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Posted by on Jan 10, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord – 2021

The Baptism of the Lord – 2021

What a week we’ve all had! What should have been a routine process in the Congress of the United States of America – the certification of the results of the presidential election in the United States – was anything but routine. Challenges to state totals by representatives of other states. Rioters invading the capital building. Law-makers taken to safety and in hiding for their own protection. A president who encouraged the rioters. Senators and Representatives being accosted and booed when they are in public. Is there any good news? Where can we find hope? Lots of questions rise in everyone’s minds.

This Sunday, as a new week begins, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus was a good man, a carpenter, son of a carpenter, in a small town in Galilee. He lived in a conquered land. All knew the power of Rome and of the soldiers who enforced order. Those who wanted to live to an old age didn’t make waves or draw attention to themselves. But a prophet, who happened to be Jesus’ cousin, was baptizing people at the Jordan River – not too far away. John was telling people that the long-awaited Messiah was near, maybe already in their midst. It was time to get ready – to turn from their sins and welcome God’s Anointed One.

Jesus went to see for himself what was happening. He felt a call to enter into the water and become closer to the Lord God. As he entered the water and was plunged into it (to be baptized means to be plunged into ….) he experienced the coming of the God’s Holy Spirit, gently filling his heart and telling him, “You are my beloved son: with you I am well pleased.” He left the river with much to contemplate – a changed man, with a new awareness of who he was and who he was called to be. He went to the desert to pray and sort things out. When he returned, he began sharing what he had learned of God’s love and plan for humanity. The mission had begun.

Listen carefully to those words spoken to Jesus at his baptism. Our Father speaks those words to each of us as well. We who have been plunged into the life of God at our baptism and anointed with the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, are God’s beloved children.

We are called to the water. We are offered all we need for life, given freely by God. We are offered forgiveness when we mess up. We are promised life.

May we hold fast to this promise as we reach out to those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. Respect for each other as human beings, compassion, sharing of visions for the future, rejection of violence, and work for reconciliation are now our calling. We are children of one Father, brothers and sisters of the Lord, anointed by God’s Spirit. With Jesus we go forth into our world to bring words of peace, justice, and healing in times of great distress. Can we be peacemakers? Can healing occur? Will justice become a reality for all. Will we be part of the solution or part of the problem?

On this day, we pray for courage, wisdom, and strength to listen to each other and seek common ground. Our country and our world have need of these gifts.

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Posted by on Jan 13, 2019

Success or Significance?

Success or Significance?

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas season.  Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan signaled the formal beginning of His mission.

For today’s gospel scene we see the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in visible form.  For the evangelist Luke, contrary to the three other evangelists, the baptism of Jesus is not important in itself, for he does not even describe it.  He is more concerned with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus.  And after this initial scene, Luke will be at pains to mention the Holy Spirit as often as possible in connection with the ministry of Jesus.  Seventeen times in his gospel he will mention the Holy Spirit in connection with Jesus.  This is Luke’s way of telling us that Jesus was inspired (inspirited) in all his actions, empowered with his heavenly Father’s energy, enabled always to act as a beloved Son fulfilling a beloved Father’s wishes. And so, it is not a mere coincidence that, with the appearance of the Holy Spirit in this baptism scene, the son-ship of Jesus is emphasized, “You are my beloved Son.”  Essentially, Jesus is a Son in his innermost being.  And the Holy Spirit is the burning fire of love which unites him to his heavenly Father.  For him to receive the spirit is to experience his son-ship at a new depth.  It is the Holy Spirit that leads Jesus to accomplish his mission and made the Father say, “with you I am well pleased.”

I remember two years ago, I was on a vacation back home in the Philippines.  After celebrating Mass at my home parish, one of my friends from high school came up to me for a small chat.  He grew up in a poor family but worked his way to success with sheer talent and perseverance.  He is a self-made man.  He heads four businesses today that are making good money.  “There’s nothing more I can ask for, Father. God is good.  He has given me everything that I need and more,” he shared with me.  But after a short pause he added, “except that I never knew if my father was proud of what I have accomplished.”  His relationship with his father has been strained since after college.  After that conversation, it hit me.  The human heart is not made for success.  It is made for significance.

Success is a matter of doing.  Significance is a matter of being.  And since we are not human doings but human beings, it makes sense that our heart yearns for something more than just success.  It yearns for significance — the significance of meaningful relationships, mission, and yes, affirmation.  Success does not always lead to significance, but significance always leads to a deep sense of success.  Like the voice from the heavens that affirmed Jesus in His baptism, every human heart longs to hear the words, “in you I am well pleased.”

Isn’t it a wonder that, according to studies, almost eighty percent of substance abusers are successful people, and almost fifty-five percent of these successful people end up committing suicide?  Without meaning to pass judgment, could it be that significance was missing on top of their successes?

The Baptism of the Lord reminds us not only about Jesus’ mission, but our very own mission to make a difference, to be a significance in the lives of others by showing them what really matters in our Christian lives.  So that like Jesus, the Father would say to all of us, “In you I am well pleased.”

Fresco by Giotto di Bondone in the Scrovegni Chapel – 1303

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