each other, "I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do..." When we stand before Jesus present in the Host, we say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof..." So we admit, I am not OK. How then do we become OK? Well, today we see Jesus - a man without sin - accepting baptism on our behalf. St. Paul tells us we are saved by the bath of rebirth - "not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy." You sometimes hear that Protestants believe we are saved by faith while Catholic say we are saved by works. That is not true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has nine paragraphs on justification - how we are saved. They are short and well worth reading. They brings out clearly that we are justified - made OK - not by works, but by grace. The Catechism cites the Council of Trent which describes justification as a gift. The Catechism has this quote from St. Augustine: "the justification of the wicked is a greater work than the creation of heaven and earth," because "heaven and earth will pass away but the salvation and justification of the elect...will not pass away." (#1994) So what do we make of this? As we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus what do we take home?

Before summing up, permit me a word about Martin Luther King. He was part of my life as a youth. A book I appreciated about him was Death of a King. I wrote something about it in the bulletin. It shows Dr. King as he was: a Baptist preacher, a scholarly man who had his own demons, who nevertheless used the Bible especially the Book of Exodus, to call us back to our roots. Martin Luther King spoke of the God who sees our sinfulness yet calls to something better, not just individually, but for each other. With that in mind let's sum up. Like John the Baptist we are not worthy, but in Jesus we become worthy. We can truly say, "I'm OK, You're OK - because He's OK." Apart from Jesus we sink into misery and despair as is happening with so many today. But by accepting Jesus, entering into a relationship with him through prayer, sacraments - and care for the outcast - we are justified, we are saved. Not by any righteous deed, but by surrendering to Jesus. In him and him alone we become OK. St. Paul says that we are made OK - "justified by his grace." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Baptism of the Lord

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Baptism of the Lord
The Baptism of the Lord

It can be said that the Public Ministry of Jesus began with his Baptism at the hands of John the Baptist in the River Jordan. In common with the other Synoptic Gospels St Luke gives us a very short account of this significant event; but, brief though it is, he includes all the essentials One might wonder why Jesus needed to be Baptised at all, after all being the Son of God it could not be to repent of sin. In the account by St Matthew even John the Baptist questions Jesus, asking why he came to him for Baptism at all. Jesus simply says that it would be proper for him to be Baptised without giving any particular reason. I think that what is happening here is that Jesus is showing us the way. He wants us to imitate him by being Baptised ourselves. As with everything else in Jesus' life, where he has gone, we too will follow. As his disciples in the world we follow him in all that he says and does and, ultimately, we follow him through death to the final glory of the resurrection.

We must understand that Catholicism is a sacramental religion. By this we appreciate that the sacraments are the primary ways we receive God's grace and love. Of course, we know that God can and does pour out his grace upon us all the time and in hundreds of different ways. Actually, we know that God's grace is unrestrained and can never be confined by our merely human categories. However, the Church teaches that whenever we celebrate the sacraments we can be absolutely certain that God's grace is being bestowed on us. So, for us, the sacraments are viewed as the primary instruments of God's grace. And, of course, the sacrament of Baptism is the key to all the other sacraments; it is the foundational sacrament if you like. Baptism has two essential results, firstly it wipes us clean from sin and secondly it makes us members of the Church. It opens us up to receive the other sacraments, most particularly the Eucharist which is the sacrament that we most frequently experience and which is the main way that our souls are nourished by God's grace. As always, it is good to examine the text of the Gospel very carefully.

Although St Luke's account is very brief, we can see that there is a distinction drawn between the Baptism of Jesus and the Baptism of the people. The people experience a Baptism of Repentance while the Baptism of Jesus seems to occur in a private moment quite separate from the Baptism of the others. It is immediately obvious that the Baptism of Jesus is of a completely different order. It is evident to us that Luke separates the Baptism of the people and the Baptism of Jesus to emphasise the difference between them. He also places the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father after a period of prayer by Jesus. It is made clear that these things are something specifically for him. His Baptism is a Baptism markedly different from theirs. It is the inauguration of his public ministry and the beginning of his proclamation of the Good News. The voice of the Father, 'You are my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on you' is a wonderful confirmation of the validity of what Jesus is doing.

Very similar words are spoken at the high point of Jesus ministry when he goes up the Mount of the Transfiguration to commune with his Father and is bathed in light. What these words of the Father stress is that the Public Ministry of Jesus is not something conducted by him alone. He carries on his ministry in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. His ministry is therefore a Trinitarian one; at every point whatever it is that he is doing is done in conformity with the will of the Father. One of the things to observe about the sacraments is that they all involve concrete actions. In Baptism it is quite obviously the pouring of water or sometimes it might involve total immersion. This water is cleansing; but it is cleansing not just of earthly dirt as we do whenever we bathe. This earthly cleansing is merely the sign of that much more profound cleansing which is the washing away of our sins. The sacraments use these earthly actions which become signs of a much deeper heavenly action. Each sacrament has its own action such as the priest stretching his hand out to indicate forgiveness, or the vows a couple make at the moment of their marriage, or the laying on of hands and anointing of those who are being confirmed.

These human actions and gestures are transformed by God into channels of his grace and love. The Church understands that since we are bodily creatures we need these earthly actions as concrete signs of God's love. That is why the liturgy is full of such signs and symbols. It is why we sing, why we use incense, and why the priests wear gorgeous vestments. It is why we have statues around us and why our Churches are highly decorated. It is why we use genuflections and why we make the Sign of the Cross and why we light candles. Some Christian denominations have abandoned these things. If you go into a Presbyterian or Calvinist Church you will see no statues, the music will be very low key.

There will be not much in the way of vestments, there will be few candles and certainly nothing resembling incense. Everything about their Churches will be austere and plain and stripped back. It therefore no surprise that these very Churches have also abandoned the sacraments or significantly reduced them to just two. It is not for us to criticise them, they are finding their own way and trying to do their best to please God. But in the Catholic Church we understand that we live in the body and that signs and actions are the way we understand the world and the things of heaven. In the Church ordinary actions are invested with supernatural meaning and beauty is regarded as an important way of bringing us closer to God. So we see the sacraments as not merely the actions of a priest or other minister but as a significant intervention of God into our world. We realise that when we celebrate the sacraments we get a glimpse of heaven. In the sacraments we understand that the mundane is turned into the divine. In the sacraments we realise that God is in our midst. Whenever we celebrate the sacraments we realise that we are at that very moment standing on holy ground.

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