Thursday, January 30, 2014

Repent and Believe in the Good News!

There is one overarching theme to all of Jesus’ ministry. Everything He did and said can be summed up in the words, “The Kingdom of Heaven.”

It was to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to us that Jesus came to earth. He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Most of His parables began with the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like...”. The miracles He performed were proof that the Kingdom of Heaven was already among us conquering the kingdom of this earth which has burdened us with sin, suffering and death. In His preaching, Jesus taught us that in God’s Kingdom the poor would be blessed, those who mourn will be consoled and those who humble themselves will be glorified. It is a Kingdom which turns everything we are accustomed to on its head. It is a true revolution in which the first shall be last and God will be all in all.

When Jesus announces that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand in today’s gospel, He tells us that we must “repent”. What does He mean by that word? To repent means to welcome the coming of God’s Kingdom into our world and to change our attitudes and our lifestyle accordingly. To repent means to submit ourselves to God’s word and to live according to its demands. This repentance is not a one time event as our “born-again” brothers and sisters sometimes insist. Rather it is an ongoing openness of our minds and hearts to the transformative power of God.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has written a powerful and beautiful work entitled, The Joy of the Gospel.  Though it has received some notoriety in the press because of it’s criticism of rampant consumerism and the growing inequality among the rich and the poor,  it also is a firm but gentle critique of how we Christians too often stand in the way of God’s work in the world. Our Holy Father is echoing the call of Jesus for all of us to repent so that the Kingdom of Heaven may be a reality in our world.

All of us should spend time reading over The Joy of the Gospel for ourselves so that we can be enriched by its wisdom and inspired by its call to bring Christ to others. In light of today’s readings, however, let us look at two ways the Holy Father is calling us to repent - to change our attitudes, behaviours and lifestyles so that the Kingdom of Heaven may be made visible in our world.

First of all, every follower of Jesus is called to evangelize. The Holy Father writes:

“All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization.... The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization...(EG 120)

To evangelize simply means “to share the gospel with others”. Pope Francis is challenging each of us no matter what our state in life is and no matter how much we think we may know or not know to go out of our comfort zones and speak to our family members, friends, co-workers, schoolmates and even strangers about the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ.

In the past, we may have seen this work as belonging only to priests and religious. However, we need to repent of this attitude and take hold of this work ourselves. Long gone are the days when we could expect people to come to church on their own. Even if Catholics left in their teenage years, we would expect them to come back to be married or to baptize their children. We all know from personal experience that this is not the case anymore. If these people are not to be lost, then we have to seek them out ourselves, bringing the joy of God’s love to them. We have to repent of the comfortable spiritual lives we have created for ourselves and take the risk of reaching out to others with the power of the gospel message.

The second way the Holy Father is calling us to repent is by putting aside all rivalries and conflicts we may have with one another. Saint Paul echoes this in today’s second reading: “[Let] there be no divisions among you, united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” We know that divisions among Christians are an excuse for many people not to believe in Jesus. If we cannot love and forgive one another, then how can we preach love and forgiveness to others? Sadly, in our parish, even despite our best efforts to get along, we often have one group grumbling about another group. We too often talk behind one other’s back and sometimes even undermine one another’s work, forgetting that we are all on the same team.

If we are going to be a people who reflect the love of Christ, then we must repent of the resentments and grudges which keep us from working together. This is the advice our Holy Father gives us:

“We all have our likes and dislikes, and perhaps at this very moment we are angry with someone. At least let us say to the Lord: ‘Lord, I am angry with this person.... I pray to you for him and for her’. To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelization. Let us do it today! Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love!” (EG 101).

The Kingdom of Heaven has come among us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing we can do to stop it. But we do have a decision to make. Will we accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Will we submit ourselves to His rule? Or will we cling to our false sense of ownership over our own lives and stubbornly hold on to the illusion that we are in control? By heeding our Holy Father’s call to bring the gospel message into the lives of those we meet and by forgiving and loving one another, we can show that His Kingdom of love is already at work among us.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Kingdom of God is at Hand!

The message of Jesus is simple.

The gospel writers agree that it can be boiled down to two sentences. They are the words that Jesus proclaimed as he traveled through Galilee:

The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the good news.

These words may be simple, but their meaning is deep. And applying these words to our lives is anything but easy.

Today’s gospel, however, gives us some pointers for understanding the meaning of his words and how they are meant to change our lives.

Jesus appears in Galilee for the first time walking the countryside preaching the good news. On the shores of the Lake of Tiberias he calls simple fishermen to follow him. They drop everything to answer his call.

The immediate and wholehearted response of these men and of so many others who will follow their example teaches us what it means to repent and believe in the good news. It means encountering the person of Jesus, following him and leaving everything behind.

First, believing in the good news means having a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. The apostles did not leave their families, homes and jobs because they believed in an idea or wanted to live an ideal. Rather it was their encounter with Jesus that moved them. Meeting Jesus changed everything for them. Throughout the gospels people are moved by him because they felt the power of his words and experienced his love for them. But more than anything it is meeting Jesus that changes hearts and heals souls.

In our day we cannot have the same face to face encounter that the apostles enjoyed. But we still are able to meet the Risen Lord when we read the Bible which is his word, when we receive the Sacraments which are the continuation of his healing work in the Church and in our sisters and brothers who are his living body. We are not on fire for our faith or passionate about our Church because we like to follow rules. Rather it is because we have met and fallen in love with Jesus Christ. This personal relationship with him that we have through faith and the ministry of the Church drives everything that we are about. It is already ours through baptism. But if we want to understand it more fully and to make it the driving force in our lives, we only need to ask Jesus to help us, and he will make it clear to us in some way.

And so, believing in the good news means, first of all, having a personal encounter with Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus’ message means that we must follow him. Our life of faith can be understood as a journey with Jesus leading the way. It means that, like the apostles, we have to give up our own plans for how we will live our life and put our trust in God and his plan for us. It is not easy because very often the road is steep and the pathway rocky. We will not always see where it is headed, and we will stumble frequently along the way. We will see our friends walking a different way that seems easier, and we will be tempted to join them. But God will give us the strength and the courage to follow him. And we will be blessed with joy because we are with Jesus.

And so, believing in the good news means, following Jesus, walking the same road he walked and letting him set the itinerary for our lives.

Thirdly, believing in the good news means leaving everything behind. The apostles could not follow Jesus and stay fishermen. They had to make a choice. We cannot follow Jesus and continue to live the same way we did before. When we choose to follow Jesus, some things will have to stay behind. We may have to end friendships because they lead us to bad behavior. We may have to change our business practices because they are deceitful. We will all be called to live simpler lives so that we will have more left over to give to the poor. Some will even be called to sell everything and to give their lives totally over to Jesus in religious life. For all of us, gaining Jesus will mean the loss of something or someone we love. It was that way for the apostles, and it continues to be that way for us. There is no other way if we are to put our lives in the hands of our loving Father.

However, there is nothing in this world that can compare with knowing, loving and serving God. Any possession we have will eventually become useless. Most of our friendships will come to an end. But we will have God forever. Nothing else in this world can give us the fulfillment that God can. That is why, no matter how painful it might be, Christians throughout the centuries have gladly abandoned jobs, possessions and even their homelands for the joy that only comes from following Jesus. If there is something or someone in our lives that is keeping us from following Jesus with all our hearts, we must pray for the grace to let it go. Otherwise, we cannot fully know the peace that only God can give.

The Kingdom of God is among us. The Risen Lord is present in our midst. His presence soothes our fears. His words touch and heal our hearts. His Body and Blood nourishes and strengthens us. We meet him in one another, and we fall in love with the one who died for us. We gladly leave everything behind to follow after the one our heart longs for. Despite the difficulties, we know that it is the path of life. We walk with ever growing strength because we have met Jesus and our lives can never be the same.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Conversion of Saint Paul

Saint Paul was a Roman citizen and a scrupulously faithful Jew. He studied the Law under one of the most prestigious rabbis of his day, Gamaliel. Because of his zeal for his Jewish heritage, he went so far as to persecute and conspire to kill the followers of Jesus.
But all that changed one day on the road to Damascus. Paul was on his way there to find followers of Jesus so that he could bring them back to Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment. On the way, Jesus appeared to him in a flash of intense light which left Paul blind for three days. Jesus asked Paul, "Why do you persecute me?", and revealed himself to be the risen Messiah.
After that powerful intervention by Christ, Paul was baptized and became one of the greatest preachers of the gospel. In his many missionary journeys, he brought the good news all along the Mediterranean helping to establish churches in such places as Corinth, Ephesus and Thessalonica. During those years, he also penned letters to believers which became part of the New Testament. Finally, when his work on earth was completed, he was beheaded outside the city of Rome, giving his last breath in witness to the truth of the gospel he had once fought so hard to silence.
This great apostle wrote and taught far more than we could ever cover during one Sunday homily. But I would like to focus today on two important passages from Saint Paul's letters which represent much of what the gospel has to teach us.
The first is taken from Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, verse 23. He writes, "...we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." Paul's words powerfully remind us of what we are about as followers of Christ. At the center of our lives as believers stands the cross of Jesus. Without the cross, our preaching and our worship are just pious platitudes. But with his cross ever before us, our worship reaches the God of our salvation, and we are truly forgiven of our sins by the blood Jesus spilled to save each one of us.
The cross is foolishness to a generation such as ours which lives only for pleasure and the accumulation of material possessions. We who believe have a whole other set of values and goals which center around not what we can accomplish but what God has accomplished - namely, salvation of the world and the promise of everlasting life through Jesus' death and resurrection.
The second message is closely tied to the first. It is taken from Paul's letter to the Galatians, chapter 2, verse 20: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." With these words Saint Paul explains to us how he found the power to work so tirelessly in service of the gospel. It was not by his own skill and his own initiative that he could convince people that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah. Rather it was the power of Christ at work in him which accomplished all that he did. In fact, Saint Paul experienced this so strongly in his life that he could say that it was actually Christ living his life in him. He had been taken over by Christ. Because he had so completely abandoned himself to God and to his will, Christ was able to work in a miraculous way through his life.
For us who strive to follow Christ, the same is true. If we were to rely on our own strength to forgive our enemies and to endure ridicule for the way of life we live, we would soon falter. Instead we draw on the power of God at work in us through faith and baptism. We lean on God to be loving and attentive mothers, fathers and children. We call upon God's strength so that we may act with justice in our places of work. No matter what it is we do, Christ lives in us accomplishing his work through us.
For two thousand years now the teachings and the writings of Saint Paul have inspired and encouraged people to give their lives to Jesus and to experience a new power through faith and baptism. It begins with the forgiveness of sins through Christ's cross and continues with the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in believers. Paul experienced it in his life and ministry and left it as an example to us who study his teaching today.
I would challenge all of us to follow the request of our Holy Father and spend some time every day prayerfully reading through the letters of Saint Paul. It is a good idea as we read along to use a pencil to underline and circle the words or phrases which have a special meaning to us. Another good practise is to memorize those verses that touch us so that we can draw on them in times of temptation and to enrich our prayer life.
Jesus worked powerfully through the life of Saint Paul. And we still have much to learn from this apostle to the nations.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Feeling Called

It was no surprise to anyone when Jane graduated first in her class at medical school. It was also no surprise when, after a stellar residency at the teaching hospital, she was offered a position there.

It was a surprise, however, when she decided to give it all up to pursue her dream of working in a clinic for the poor in sub-Saharan Africa.

For weeks, her friends and professors tried to talk her out of it. They tried to convince her that there would be plenty of time for her to go on missionary trips after she had established her own practice. However, Jane was adamant. Though her friends and family could not understand why she was willing to give up so much, she tried explaining to them that she felt called to such work. In her heart, she had always known that she had been set apart by God to use her knowledge and her skills to help the poor. It took her a while, but she finally found the courage to answer that call.

When we hear the word “calling” or “vocation” we tend to think of it primarily in terms of religious life. Nuns have a calling. Priests have a calling. Deacons and monks have a calling. However, vocations are not limited to just those called to religious life and service. Rather, everyone has a vocation. Each one of us is called to a certain lifestyle and a certain life’s work that only we can accomplish. Sometimes it manifests itself in dramatic fashion as Jane’s calling to work with the poor in Africa. However, most often it manifests itself in small hidden ways such as the couple who are called to adopt special needs children, the woman who is called to provide health care for the homebound, or the teenager who stands up for his classmates who are suffering from peer pressure and bullying. We can be called to perform one special work which only lasts a short time or we can be called to a path which takes up our whole lives such as marriage or religious life.

However it may manifest itself in our lives, each one of us has a calling, a special work or life’s work that only you and I can accomplish. It is our contribution in both big and small ways to God’s saving work.
Today’s readings speak to us in a beautiful way about the meaning of vocation in the Christian life.

The second reading is taken from the beginning of Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In his greeting to that church, he states that they are “called to be holy.” While some people are called to different work and different lifestyles in pursuing the Christian life, all followers of Christ are called to be holy. The Second Vatican Council called this principle, “the universal call to holiness.” Our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis, echoed this when he recently said, “To be saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.”

How do we become holy? By letting God’s love shine through us in everything we do. Whatever work or lifestyle we are called to, we must do all things in love. God is love and His holiness is most clearly manifested in those who show His love to others.

It is not always easy, especially when we have been laboring under harsh conditions or dealing with difficult people. Stress and anxiety can distract us from being kind and gentle to others. Therefore, an essential element of holiness is prayer. God’s love takes root and grows in our hearts when we put ourselves in His presence, when we confess our failings and when we seek wisdom by reading His word in Sacred Scripture. Time in prayer both alone and with others is crucial to helping us discover our vocation and nurture it.

This call to be holy is not only a way for us to feel good about ourselves and build up our self-esteem. The gifts of holiness and love are not to be kept to ourselves. Rather, they are meant to be given away. A life of holiness and love naturally leads to the second element of vocation, giving witness.

In the first reading, God tells the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah that He has chosen them “to be a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”. In the second reading, Saint Paul talks about his calling to be an apostle, that is, one sent out by Christ to be a witness to His resurrection. And in the gospel, Saint John the Baptist describes his vocation as a witness to Jesus, “the Lamb of God.”

Every vocation, then, involves bearing witness to the love and power of God. No one who has experienced the presence of God has a right to keep it himself or herself. Rather, no matter what our state in life may be, we are all called to give witness in both our words and actions to Jesus, the Son of God. As a community of disciples, we cannot wait for people to come to us. Rather we go out and announce the good news to everyone we meet. As Pope Francis described it in his recent work, The Joy of the Gospel,: “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who...boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.” Those who are filled with the love of God are like the psalmist who has to proclaim it to others: “I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know.”

To sum it all up, each of us has a calling, a unique vocation. Though we live that calling out in different works and lifestyles, we are all called to pursue holiness and to give witness to the God of faithful love. Like Saint John the Baptist, at the heart of our vocation is the need to point out to others Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and the Son of God who comes to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. It all comes from God through our baptism and flows back to Him through our lives of humble service and witness to His goodness. It flows from Him because only in the power of the Holy Spirit is it possible to give witness not only with our words but in our everyday choices. If we can find the courage to live for God alone, then it will be no surprise to anyone that it is Jesus at work in us reaching out to continue His work in our world.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Over the past month, we have heard quite a bit from John the Baptist.

During the four weeks of Advent leading up to our celebration of Jesus’ birth, we heard his proclamation to us that we prepare the way for the Lord through penance and good works.

Last week, as we celebrated the baptism of the Lord, he witnessed the Spirit come down upon the waters in the form of a dove, the heavens open up and the voice of God proclaim that Jesus is the Beloved Son.

And, as we begin a new year, we hear from him once again. This time he is pointing Jesus out as the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist is an important figure in the gospels because he announces the coming of the Messiah. Many of Jesus’ earliest followers were disciples of John. The Church puts the message and example of John before us each year because he still has much to teach us, especially as we begin a new year. In particular, there are three points that we should take away from the gospel proclamation about John the Baptist - that we need to repent of our sins, that we must witness to the truth, and that we must put Jesus at the center of everything we do.

First of all, we need to give up our sinful ways. When John appeared along the banks of the Jordan River, he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He made it clear to all who approached him that, once baptized, they could not return to their former way of life. They needed to make a real and lasting change.

The message is the same for us two thousand years later. All of us have areas of our lives that do not reflect the love of Christ. Whether it be in our families, our schools or workplace, we fail to respect others, to show concern for those in need or to put the interests of others before our own. We all need to examine our consciences daily, to review our actions and to commit ourselves to doing better with the grace of God. Our faith is only real if it is making a difference in the way we speak and live. John the Baptist teaches us that we must make a real effort everyday to change our sinful behavior so that our lives can reflect the love of our Savior who came to die for us.

Secondly, John the Baptist teaches us that we must always speak the truth. Just as we struggle to avoid sin in our own lives, we must point out the ways in which our society fails to uphold the dignity of the person. Every day in our world, the rights of the poor are being trampled on, innocent people are killed and the powerful take advantage of the weak. As people of faith, we cannot stand idly by or keep silent. Otherwise, we will be condoning injustice. We must speak up to defend the innocent and the downtrodden because they are our sisters and brothers.

John the Baptist did this unceasingly during his life. He died because he dared to criticize King Herod for living with his brother’s wife. He spoke up because he recognized the importance of marriage and family life. Like John, we must never fail to defend the sanctity of marriage both by living good and holy family lives ourselves and by speaking out against the threats our society poses to marriage such as divorce and pornography. Our society needs people of faith with the courage to speak the truth or else more innocent lives will be lost and more damage will be done to the poor and needy.

Thirdly, Jesus must be at the center of all we do. John the Baptist understood that the reason he was sent was to give witness to the Messiah. His mission was not to gather disciples for himself but to lead others to Jesus. So, when Jesus did finally appear, he never failed to point him out to people and encourage them to follow him. When he was asked whether it distressed him that his disciples were leaving him to listen to Jesus, he replied “He must increase, and I must decrease.” John’s whole life was centered around preparing the way for Jesus so that, when he finally did appear, he was happy to fade into the background.

As individuals and as a parish community, we must ask ourselves daily the question: Is everything we are doing centered on Jesus or on ourselves? Are we more concerned about what people think of us or what Jesus would think of us? Are we more concerned about pleasing others or pleasing Jesus? It is very easy in the midst of all life’s little details to forget why we exist. It is easy to lose focus when our days are filled with so many activities. We must take time everyday to remind ourselves of what is most important - that we know, love and serve our Savior, Jesus. When we put Jesus at the center of our lives, everything else falls into place.

It is for good reason that John the Baptist is such a prominent figure in all the gospels and that the Church places his message before us so often during the year. At the beginning of a new year it is especially important to reflect on these three key elements of his message - that we repent of our sins, that we speak the truth with love and that we keep Jesus at the center of all we do. It is an unfailing formula for growing in holiness as individuals and for drawing others to Christ as a parish community.

So that we can have strength to live up to this challenge, we turn to the Lamb of God. He will come to us in the form of bread and wine at this table to nourish our souls. He is with us as we struggle to root out sin in our lives, speak the truth and keep our lives centered on him. We can trust that he will give us the grace and courage necessary to live up to our calling as his followers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Beloved Son

What I am about to say is shocking and revolutionary. Some will find it unbelievable and absurd.
Others will think it is even blasphemous. However, if this message were ever to leave this
building, it would turn the whole world upside down. If we were able to take this message to
heart, it would transform the way we treat each other and solve many of our society’s problems.
The message is - God loves you.

Listen to it again - God loves you.

We have all heard this small, simple sentence thousands of times since we were children. However, if it does not surprise us, then we never really have taken it to heart. And if it has not revolutionized our lives, then we have never really heard the message.

This God who loves us is the creator of the universe. With an awesome explosion of energy and matter, He sent the planets hurling into space. In this vast universe, nothing happens without His knowing it and willing it. All the wonders of our beautiful planet - the ocean’s depths, the mountain’s heights - were all sculpted by His creating hand. He is a God of unfathomable power.

Yet this God knows each of us by name. As Jesus tells us, He has counted the number of hairs on our heads. We never leave His sight. He is never distracted from thinking about each one of us. Though He commands a vast universe, His one desire is to love us and to have us love Him in return.

When we reflect on this awesome truth, when we let it sink into our hearts, it can truly change our lives. How could we ever feel inferior to others when the God of the universe considers us His beloved? How could we ever fear knowing that our lives are in the loving hands of our Creator? And how could we ever fail to treat others with dignity and respect when they are also loved by our Heavenly Father?

As we hear in today’s gospel, when Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened up and the Father’s voice boomed out, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” It was the Father’s love for Him that shaped Jesus’ life. His whole mission in life, starting with His baptism, was to spread that love to the world. He did it by preaching. He did it by healing the sick, casting out demons and raising the dead. He also did it by establishing a Church which was commissioned with carrying that message of love to all nations and all peoples down through the centuries.

It was this knowledge of God’s love which gave Jesus courage to preach the good news even when He was ridiculed and rejected. It was this confidence that emboldened Him to accept the tortures of death on a cross and to endure even when He felt most abandoned. Because of that love, He was able to commend His soul into the hands of His Heavenly Father. Finally, that love was affirmed when God raised Jesus from the dead.

Jesus is God’s face shining down upon us. He shows us how far our Heavenly Father will go to win our love. He did not spare even His Son so that we could be reconciled to Him. If such a message does not leave us stunned, then we have never really understood it and taken it to heart.

Each of us has not only been created by God, but we have also been saved by Him. Through the waters of baptism, He has cleansed us and chosen us to be His adopted sons and daughters. He has put His life’s breath in us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. To each of us He proclaims, “This is my beloved son, this is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”

God not only loves us but He is pleased with us. All of us have sinned. None of us has lived up to the dignity that is ours as sons and daughters of God. In both small and great ways, we have rejected the hand that our Heavenly Father extends to us. However, God never stops loving us. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less. No matter what bad choices we have made, we can always return to Him and ask for forgiveness. No matter how forgetful of Him we have been, we can always turn to Him and ask for help. And we can have confidence that He will answer us in marvelous ways if we are truly sorry and our heart is open.

In our prayer throughout this coming week, let us meditate on this remarkable truth. In quiet reflection, let us allow the message to sink into our mind, heart and soul. Let us hear God saying to us, “Your are my beloved. I am pleased with you.” In the silence of our hearts, let us allow God to simply love us.
Then, let us reflect on how much God loves others. Let us consider that God loves those whom we ignore, whom we find offensive or whom we consider inferior to ourselves. God loves those who have hurt us, who have neglected us and who have abandoned us.

When we let that truth sink in, we will live with more confidence knowing that our Heavenly Father will provide for us. We will see others as our sisters and brothers rather than as strangers. It will become easier for us to forgive when we realize how much we have been forgiven. As we understand how much God loves us, we will be able to love others ourselves. As amazing as it might sound, we will become more and more like Jesus.

Then this simple but revolutionary message, the good news of God’s love, will really begin to transform our world.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Baptism of the Lord

There was a couple who, though they loved their Catholic faith, decided not to have their children baptized. As they saw it, they could make their own decision when they were older.

Their family and friends were puzzled and alarmed by their decision and tried to encourage them to change their minds. They prayed hoping they would see the wisdom of having their children baptized even as infants.

Eventually, as the parents reflected on their decision, they did change their minds. They realized that their faith was the most important gift they had received from their own parents and that they wanted to pass it along to their children. They also understood that until the children were baptized, they could not receive their first Holy Communion. Not wanting to deprive them of that sacrament, they scheduled an appointment with the deacon to arrange the baptism.

We end our celebration of Christmas today with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on our own baptism. The vast majority of us would have been baptized as infants because our parents wanted to pass the faith they loved on to us. Baptizing babies has been the custom of our Church from the earliest days. In the second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter is preaching to Cornelius, a Roman soldier. Later on in the story, Cornelius asks that he and his whole household be baptized. We can assume that children and infants would also have been baptized on that day.

Because we were baptized as infants, however, we have no memory of it other than the photographs and videos our parents would have kept for us. We cannot always understand how it has changed us or made a difference in our lives. But one thing is certain. We are different people because our parents decided to have us baptized. We received the gift of faith and became children of God. God planted the seed of everlasting life in our souls and it has been growing within us ever since. Whether we understand it or not - whether we appreciate it or not - our baptism was the most important day of our lives because it united us forever with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ baptism was an important day for him as well. All the gospel writers give it a prominent place in their accounts of his life. It marked the end of his hidden life in Nazareth and the beginning of his public ministry throughout Galilee and, eventually, to Jerusalem. On that day, God announced in a booming voice from heaven to all the world that Jesus was his beloved Son. And Jesus received the Holy Spirit who came down upon him in the form of a dove. It was that Spirit which gave him power to preach the good news, to heal the sick and to drive out demons. It was in the power of that Spirit that he rose from the dead.

Jesus’ baptism also reveals to us the meaning of our own baptism. Just as God proclaimed from heaven that Jesus was his Son, so, in the waters of this sacrament, we became children of God. Though all people - baptized or unbaptized - may be called children of God because they were all created by him - the baptized person is a child of God in a very special sense. Just as children enjoy the right to live in their father’s house, eat at the table and have their needs taken care of, so we - the sons and daughters of God- have all the blessings of his house at our disposal. We are enlightened by his word. We receive all the graces that come from the sacraments. And we are part of this community, the Church, which stretches out over all the world. Furthermore, just as children can expect to receive an inheritance from their parents, so we expect to receive as our inheritance everlasting life in the Kingdom of God. All these blessings are showered upon us in abundance because of the gift of our baptism.

As sons and daughters of God, we also live with a profound sense that we are loved by God. The gift of the Holy Spirit which came down upon Jesus at his baptism and which we received at ours, is the gift of God’s love. The Holy Spirit reveals to us how much our Father loves us. He teaches us that we are loved  just as we are. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more or to make him love us less. No matter what sins we have committed in our past and no matter what situation we find ourselves in today, God continues to cherish us as his precious sons and daughters. This relationship is ours because we became his adopted children through baptism.

It is important for us as daughters and sons of God to spend time each day contemplating God’s love for us. It will help us to grow in confidence. When we face difficulties, we will endure them with more patience knowing our Father is by our side. We will make better choices because we will not want to disappoint our loving God. We will be less likely to turn to the cheap substitutes for God’s love such as overeating or impulsive shopping because we have experienced the real thing in Jesus. And we will overflow with joy knowing that all the abundant blessings of our Father’s house are ours, and we will want to share those gifts with others.

Knowing all the graces that are ours through baptism, why would we ever want to deprive any child of them? Why would we want to live any other way than the way of love Jesus has shown us? And how can we live our dignity as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father in such a way that others will want to join this wondrous household of faith?