12 January 2020Baptism of the Lord

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Baptism of the Lord
Baptism of the Lord - A Cycle - Matthew 3:13-17 - 05

Last week I watched a woman in the public library teaching a 20 year old man how to fill out a job application. In the US, twenty-one per cent of adults cannot read or count. They cannot read a newspaper nor do the simplest math.

All four Gospels tell us about the Baptism by John at Waddi Kharrar in the muddy Jordan River. Their eagerness to tell us indicates the importance attached to it by the early Church.

Until the Baptism, Jesus had lived a laid back life in Nazareth for thirty years. His was a humdrum existence as a craftsman. There was no hassling of His person. His biggest problem was to encourage clients to pay their bills. Life with His mother in their sleepy village was blissful. There were three good meals daily, red wine, and early to bed. There was time to study the books in the village library. Who could ask for more?

All that was about to change with the appearance of John the Baptist making his wet and noisy entrance into history in the Jordan River. Jesus' situation would change utterly. The good life was put in limbo. Though He looked back on the good old days wistfully, He would not enjoy them again. The work for which He was sent by His Father was beginning. It would consume all His energies. It would cost Him His life.

Jesus was running, not walking, into the tsunami of world history. He would hold nothing back. It would be all systems go. His life would make a difference. Billions of people would be richer for it.

He would fulfill the job definition given to Him by His Father. It is laid out in detail in today's Isaiah. He was "to open the eyes of the blind, free prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness."

Once He stepped into those running cold waters and was baptized by the Baptist, His cover would be forever blown. He would wear a bull's eye on His back. The Nazareth safe house would become a memory.

He was aware of the consequences to Himself. He knew that good people do not always win. Life, said President John F Kennedy, is not fair. But Christ dismissed His forebodings with a shrug. "We must," said He, "do this if we would fulfill all of God's demands."

His Father was delighted with His decision. He drew Himself up, thrust forth His chest, and bellowed for all to hear down through the centuries. "This is my Son, with whom I am pleased." What other father in history has spoken so glowingly of his son? What a shot in the arm those words were for Jesus!

Incidentally, would that more parents would say something similar of the accomplishments of their adult children and often. How much more emotionally healthy these adults would be. Love must be visible if it is to be genuine. (Unknown)

Today's Acts of the Apostles tell us what the baptized Jesus did in six famous words. "He went about doing good works."

The baton has been passed to us. We, like Christ, must excel. Now is the acceptable moment for each of us to become a difference in someone else's life. Human problems and hurts surround us everywhere. We too, like Jesus, must go about doing good.

When, because of human horrors, we run on empty, reflect on the following lines. I found them on a poster designed to motivate salespeople working for money. But they could have been written for those of us working for Christ. "A winner is always part of the answer. A loser always part of the problem. A winner always has a program. A loser always an excuse. A winner says, `Let me do it for you.' A loser shouts, `That's not my job.' A winner sees an answer for every problem. A loser a problem for every answer. A winner says, `It may be difficult, but it's possible.' A loser says, `It may be possible, but it's too difficult.'"

Why not teach the illiterate of the US to read and write? Become a literacy volunteer. Let your life make a difference. Free the illiterate from their economic and cultural jail.

Follow labor agitator Mother Jones' advice, "Pray for the dead, but fight like hell for the living."

When the job is done, you shall have the pleasure of hearing the Father shout with joy as He did at His Son's Baptism, "This is my child, with whom I am pleased."

Immortality will come to such as are fit for it; and they who would be great souls in the future must be great souls now. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Baptism of the Lord
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: Take the Plunge!

Jesus saw John baptizing.  He saw people there with John, sincere people, responding to John's call and committing themselves to the New Kingdom of God that John said was at hand.  Jesus saw people seeking to change the world by changing themselves, by repenting their sins and reforming their lives. 

Jesus saw John, the last of the prophets of the Old Order and the first of the prophets of the New Order.  John proclaimed that God will triumph.  He said that the One Who Is To Come would be here soon.

Jesus saw the sincere people, the impassioned John, the determination for God to reign, and Jesus wanted to be baptized.  He would proclaim to the world that He was one with these people.  John immediately recognized that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, infinitely superior to John, but Jesus told him to baptize him.  The people washed by John's baptism and consecrated to prepare for God must know that the Christ was united to them.

Jesus seized the moment that John was offering. He took the plunge.  He went down into the water and was baptized.  And the voice from heaven rang out, "This is my Beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased." 

Take the plunge. Seize the moment.  Seize the day, Carpe Diem in the Latin poem by Horace. (Horace's Odes 1:11).  The pagan poet was not talking about tomorrow, though, he was only talking about making the best use of the day.  The Christian, though, seizes the day to take advantage of the moment that God gives us to allow him to change our lives and His world. The Christian seizes the day to prepare for tomorrow.

So a senior couple moves in down the block.  They seem to be nice people, but they mostly keep to themselves.  You welcome them, but then you let them be, a few waves here and there, but no real contact.  Every Sunday you drive by their house on the way to Church and you notice their car in the driveway.  "Perhaps they are not Christian," you think.  Then you notice that they put up a few Christmas decorations.  "Maybe they just don't go to Church," you wonder.  But you let it be.  You'd like to invite them to Church, but you feel a bit awkward. After all, you rarely speak with them.  A few months later you learn that the husband has had a stroke and is in the hospital. Should you visit?  You barely know them.  But you take the plunge and go to the hospital.  They really appreciate your concern.  A friendship develops.  The man is able to go home, but he is limited in what he can do.  So you stop by frequently, chew the rag, and help with some of their chores.  As your leaving one Saturday, you say that you'll stop by on Sunday after Mass.  They ask, "Would you mind if we come with you?" God's grace entered their lives because you seized the day, you went down into the river, you made that visit to the hospital.

Then there's that kid in school who is basically obnoxious.  His language is bad.  His attitude is worse.  Everything in his world is as black as the clothes he wears.  You figure that there is no reason to try to be friends with him.  There is no reason, except that God wants the kid to know that God loves him.  You see him alone one day and decide that you need to take the plunge into the river.  "We're having an ice cream social after the Life Teen Mass this weekend.  Do you want to come?  It's cool, and there will be at least 50 kids there."  You figure that you will be shot down, but to your surprise he says, "OK."  He meets you at the Church, and he likes it.  It's not just the ice cream social he likes.  He likes being with kids who are positive about life.  His life gradually changes because you seized the day.  You went into the river and declared yourself one with someone who was searching for God.

There are many graced moments in our lives.  There are many times that we can allow God to draw us closer to Him. Some of these times are obvious, like confirmation, marriage, conventions and retreats, the celebration of the critical moments in the faith life of our children and grandchildren.  There are other times that might not seem so obvious, ordinary times when we are called to make the ordinary extraordinary by seizing the day, respond to God's call and plunge into the river.  We are called to seize the day and be One with all who are seeking the Kingdom of God.

May Jesus, baptized by John, give us the courage to join Him in the Jordan River.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Baptism of the Lord

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

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

John the Baptist was a very fierce man. This might be what you would expect of someone who lived most of his life in the desert. He knew all about hardship and he had the marks of penance on his body. Much of his message was taken up in condemnation, condemnation of those living a life of luxury and giving no thought to the life of the Spirit. But if John was so fierce why did so many people come to him, people from all over Palestine? If I preached fierce condemnatory sermons each week you would soon get fed up, so why did the people flock to hear John.

They came because he had a message of hope. Yes, he was fierce, but he was also gentle. He tapped into something deep inside each person. He knew that each one of us is profoundly aware of their own guilt and wants to repent and he drew this out. But he was also able to tell them that one of their deepest yearnings was also about to be filled, a Saviour was about to come. One who would reach out to them with the hand of healing and salvation. They came to John because he had a message of hope, and the hope he pointed to was Jesus.

You can see the beautiful humility and gentleness in John when Jesus asks him for Baptism and he says: 'But it is I who need Baptism from you.' Jesus, just as gently, tells him to go ahead. Jesus was commencing his public ministry, John had been preaching that the Saviour was already here and so Jesus came to John to make, if you like, a formal start to his ministry. Jesus, of course, had no need of Baptism. It has often been speculated over the centuries why he received Baptism from John. But, if you think about it, it was entirely typical of him.

The Church places this feast so close to the Feast of the Incarnation, Christmas and that gives us a clue. There was no strict necessity for the incarnation; God could have brought about our salvation in an instant if he wanted to. Jesus, through the incarnation, chose to take on human form and by becoming like us brought about our salvation. Jesus undergoes Baptism in order to be like us and show us the way to salvation. In the same way he will undergo death in order to make salvation possible for us.

Jesus chooses this propitious moment to be baptised by John, and it became a moment of wonderful revelation. The Holy Spirit descending like a dove and the voice of God blessing and approving Jesus action. He begins his ministry in this wonderful way. It is a ministry we are going to hear about through the words of St Matthew over the next year. It was a ministry which was truly blessed by God, he through healing and teaching over the next three years made God present to the people in a truly wonderful way.

This is the first reference in the Bible to the Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove. A dove was not an image that was generally used by the Hebrews. In fact, about the only reference to a dove is Noah sending out the dove over the waters to find land, the dove returned bearing an olive branch.

But what a wonderful coincidence of images. Here Christ descends into the waters of Baptism; the flood in Noah's time is generally seen as a prefigurement of this Baptismal water. The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove on Jesus as a sign of the Father's favour and the assurance of salvation. The dove returns to Noah with the sign that salvation, dry land, is at hand. Scripture is full of such lovely parallels; that is why it is so fruitful for meditation. We would hardly think that there could be a direct connection with Noah's flood and yet there it is. And what better image of salvation could there be than dry land.

Most of us were baptised as infants, we have no recollection of our Baptism, yet we know it was the most significant day of our life. It was the day we were specially singled out by God for ministry in the world. It is the sign of his special favour resting upon us. We have through that closely linked sacrament, Confirmation, had the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on us. We, like Christ, have begun a ministry for we are the instruments he has chosen to communicate his salvation to the world.

If we undertake it with due seriousness, it is a ministry which will be marked by miracles, healings, powerful signs from heaven, temptations, and moments of deep communion with God. It will transfigure our lives and we will become God's windows on the world, conduits of his love to all we meet. But it will be a Baptism, and Baptism means death. It means going down into the water and literally drowning. It is a death to self.

If we are to be true followers of Christ this is what it will mean. It won't be at all easy but in order to achieve greatness real sacrifice is necessary. Then when we break through that ultimate barrier our own bodily death the church will gather and pray over us that wonderful and powerful prayer: You have been baptised with Christ may you now rise with him in glory.

To draw out this connection with our own Baptism instead of reciting the Creed today we will renew our Baptismal promises.
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