January 7, 2019

Baptism of the Lord (Jan 13th Sunday)

ONE PAGE SUMMARY OF THE HOMILY ON THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD

Introduction: The Baptism of the Lord is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father.  Hence, it is described by all four Gospels. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. But the “Baptism of our Lord”  is celebrated as a separate feast by the Western church, marking the end of the Christmas season.

The turning point: Jesus’ baptism by John was a very important event in the life of Jesus. First it was a moment of identification with us sinners. Sinless, Jesus received the baptism of repentance to identify himself with his people who realized for the first time that they were sinners. (As given in the anecdotes, St. Damien, Mother Teresa (St. Teresa of Calcutta), Gandhi, and Mandela identified with the people whom they served). Second, it was a moment of conviction about his identity and mission: that He is the Son of God and His mission was to preach the Good News of God’s love and salvation to Israel, and eventually to us, and to atone for our sins by becoming the “suffering servant.” God the Father’s words, “This is my beloved Son,” taken from Psalm 2:17, revealed Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, and the words “with whom I am well pleased,” from Isaiah 42:1 (referring to the suffering servant“), pointed to Jesus’ mission of atoning for the sins of the world by His suffering and death on the cross. Third, it was a moment of equipment.  The Holy Spirit equipped Jesus by descending on him in the form of dove, giving him the power of preaching and healing. Fourth, it was a moment of decision to begin public ministry at the most opportune time after receiving the approval of his Heavenly Father as His beloved Son.

Life messages: (1) The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity. It reminds us of who we are and Whose we are.  By Baptism we become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of Heaven and temples of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Jesus’ baptism reminds us also of our mission:  a) to experience the presence of God within us, to acknowledge our own dignity as God’s children, and to appreciate the Divine Presence in others by honoring them, loving them and serving them in all humility; b) to live as the children of God in thought, word and action; c) to lead holy and transparent Christian lives and not to desecrate  our bodies (the temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Jesus’ Body), by impurity, injustice, intolerance, jealousy or hatred; d) to accept both the good and the bad experiences of life as the gifts of a loving Heavenly Father for our growth in holiness; and e) to grow daily in intimacy with God by personal and family prayers, by meditative reading of the Word of God, by participating in the Holy Mass, and by frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (3) It is a day to thank God for the graces we have received in Baptism, to renew our Baptismal promises and to preach Christ’s “Good News” by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service and forgiveness.

BAPTISM OF THE LORD [C] (Jan 13): (Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ti 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22) L/19

Homily starter anecdotes: #1: Leaders who identified with their people: The film Gandhi is a three-hour epic, depicting the life of Mahatma Gandhi in India. It shows how a high-caste, rich Hindu attorney, educated in England, resigned his lucrative job in a law firm in South Africa and returned to India to lead the oppressed people of India to freedom from the British rule. Gandhi adopted common man’s non-violent ordinary means of resistance such as fasting from food, vigils of prayer, peaceful marches, protests and civil disobedience. One of the reasons why Gandhi wore a loincloth and fasted from food, almost to the point of death, was to show solidarity with the Indian people, especially the poor farm workers, identifying with them in their physical sufferings. This finally brought independence to India. Mother Teresa identified herself with the “poorest of the poor”  in the slums of Calcutta by resigning her prestigious job as a teacher in a posh English medium city school, leaving her religious congregation with permission, learning the local Bengali language and caring and nursing skills from the nursing home of the Little Sisters of the Poor, selecting the common women’s dress “sari” and plunging herself into the slums of Calcutta. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., too, identified with his enslaved and maltreated people and became the voice of the voiceless in the name of God. Consequently, he was maligned, beaten, jailed, and assassinated while he preached peace, justice and non-violence on behalf of the downtrodden Afro-Americans in the U. S. His heroic example definitely demonstrated Christian living for tens of millions of the poor and alienated Afro- Americans in the U.S. and the oppressed millions worldwide. To better appreciate his struggles against the sins of our culture, particularly of our “Christian” clergy, you are invited to read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” readily available on the internet (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html). Jesus’ baptism, as described in today’s Gospel, was his identification with God’s chosen people who became aware of their sinful lives and need for God’s forgiveness. (Adapted from Rev. Coman Dalton).

# 2: Thomas Merton: A young man once described his experience of sinking into insanity. He was a very bright university student, but he had abandoned his studies in favor of nightclubs and pornography. One night he retired to a hotel room. As he lay in bed, the window appeared to expand until it reached the floor. He heard a mocking voice in his mind saying, “What if you threw yourself out of that window?” The young man wrote: “Now my life was dominated by something I had never known before: fear. It was humiliating, this strange self-conscious watchfulness. It was a humiliation I had deserved more than I knew. I had refused to pay attention to the moral laws upon which all vitality and sanity depend.” Well, this young man did begin to pay attention to the moral law. He began to put his life in order – and to experience inner peace. He eventually entered the Catholic Church and went on to become one of the most famous monks of the twentieth century. His name is Thomas Merton. Today’s Gospel on Jesus’ baptism should challenge us, too, to examine whether we are keeping our Baptismal promises. (Fr. Phil Bloom)

# 3: A tiger cub finds its identity: There is an old Hindu parable about a tiger cub raised by goats. The cub learned to bleat and nibble grass and behave like a goat. One night a tiger attacked the goats, which scattered for safety.  But the tiger cub kept grazing and crying like a goat without getting frightened. The old tiger roared, “What are you doing here, living with these cowardly goats?”  He grabbed the cub by the scruff, dragged him to a pond and said: “Look how our faces are reflected in water!  Now you know who you are and whose you are.”  The tiger took the cub home, taught him how to catch animals, eat their meat, roar and act like a tiger. The tiger cub thus discovered his true self. Today’s Gospel seems to suggest that Jesus received from Heaven a fresh flash of realization of Who, and Whose, He really was (His identity), and of what He was supposed to do (His mission), on the day of his baptism in the river Jordan.

Introduction: The Christmas season, celebrating the Self-revelation of God through Jesus, comes to an end with the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Christmas is the feast of God’s Self-revelation to the Jews, and Epiphany celebrates God’s Self-revelation to the Gentiles. At his Baptism in the Jordan, Christ reveals himself to repentant sinners. The Baptism of the Lord Jesus is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on the feast of Epiphany because it is the occasion of the first public revelation of all the Three Persons in the Holy Trinity, and the official revelation of Jesus as the Son of God to the world by God the Father.  It is also an event described by all four Gospels, and it marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  The liturgical season of Christmas comes to a conclusion this Sunday with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.

Exegesis: Origin of baptism: Neither John nor Jesus invented baptism.  It had been practiced for centuries among the Jews as a ritual equivalent to our Confession.  Until the fall of the Temple in 70 AD, it was common for Jewish people to use a special pool called a Mikveh — literally a “collection of water” – as a means of spiritual cleansing, to remove spiritual impurity and sin.  Men took this bath weekly on the eve of the Sabbath; women, monthly.  Converts were also expected to take this bath before entering Judaism.  The Orthodox Jews still retain the rite. John preached that such a bath was a necessary preparation for the cataclysm that would be wrought by the coming Messiah.  Jesus transformed this continuing ritual into the one single, definitive act by which we begin our life of Faith.  In effect, He fused His Divine Essence with the water and the ceremony.

A couple of questions: 1) Why did Jesus, the sinless Son of God, receive the “baptism of repentance” meant for sinners?  2) Why did Jesus wait for thirty years to begin his public ministry?  The strange answer for the first question given by the apocryphal book, The Gospel according to the Hebrews, is that Jesus received the baptism of John to please his mother and relatives.  In this humble submission, we see a foreshadowing of the “baptism” of his bloody death upon the cross.  Jesus’ baptism by John was the acceptance and the beginning of his mission as God’s suffering Servant.  He allowed himself to be numbered among sinners.  Jesus submitted himself entirely to his Father’s will. Out of love, He consented to His baptism of death for the remission of our sins.  Many Fathers of the Church explain that Jesus received John’s baptism to identify himself with his people, who, as a result of John’s preaching, for the first time in Jewish history became aware of their sins and of their need for repentance.  The Jews had the traditional belief that only the Gentiles who embraced Jewish religion needed the baptism of repentance, for, as God’s chosen people, the Jewish race was holy.  Jesus might have been waiting for this most opportune moment to begin his public ministry.  The Fathers of the Church point out that the words which the Voice of the Heavenly Father speaks are similar to Psalm 2:17, revealing Jesus’ identity (“This is My beloved Son) and to Isaiah 42:1 referring to the suffering servant (“with whom I am well pleased“), revealing Jesus’ mission of saving mankind by His suffering and death.

The turning point: Jesus’ baptism by John was a mystical experience that Jesus felt deep within his soul at the crucial turning point of his life. The opening of the Heavens with Holy Spirit descending as a dove upon Jesus, and the Voice declaring of Jesus, “This is My beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased,” are God’s revelation to mankind of the Mystery that He is Triune. The presence of the Triune God at this baptism, reveals Jesus’ true identity and mission. The Heavens’ opening also indicates that this was a moment of God’s powerful intervention in human history and in the life of His Son. His baptism by John was a very important event in the life of Jesus.  First, it was a moment of decision.  It marked the end of Jesus’ private life, which had prepared him for his public ministry.  Second, it was a moment of identification with his people in their God-ward movement initiated by John the Baptist (quality of a good leader).  Third, it was a moment of approval.  Jesus might have been waiting for a signal of approval from his Heavenly Father, and during his baptism Jesus got this approval of himself as the Father’s “beloved Son.”  Fourth, it was a moment of conviction.  At this baptism, Jesus received certainties (assurances) from Heaven about his identity and the nature of his mission: a) He was the “Chosen One” and the “beloved Son of God”; b) his mission of saving mankind would be fulfilled, not by conquering the Romans, but by becoming the “suffering servant” of God, i.e., by the cross.  Fifth, it was a moment of equipment.  When He descended on Jesus in the form of a dove (symbol of gentleness), the Holy Spirit equipped Jesus with the power of healing, and that of preaching the “Good News” — that God is a loving Father, Who wants to save all human beings from their sins through His Son Jesus, in contrast to the “axe” and “fire” preaching of John the Baptist about an angry God’s judgment on sinners.

Life messages: 1) The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity and mission.  First, it reminds us of who we are and Whose we are.  By Baptism we become the adoptive sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church, heirs of Heaven and temples of the Holy Spirit. We become incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made sharers in the priesthood of Christ [CCC #1279]. Hence, “Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other Sacraments” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1213).  Most of us dipped the fingers of our right hand into the holy water font and blessed ourselves when we came into Church today.  Why?  This blessing is supposed to remind us of our Baptism.  And so when I bless myself with Holy Water, I should be thinking of the fact that I am a child of God; that I have been redeemed by the Cross of Christ; that I have been made a member of God’s family; and that I have been washed, forgiven, cleansed and purified by the Blood of the Lamb.

2) Jesus’ baptism reminds us of our mission:  a) to experience the presence of God within us, to acknowledge our own dignity as God’s children and to appreciate the Divine Presence in others by honoring them, loving them and serving them in all humility; b) to live as the children of God in thought, word and action so that our Heavenly Father may say to each one of us what He said to Jesus: “You are My beloved son/daughter with whom I am well pleased.” It means that we are to let His thoughts direct our thoughts, His mind control our mind, His concerns be our concerns. In the Church we all share the same intimate connection with Christ; we are all brothers and sisters in Christ; c) to lead a holy and transparent Christian life and not to desecrate  our bodies (the temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Jesus’ Body) by impurity, injustice, intolerance, jealousy or hatred; d) to accept both the good and the bad experiences of life as the gifts of a loving Heavenly Father for our growth in holiness; e) to grow daily in intimacy with God by personal and family prayers, by reading the Word of God, by participating in the Holy Mass, and by frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation; and f) to be co-creators with God in building up the “Kingdom of God” on earth, a Kingdom of compassion, justice and love, and to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  In other words, He has called us to help others to see, through the love that we show and the help that we give, that God loves them, that He also invites them to be His sons and daughters and that He wants to be their helper and strength through all the troubles that life in this world can bring.

3) This is the day for us to remember the graces we have received in Baptism and to renew our Baptismal promises: On the day of our Baptism, as Pope St. John Paul II explains, “We were anointed with the Oil of Catechumens, the sign of Christ’s gentle strength, to fight against evil.  Blessed water was poured over us, an effective sign of interior purification through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We were then anointed with Chrism to show that we were thus consecrated in the image of Jesus, the Father’s Anointed One.  The candle lighted from the Paschal Candle was a symbol of the light of Faith which our parents and godparents must have continually safeguarded and nourished with the life-giving grace of the Spirit.”  This is also a day for us to renew our Baptismal promises, consecrating ourselves to the Holy Trinity and “rejecting Satan and all his empty promises,” which our profane world is constantly offering us through its mass-media of communication.  Let us ask Our Lord today to make us faithful to our Baptismal promises.  Let us thank Him for the privilege of being joined to His mission of preaching the “Good News” by our transparent Christian lives of love, mercy, service and forgiveness.

Exegetical notes on Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ti 2:11-14, 3: 4-7; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22

First Reading, optional in year C: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

The people of Israel spent sixty years in exile, as captives of the Babylonians, from about 600 BC to 540 BC. The second part of the book of Isaiah, chapters 40-55, prophesies the end of this Exile and the return of the captives to their homeland. Today’s first reading begins that section. Isaiah says that God has told him to tell the exiled citizens of Jerusalem that their “sentence” is at an end or their exile is over. Isaiah’s prophecy reminds them plainly that the Exile was a punishment for their sins, but tells them that the merciful God has forgiven them. The next few sentences of today’s reading describe how the exiles are to return home. They will return as a grand religious procession from Babylon to Jerusalem led by their own God. To pave the way, valleys and mountains are to be leveled, and a highway created in the wilderness. The exiles in the region are coming back to Judah, and within Judah, to the city of Jerusalem, and within Jerusalem, to the hill Zion where their Temple had stood. The last paragraph presents a lonely sentry who never went to Babylon but waited in Jerusalem, always looking out for the return of the exiles. He finally sees the approach of the procession described above, and he can’t contain his joy. He shouts it from the highest hill, “Here comes your God with power!”

Second reading: Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7: The author of this letter wants his Christian followers to behave properly, not to earn God’s love, but in response to that love freely given. The birth of Jesus, the wise men’s discovery of him, Jesus’ baptism and his coming again in glory are all treated in Scripture and in our liturgy as unexpected appearances (Epiphanies) of God among us. So, the Letter to Titus applies to our Baptism the themes of Divine appearance and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is borrowed from Jesus’ own baptism. Today’s selection combines two sections, both of which we recently read at Christmas, one at midnight and one at dawn. In this passage, St. Paul teaches how God saves us by incorporating us into Christ. Among the congregation served by the early bishop Titus were Christians who believed they had to practice the laws of Judaism and tried to impose those laws on pagan converts to Christ. Paul reminds them that God saved us “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of His mercy.” In other words, those law-driven righteous deeds don’t win our salvation, but God gives it freely. We accept that gift by taking the bath of rebirth, when the Spirit is richly poured out on us. It is this, not our observance of laws, that makes us justified (right with God) and that give us the hope of eternal life.

Gospel exegesis: Who baptized Jesus and why? While there is no doubt that John baptized Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, he does it reluctantly in Matthew’s Gospel (3:13-17), and he’s already locked up in prison in Luke’s Gospel (3:20). There is no portrayal of John baptizing Jesus in John’s Gospel; all we have is the testimony of the Baptizer (1:29-34). Because each evangelist after Mark, commonly accepted as the oldest Gospel, tries to tone down or erase Jesus’ baptism by John, we must conclude that the event caused a problem near the end of the first century because many were saying that John must be the greater, since he did the baptizing. By gradually removing John from the scene, Matthew and Luke elevate Jesus. But there is little doubt that John the Baptist baptized Jesus; if he hadn’t, Matthew and Luke wouldn’t have rewritten Mark’s story. Jesus presents himself for John’s baptism in today’s Gospel, not because he is a sinner, but to fulfill the word of God proclaimed by His prophets. He must be baptized to reveal that he is the Christ (“anointed one”) – the Spirit-endowed Servant. “In Baptism, all are anointed with that same Spirit, made beloved sons and daughters of God. Indeed, we are Christians – literally “anointed ones.” (Scott Hann).

“Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness” What this means has prompted much debate. It may be that Jesus was “fulfilling” all the scriptural prophecies about him which focused on “righteousness.” It may be that he was seen as validating the rite of baptism for all future generations of Christians. Or it may be that even the Messiah could undergo a re-orientation towards perfect righteousness, and so could repent and be baptized.

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” Mark and Luke have the words addressed to Jesus, “You are my Son….” But Matthew’s “This is my Son” makes the words relevant to the bystanders because they are an open testimony to the Father’s approval of his Son … and we should view “Son” as a Messianic title. The Heavenly Voice points to a relationship shared by no other. It is significant, it is “good news,” that Jesus hears he is the “beloved Son, with whom [God] is well pleased” before his public ministry begins. The Heavenly Father is much pleased with his Son’s humble submission and speaks audibly and directly to him for all to hear: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”  The Holy Spirit, too, is present as Jesus submits to John’s baptism.  The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus for his ministry which begins that day as Jesus rises from the waters of the Jordan River.

Significance of Christ’s baptism: This exalted identity of the “Son of God” revealed at his baptism is the starting point for all that Jesus will undertake—his self-giving ministry, death and Resurrection. It is because Jesus knows Who he is that he does as he does. As we begin Ordinary Time, we do so knowing that, in our own Baptism, God has named us beloved sons and daughters. Like Jesus, all that we undertake must flow from who we are—God’s beloved. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  This means that we, too, must humbly submit ourselves to God’s wise and loving plan for our lives.  He, in turn, anoints us with the Holy Spirit that we may be clothed with His power and grace. According to the Navarre Bible commentary, in Christ’s baptism we can find a reflection of the way the Sacrament of Baptism affects a person. Christ’s baptism was the exemplar of our own. In it the mystery of the Blessed Trinity was revealed, and the faithful, on receiving Baptism, are consecrated by the invocation of and by the power of the Blessed Trinity. Similarly, Heaven’s opening signifies that the power, the effectiveness, of this Sacrament comes from above, from God, and that the baptized have the road to Heaven opened up for them, a road which Original Sin had closed. Jesus’s prayer after His baptism teaches us that “after Baptism man needs to pray continually in order to enter Heaven; for though sins are remitted through Baptism, there still remains the inclination to sin which assails us from within, and also the flesh and the devil which assails us from without.” Each time we dip our hand into the Holy Water font in a church to bless ourselves, we need to remember, that act is a renewal of our Baptism. Just like Jesus at the Jordan, every baptized believer is formed and called by God, empowered with the presence of the Spirit and elevated as a beloved child of God on whom God’s favor rests.

JOKES OF THE WEEK: 1) Baptism of a cat: Johnny’s Mother looked out the window and noticed him “playing Church” with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!” Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church.”

2) Three times: Too many people come to Church three times primarily. They’re baptized, they get married, and they have their funeral service at the Church. The first time they throw water on you, the second time rice, the third time dirt!

3) Baptized in luxury: When our Church was renovated, adding a Baptismal pool, we were pleased. So was our daughter. While riding in the car with my daughter and her friend, we went past a pond. My daughter’s friend proudly declared, “I was baptized in that pond.” My daughter responded with no less pride: “Oh, I was baptized in a Jacuzzi at our church.” (Pastor Davis)

4) “Born again.” When Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States, he described himself as a “born-again” Christian. For many Americans this was an unfamiliar term. By the time of the next election primaries, nearly all the candidates were claiming to be “born-again.” Political satirist Mark Russell suggested, “This could give Christianity a bad name.”

5) A keg of beer and a case of whiskey: Before performing a Baptism, the priest approached the young father and said solemnly, “Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?” “I think so,” the man replied. “My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.” “I don’t mean that,” the priest responded. “I mean, are you prepared spiritually?” “Oh, sure,” came the reply. “I’ve got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey.”

6) “God help the fish.” Sam Houston was the first president of the Republic of Texas. It’s said he was a rather nasty fellow with a checkered past. Later in life Houston made a commitment to Christ and was baptized in a river. The preacher said to him, “Sam, your sins are washed away.” Houston replied, “God help the fish.”

7) “Have I been “pasteurized?” In a Dennis the Menace cartoon, after attending a baptism Dennis asks the question, “Have I been “pasteurized?” We’ve all been pasteurized. We have put on Christ. In Him we have been baptized. Alleluia, Alleluia.

8) Baptism Catholic, Baptist & Jewish style: A Catholic Priest, a Baptist Preacher and a Rabbi were sitting around drinking coffee. Someone made the comment that preaching to people isn’t really all that hard, a real challenge would be to preach to a bear. One thing led to another, and they decided that each would find a bear and attempt to convert it to their religion. Seven days later, they all came together to discuss their experiences. Father Flannery, who had his arm in a sling and had various bandages on his body and limbs, went first. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear came after me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb.’ Reverend Billy Bob the Baptist spoke next. He was in a wheelchair and had an IV drip. ‘I went out and found me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from the Bible! But that bear came after me. We wrestled down one hill, until we came to a creek. So I quickly dunked him and baptized his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. The Priest and the Reverend both looked down at the Rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and traction with IV’s and monitors running in and out of him. The Rabbi looked up and said: “Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start! (Email from dcngary@hotmail.com)

USEFUL WEBSITES OF THE WEEK

1)Why Jesus got baptized? Video answer by Jimmy Akin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=d1IBGudjaxs

2) Beautiful homilies with video clips by Fr. Geoffrey Plant: https://www.youtube.com/user/GeoffreyPlant2066

Example: Baptism of the Lord: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzT1MiPojbc

2)Teens Encounter Christ: http://www.twincitiestec.org/Home

3)Websites for kids: 1) http://www.k4j.org/ 2) http://www.myfriendmagazine.com/

33- Additional anecdotes

1) Identified with victims: When leprosy broke out among the people of the Hawaiian Islands in the middle of the 19th century, the government authorities responded by establishing a leper colony on the remote island of Molokai. The victims were snatched by force from their families and sent to this island to perish. However, moved by their terrible plight, a young Belgian priest, Saint Damien De Veuster, asked permission from his superiors to minister to them. Straightaway he realized that there was only one effective way to do this, and that was to go and live among them. Having got permission, he went to Molokai. At first, he tried to minister to the lepers while maintaining a certain distance. But he soon realized that he had to live among them in order to gain their trust. As a result, he contracted leprosy himself. The reaction of the lepers was immediate and wholehearted. They embraced him and took him to their hearts. He was now one of them. There was no need, no point any more, in keeping his distance. The lepers had someone who could talk with authority about leprosy, about brokenness, about rejection and public shame. Today’s Gospel tells us how, by receiving the baptism of repentance, Jesus became identified with the sinners whom he had come to save (Flor McCarthy in Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies).

2) Called to Service: The late Nelson Mandela (died December 5, 2013), will go down as one of the greatest leaders of this century. He was instrumental in ending apartheid and bringing about a multiracial society in South Africa. Mandela belonged to the Xhosa people, and grew up in the Transkei. But how did he come to play such a crucial role in the history of his country? In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he tells us that all the currents of his life were taking him away from the Transkei. Yet he had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth. He says: “A steady accumulation of insights helped me to see that my duty was to the people as a whole, not to a particular section of it. The memory of a thousand indignities produced in me anger, rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, ‘Henceforth, I will devote myself to the liberation of my people’; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise” (Flor McCarthy in Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies).

3) Moment of Affirmation: When the American writer, Maya Angelou, was growing up, she didn’t see her mother very much. She was brought up in large part by her grandmother, a wonderful and saintly woman. She tells how when she was twenty years old, she took a trip to San Francisco to visit her mother. It was a particularly important yet vulnerable moment in Maya’s life; she was struggling to make her way in life and groping her way towards becoming a writer. She had quite a good meeting with her mother. When it was time to leave, her mother walked her down the hill to the waiting bus. As they parted, her mother said, “You know, I think you are the greatest woman I have ever met.” Years later Maya could still recall that moment vividly. She said, “Waiting for the bus, I sat there thinking, ‘Just suppose she’s right. Suppose I really am somebody.’ It was one of those moments when the sky rolled back. At times like that, it’s almost as if the whole earth holds its breath.” Maya went on to become a highly successful and respected writer and poet. She composed and delivered an inspiring poem at the inauguration of President Clinton. Today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus heard the voice of his Heavenly Father, immediately after his baptism, affirming him as “My beloved Son.” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).

4) “This is my beloved daughter, this is my beloved son”: Edward Farrell, a friend of mine, is a Catholic priest who serves an Inner-City Parish in Detroit. He’s written some marvelous books. One I would especially recommend is entitled Prayer Is a Hunger. Ed is a part of a small group with whom I meet each January. I’ve told you about this group. We call it the Ecumenical Institute of Spirituality. It’s an important group for me. Though we meet only for three days once a year, sharing our spiritual pilgrimages with one another, seeking to focus our minds and hearts on some growing edge, it’s an important part of my life. Ed is a part of it too. He’s one of the most genuinely humble persons I know. Serving some of God’s forgotten people in one of Detroit’s most depressed areas, he is quietly profound. I never will forget the insight he provided me about this text. He said that Jesus went to the cross so that we too could hear the same word Jesus heard at his baptism – so that you and I can hear, “This is my beloved daughter/this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” Have you thought about it that way? Jesus’ paid the price so that for you and me, the heavens could open, and we could know the reality of God’s Spirit as a living power and presence, in our lives. Jesus wanted us to know the reality of Good News in the dark days of hopelessness and despair. The Voice which named Jesus God’s beloved Son is still speaking in our souls, “You are Mine. You are unique and special. I am pleased with you. I love you. I love you so much that I gave My beloved Son for you. You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.” (Rev. Maxie Dunnam).

5) Two sources of inspiration: Among the millions of Jews imprisoned by the Nazis in the death camps of the ’30’s and ’40’s was Victor Frankl. In spite of the horrors and the odds, he survived. Around him, next to him, each day of his ordeal, dozens, hundreds, thousands of fellow-Jews and others died. Most of them died in the ovens, of course, but there were others who died simply because they gave up hope and lost heart, overwhelmed by horror and fear and hopelessness. Frankl survived, he said, because two forces sustained him: one was the certainty of his wife’s love. The other was an inner drive to rewrite the manuscript of a book he had completed after years of labor — which the Nazis had destroyed. Frankl’s imprisonment was lightened by daily imaginary conversations with his wife and by scrawling notes for his book on all the bits and scraps of paper he could find. Now Frank has written eloquently of these two insights to cope with life: first, the discovery and certainty of being loved, and, second, having a clear and controlling purpose in life. [Nate Castens, Chanhassen, Minnesota, via Ecunet, Gospel Notes for Next Sunday, #2815] Both are the messages we receive in Christian Baptism.

6) “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” On January 19, AD 383, the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius named his son Arcadius as co-emperor. It was during a period in Church history when the Arian Heresy was spreading throughout the Roman Empire. The Arian Heresy held that Jesus Christ was not fully God. Theodosius called for a truce between Christians and Arians and called for a conciliatory conference. One Christian Bishop who was not willing to compromise his faith in Christ’s deity was Amphilochus of Iconium. So he had to suffer persecution from the Arians. On the coronation day Bishop entered the reception hall, bowed to the emperor, ignored his son and made a poignant speech and turned to leave. “What!” said Theodosius, “Do you take no notice of my son the co-emperor? Is this all the respect you pay to a prince that I have made equal dignity with myself?” At this the bishop gave Arcadius a blessing and replied, “Sir, do you so highly resent my apparent neglect of your son because I do not give him equal honor with yourself? What must the eternal God think of you, who have allowed His coequal and coeternal Son to be degraded in His proper divinity in every part of your Empire? Remember God the Father’s proclamation on the day Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.”

7) Identity of the peanut scientist: In one of his books, Fr. Bill Bausch describes George Washington Carver, the great black agricultural scientist who did a lot of research work on the commercial and medical uses of the lowly peanut. Carver built a great industry through his scientific endeavors.  In January, 1921, he was brought to Washington, D.C., to the Ways and Means Committee to explain his work on the peanut.   As a black man, he was last on the list and so, after three days of waiting, he finally walked up the aisle to speak, ignoring the racial comments and ridicule.  Later he wrote in his autobiography, “Whatever they said of me, I knew that I was a child of God, and so I said to myself inwardly, ‘Almighty God, let me carry out Your will.’”  He got to the podium and was told that he had twenty minutes to speak.  Carver opened up his display case and began to explain his project.  So engaging was his discussion that those twenty minutes went all too quickly, and the chairman rose and asked for an extension so he could continue his presentation, which he did for an hour and three-quarters.  They voted him four more extensions so he spoke for several hours.  At the end of his talk they all stood up and gave him a long round of applause.  And all that happened because he knew who, and Whose, he was and because he refused to be defined by the labels of his culture.  The feast of the Baptism of our Lord reminds us of who we are and Whose we are.

8) America’s fast-growing non-religious community: One in five Americans (19 percent), now claims no religious affiliation, up from 6 percent in 1990. The so-called “nones” include unbelieving atheists who staged a massive “Reason Rally” in Washington, but two-thirds of the unaffiliated say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Almost nine in 10 say they’re just not looking for a Faith to call home. An April study found that among the under-30 set, the only religious group that was growing was the “unaffiliated,” with an increasing tide of young Americans drifting away from the religion of their childhood. By year’s end, a study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that there are about as many religiously unaffiliated people in the world (1.1 billion) as there are Catholics, and they’re the third-largest “religious” group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims. (http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/ )

9) God’s Press Conference: When likable Lou Holtz was announced as the new head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, he was touted as one who would restore the school’s football program to its tradition of excellence. Whenever a new leader appears on the scene, whether it is the new coach of a team or the new president of a corporation, a press conference is usually held to proclaim that leader’s qualifications and potential. Such press conferences usually create some excitement about the leader’s identity, and arouse our expectations with glowing promises about what this leader will accomplish. Today’s event of our Lord’s baptism is something like this. It’s as if God Himself called a press conference to reveal His Son Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and to give us a preview of what His mission would accomplish (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

10) On the right road in the wrong direction: A friend of mine vouches for the truth of the following incident. He was traveling down the country one day. His journey brought him along some by-roads, where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, he was unsure whether he was on the right road, so he decided to ask the first person he saw. Eventually he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking. He stopped the car, and asked him if he was on the right road to Somewhere, just to give the place a name. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the right road. My friend expressed his thanks, and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a very nonchalant way, “You’re on the right road, but you’re going in the wrong direction!” Today’s reflection on Jesus’ baptism challenges us to examine whether we are on the right road and moving in the right direction for our eternal destiny.

11) Part of the ritual: The story is told about the Baptism of King Aengus by St. Patrick in the middle of the fifth century. Sometime during the rite, St. Patrick leaned on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the king’s foot. After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down at all the blood, realized what he had done, and begged the king’s forgiveness. “Why did you suffer this pain in silence, the Saint wanted to know. The king replied, “I thought it was part of the ritual.” (Knowing the Face of God, Tim Stafford, p. 121ff).

12) “Agnes, you’ve been a real jinx!” John was an old man, and he lay dying. His wife of many years was sitting close by. He opened his eyes for a moment, and saw her and said, “There you are Agnes, at my side again.” She smiled faintly and fluttered her eyes and said, “Yes, dear, here I am.” Then John said, “Looking back, I remember all the times you were at my side. You were there when I got my draft notice and had to go off to fight in the war. You were there when our first house burned to the ground, and we lost everything we had. You were there when I had that accident that destroyed our car, and I was seriously injured. And you were there when my business went bankrupt, and I lost every cent I had.” Agnes again smiled faintly and fluttered her eyes and said, “Yes, Dear, I have been – by your side – all the time.” Then the old man sighed and said, “I’ll tell you what, Agnes, you’ve been real bad luck!” (Norman Neaves, “Are You Ready to Take the Big Step?”). That’s not what Agnes expected to hear. The experience is ridiculous, but makes the point. Any experience may be perceived differently by those involved. Today we look at one of the pivotal experiences in Jesus’ life: His baptism. How do we look at it?

13) “Have you found Jesus?” A drunk stumbles across a Pentecostal Baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river.  He proceeds to walk down into the water and stand next to the Preacher.  The minister turns and notices the old drunk and says, “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?”  The drunk looks back and says, “Yes, Preacher. I sure am.”  The minister then dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. “Have you found Jesus?” the preacher asked.  “No, I didn’t!” said the drunk.  The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” “No, I did not, Reverend.”  The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time, brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, “My God, have you found Jesus yet?”  The old drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher… “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”

14) Salvation by Christian Baptism or Jewish Circumcision? There is a funny story about a Catholic Priest, a Baptist Preacher, and a Rabbi who were good friends. They would get together two or three times a week for coffee and to talk in a coffee shop. One day, someone made the comment that preaching to people isn’t really all that hard – a real challenge would be to preach to a bear. One thing led to another, and they decided to do an experiment. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it. Seven days later, they all came together to discuss their experience. Father Flannery, who had his arm in a sling, was on crutches, and had various bandages on his body and  limbs, went first. “Well,” he said, “I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear wanted nothing to do with me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb.  The Bishop is coming out next week to give him first communion and confirmation.” Reverend Billy Bob spoke next. He was in a wheelchair, had one arm and both legs in casts, and had an IV drip. In his best fire-and-brimstone oratory, he claimed, “WELL, brothers, you KNOW that we don’t sprinkle! I went out and I found me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from God’s HOLY WORD! But that bear wanted nothing to do with me. So I took HOLD of him and we began to wrestle. We wrestled down one hill, UP another and DOWN another until we came to a creek. So I quickly DUNKED him and BAPTIZED his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus. Hallelujah!” The priest and the reverend both looked down at the Rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and traction with IVs and monitors running in and out of him. He was in really bad shape. The Rabbi looked up and said: “Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start!” (Rev. King Duncan)

15) Wash Off the Stuff of the Day: One of the most successful and personable people on television is Oprah Winfrey. Movies, book clubs, she does it all- huge business operations. While all the other talk shows on television are tearing people apart and putting all their illnesses out for public humiliation, Oprah is helping put people and families back together again. . . In a Newsweek magazine interview the interviewer asked her, “How do you separate yourself from work?” Answer, “I take a hot bath. . . My bath is my sanctuary. [Listen to this] It’s the place where I can wash off all the stuff of the day” (Jan 8, 2001, p. 45). Baptism is a huge symbol — it’s the water of creation. . . .we are born anew. . . . life in the Spirit . . . all the “stuff” of the day is washed off. All of that is true. But at its basic level, Baptism is the death of the old self. Before anything new can be born, the old has to pass away. (Brett Blair; quoted by Fr. Tony Kayala).

16) “Watershed” moment.” Because of a devastating childhood illness at nineteen months, Helen Keller (1880-1968) was left both blind and deaf. Her life was rightly written up as a “miracle story” and became a play called The Miracle Worker (1957) with Anne Bancroft starring in the Broadway production (1959). But the “miracle” Helen Keller experienced was not any return of hearing or vision. The “miracle” she received was the miracle of her committed, loving family, and of her relentlessly optimistic and patient teacher Anne Sullivan.  When Helen was seven years old, trapped in a world where she could only communicate through a few hand signals with the family cook, her parents arranged for a twenty-year old, visually impaired teacher to come and work with their daughter. Using American Sign Language, Anne Sullivan spent months “spelling” words into Helen’s hands. Everything Helen touched, everything she ate, every person she encountered, was “spelled out” into her hand. At first Helen Keller didn’t get it. These random motions being pressed into her palm did not connect with experiences she felt. But Sullivan refused to give up. She kept spelling words. She kept giving “tactile-verbal” references for everything Helen encountered.  Finally, there was a “watershed” moment, which was indeed water-powered. Helen’s breakthrough moment was as she was having water pumped over her hands and Anne Sullivan kept spelling the word for “water” over and over into her palm. Suddenly Helen “got it.” Suddenly she realized those gestures meant something real and tangible. They were naming what she was experiencing.  The world of communication, reading, literature, human interaction were all made possible to one person through the gift of another person. The “miracle” Helen’s teacher Anne Sullivan worked was the miracle of patience. She simply kept on and kept at it, showing Helen there were “words” for “things,” and there was true meaning behind all Helen’s experiences. (Quoted by Fr. Tony Kayala.)

17) Washed Away in a New Beginning:  Some of you may have seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? (https://youtu.be/BHvsRFItCw0).This is a whimsical retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set in 1930s Mississippi. Three hapless escaped convicts–Everett, Pete and Delmar–are hiding out in the woods, running from the law. There they encounter a procession of white-robed people going down to the lake to be baptized. As they move toward the water they sing, “Let’s go down to the river and pray.” As the Baptism ceremony begins, Delmar is overwhelmed by the beauty and the mystery of this rite. He runs into the water and is baptized by the minister. As he returns to his companions, he declares that he is now saved and “neither God nor man’s got nothing on me now.” He explains that the minister has told him that all his sins have been washed away. Even, he says, when he stole the pig for which he’d been convicted. “But you said you were innocent of that,” one of his fellow convicts exclaims. “I lied,” he says, “and that’s been washed away too!” Later the three convicts steal a hot pie from a window sill. The one who felt that his sins had been washed away returns and places a dollar bill on the window sill. Delmar wasn’t made perfect by his Baptism any more than any of the rest of us are made perfect by our Baptism. But he was conscious that it was time for him to make a new beginning. That is why in understanding Baptism we begin with the washing away of our sins. (Rev. King Duncan; quoted by Fr. Tony Kayala.)

18) Baptism: Take My Good Name: French writer Henri Barbusse (1874-1935) tells of a conversation overheard in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. One of the men, who knew he only had minutes to live says to one of the other man, “Listen, Dominic, you’ve led a very bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so, here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my life and quickly, hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death.” The Good News is that through Jesus, God makes a similar offer. Something wonderful happens to us when we are baptized. When we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Jesus. We publicly declare our intention to strive to be like Jesus and follow God’s will for our lives. When we are baptized, our lives are changed. We see things differently than we did before. We see other people differently than we did before. Baptism enables and empowers us to do the things that Jesus wants us to do here and now. We are able to identify with Jesus because He was baptized. And we are able to love as he loved. Such identification is life-changing. That kind of identification shapes what we believe and claims us. (Billy D. Strayhorn)

19) Initiation Rite: Remember the initiation rites of our ancestors? In some places, as in the Sepik even today, they lock teenage boys in an enclosure for a month of isolation. Here their bodies, especially their backs are cut and bled. They are taught to bear pain. They are taught all the labors of the clan. After four weeks they are let out of the spirit house, and now they enter into a new life. That is the life of an adult. Now they can marry. In one place on the Sepik the boys crawled out of the initiation enclosure through the jaws of the imitation crocodile. This is symbolic for being born again into a new life. Baptism means the same thing: entry into a new life; it also gives us a new status, more than what the initiate has achieved, namely child of God, heir of heaven, member of the Church etc. (Frank Michalic in Tonic for the Heart; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

20) Called by Name: One of the most dramatic moments in Alex Haley’s novel, Roots, is the “eight day” ceremony when Omorro gives his new-born son, Kunta Kinte, his name, and the child becomes a member of his tribe. In the culture of western Africa, the name given a child is both a gift and a challenge. Haley describes the naming rite: “Omorro lifted up the infant and as all watched, whispered three times into his son’s ear the name he had chosen for him. It was the first time the name had ever been spoken as the child’s name; for Omorro’s people felt that each human being should be the first to know who he was.” That night the father completed the ceremony: “Out under the moon and stars, alone with his son that eighth night, Omorro completed the naming ritual. Carrying little Kunta in his strong arms, he walked to the edge of the village, lifted his baby up to the heavens and said, softly, ‘Behold the only thing greater than yourself.”- Jesus received his calling from His Father. Jesus is greater than all creation, and Baptism makes us one with Jesus. (Gerard Fuller in Stories for all Seasons; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

21) A most important date: An old gentleman walked into a fashionable florist shop. “I want a beautiful corsage,” he said, “not a big one, but just about the prettiest one you can make.” He smiled broadly, “It’s for my granddaughter, and she is having her first date tomorrow.” The florist was all curious. “How old is the young lady?” he asked, eyeing his flowers speculatively. “Two weeks,” replied the grandfather. The florist turned in utter amazement. “Did you say, a date… a corsage…two weeks old?” “Precisely,” said the old gentlemen. “And I want the corsage that’s exactly right. She’ll never have more important date than she has tomorrow. My little granddaughter will be baptized.” (Frank Michalic in Tonic for the Heart; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

22) New president’s inaugural speech: When a president is inaugurated in the United States, there is an official oath of office taken, and a speech is given, intended to inspire and set the course of the nation for the next four years. Occasionally some of these speeches or inaugural addresses have been memorable; quoted again and again, the words stir the hearts of those who hear them with a renewed sense of purpose. In his second inaugural address (delivered 4 March 1865), Abraham Lincoln invited the nation to live “with malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right. Let us strive on to finish the work we are in.” In representing his ideas to the nation, Franklin D. Roosevelt noted, “In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor“ (Inaugural Address, 4 March 1933). John F. Kennedy, in his January 1961 inaugural declared, “Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’ — a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.” Sadly, each of these men died while in office, Roosevelt of illness, Lincoln and Kennedy at the hands of their assassins. Jesus’ baptism could be compared to an inauguration in that it prefaced a ministry that did indeed have political as well as religious repercussions in the world in which he lived. His inaugural address was given later in the local synagogue at Nazareth. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy, Jesus also died, of course for a nobler cause, while in the process of realizing his inaugural ideals

23) Birthday celebration on the day of Baptism: The 13th century king of France, St. Louis IX (1226-70), insisted that the grand celebration of his birthday should be held on the day of his Baptism, and not on his birthday proper.  His argument was that Baptism was the beginning of a life that would continue for eternity in the everlasting glory of Heaven.

24) Manager working in the production line: The manager of a manufacturing company often visited the production area of the factory unannounced. Sometimes he would take off his coat and tie, roll up his sleeves, and help on the assembly line. One of the bolder employees asked him one day, “Why do you do come down from your air-conditioned office to get dirty down here?” The manager replied, “I don’t know of a better way to find out what the workers think and feel and whether everyone is happy doing their job. This is a good way of seeing things from their point of view.” When he returned to the quiet of his office, he did so with new insight into the ordinary people who were an important part of his company, his world. What is more, the “ordinary people” got to see the manager from a whole new perspective. Jesus’ baptism was a sort of “going down to the production line.” Jesus was baptized because he wanted everyone to know that he was human and that he understood all about sin and its effect on people’s lives. (Rev. Vince).

25) Pain Is Part of Baptism: Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was a very devout Catholic evangelist. One of the stories that grew out of his ministry concerns a time when he was baptizing new converts in a river. He would wade out waist-deep into the water and call out for new Christians to come to him, one by one, to receive the sacrament. Once he baptized a mountain chieftain. Saint Patrick was holding a staff in his hands as the new converts made their way into the water. Unfortunately, as he was lowering the chief down under the water three times, he also pressed his staff down into the river bottom. Afterwards the people on the riverbank noticed their chief limp back to shore. Someone explained to Patrick that, as he pressed the wooden staff into the riverbed, he must have also bruised the foot of the chief. Patrick went to the chief at once and asked, “Why did you not cry out when I stuck you in the foot?” Surprised the chief answered, “I remembered you telling us about the nails in the cross, and I thought my pain was part of my Baptism.”  When I read that I could not but think how many of us would have been baptized if we knew pain was a part of the process. (Fr. Kayala).

26) St. Margaret Mary prepared for the apparition: In the late seventeenth century, Jesus appeared multiple times to a French nun named St u Margaret Mary Alacoque, and that was the beginning of the Church’s universal devotion to the Sacred Heart. The first time he appeared to her was in the middle of the night. She was suddenly woken up by an inner voice that told her to go down to the chapel. Now, St Margaret Mary was a Visitation nun. Visitation nuns at that time wore very elaborate habits: a long, black, multi-layered garment and a complicated headdress with a tall white wimple and a flowing black veil. When the saint sensed that God wanted her to go down to the chapel in the middle of the night, she didn’t just put on a bathrobe on over her pajamas. Instead, she took fifteen minutes to change out of her pajamas and into her full habit. Only then did she go down to speak with the Lord. And that night she had her first apparition of the Sacred Heart. She, like John the Baptist, understood that Christ was both her closest and best friend, and also her Savior, Redeemer, and God, worthy of loving respect. The sincerity of our reverence towards God is a good thermometer of our spiritual maturity. If we come into a Church and genuflect sloppily, in a rush, it could mean that we don’t even remember why we are doing it. If we chit-chat loudly inside the Church before and after Mass while people are trying to pray, it could mean that we have forgotten Whose House this is. If we make the sign of the cross as if we were swatting mosquitoes, it may mean that we are falling into routine in our friendship with Christ, whose death on the Cross is the source of our hope for forgiveness, meaning, and eternal life. (E- Priest).

27) Soldier praying before the child’s cradle: There is legend about a Roman legionary from the Age of Persecutions. (That was the first 2½ centuries of the Church’s existence, when the Roman Empire repeatedly tried to destroy it.) He went off on a long war campaign, leaving his wife with child. While he was gone, she gave birth. Soon thereafter, she converted to Christianity, was baptized, and had her baby baptized as well. Meanwhile, the legionary also met some Christians and heard their explanations of what it meant to be baptized into this new faith. He, however, could not be baptized before the campaign ended and he returned home. His wife was overjoyed upon his arrival, but apprehensive about what his reaction would be to her baptism. She decided to break the news gradually. First, she showed him their child, and only then mentioned that she had had him baptized. Immediately the husband became quiet, pensive. He looked again at the child, then knelt down beside the crib. He bowed his head, closed his eyes, and silently began to pray. His wife was puzzled. She knelt next to him and asked, “My love, what are you doing?” At first, he continued to pray, then he opened his eyes and looked at his wife. “My love,” he answered, “if our son has been baptized, he has himself become a holy temple. For Christ the Lord, his Father the Creator of all, and the living Holy Spirit have made their home in his heart, so we can pray to God there.” (E- Priest).

28) Total commitment: A pig and a chicken were out for a walk one day. The pig wasn’t too bright and tended to repeat everything that others said or suggested. The chicken remarked “Those are very nice people down in that house down there.” “They are indeed” replied the pig, “they are very nice people.” “They are very good to us” continued the chicken. “They are indeed” replied the pig, “they are very good to us.” “Do you know what I was thinking? asked the chicken. “No” said the pig. “What were you thinking?” “I was thinking we should do something for them.” “That’s a very good idea”, replied the pig, “I think we should do something for them. What did you have in mind?” “I was thinking” said the chicken, “that we should give them something.” “A brilliant idea” said the pig, “I think we should give them something. What did you have in mind?” “I was thinking” said the chicken, “we should give them bacon and eggs.” The pig stopped in his tracks, and said “Definitely not! For you that’s only a slight inconvenience, but for me it’s total commitment!” – Baptism is intended to lead us to a total commitment, and our acts of Christian charity should be seen as anything but slight inconveniences. (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth!)

29) Your Baptism is your tattoo…California police and the courts have discovered the tattoos on teenagers are often more than a cosmetic decoration. A few years ago, a juvenile court judge in California observed that a large number of teenagers appearing before him had tattoos – tattoos on the hands, fingers, and faces. The tattoos, he learned, identified the bearer as a member of some particular gang and, frequently as a user of a particular drug. Many of these tattoos were self-inflicted by youth who were desperate to “belong.” The judge also discovered that teenagers with visible tattoos were virtually excommunicated from the job market, since potential employers equated the tattoos with crimes and incompetency and refused to hire the youth. The judge asked the Los Angeles County Medical Association if there might be among its members, a plastic surgeon who, at no charge, would remove the tattoos from juvenile delinquents. Dr. Karl Stein, a well-known Los Angeles Plastic surgeon, was the first to volunteer. Since 1981, Dr. Stein has turned around the lives of hundreds of his young patients through surgically removing the tattoos by excision, laser, and virtually every other known method. – Your Baptism is your tattoo, indelibly imprinted, identifying you as a disciple of Jesus. Would your neighbors see this in your daily life? (Gerard Fuller in Stories for all Seasons).

30) Risking life to save: The Eagle Has Landed is a book by Jack Higgins set during World War II. Hitler proposed the idea of capturing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Steiner was forced to accept the mission. Steiner and his men were relocated to an airfield on the north western coast of Holland, there they were to familiarize themselves with the British weapons and equipment. The team would be air dropped into Norfolk. The commandos outfit themselves as Polish troops. Their plan was to infiltrate into the village, Studley Constable, complete their mission, and make their escape. At first, the plan went off without a hitch. Then, one day one of Steiner’s men saw two local children fallen in a water wheel. His first instinct was to jump into the river to rescue them. But he knew that his action would reveal who they were and would defeat their mission. Any attempt to rescue them was risking his life and the life of his fellow soldiers. The sight of the children being drawn to the water wheel could not hold him back. He jumped into the water and rescued them. During the rescue operation he was killed and his German uniform, worn under the Polish uniform, was seen by the local people. That revealed the identity of Steiner and his men. All of them were shot dead in the encounter that followed. The German soldier risked his life in order to give life to two of the local children. The Baptism of Jesus was the public announcement that Jesus was going to risk his life for giving life to the whole humanity.

31) Power Source: The Greatest is a film about Muhammad Ali’s career as heavyweight boxing champion. It shows not only how he was gifted naturally with agility and strength, but also how he trained extensively with rigorous workouts and diets. But Muhammad Ali said one time that although all these things helped, the real secret of his power source was a set of inspirational tapes to which he listened. The tapes were recorded speeches of a Black Muslim leader, the honorable Elijah Muhammad. They deal with self-knowledge, freedom and potential. Muhammad Ali would listen to these tapes when he got up in the morning, when he ate his meals during the day and when he retired at night. He claimed that these inspirational messages gave him the power to fight for his black people, not only for their glory in the ring, but also for their civil rights in the arena of life. In today’s Gospel, we have revealed the secret of the power of another man, Jesus Christ. The baptism scene drawn for us is another epiphany episode following last week’s one with the Magi. Three signs accompany our Lord’s baptismal experience to reveal who He is. First, the heavens were opened to symbolize a new divine intervention in human history. Second, the Spirit descended on him like a dove signifying the presence and power of God. Third, a voice was heard designating him as God’s beloved and favored Son. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

32) “What’s your purpose in life?” An executive hirer, a “Head-hunter” who goes out and hires corporation executives for other firms, once told me, “When I get an executive that I’m trying to hire for someone else, I like to disarm him. I offer him a drink, take my coat off, then my vest, undo my tie, throw up my feet and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he’s all relaxed. Then, when I think I’ve got him relaxed, I lean over, look him square in the eye and say, ‘What’s your purpose in life?’ It’s amazing how top executives fall apart at that question. “Well, I was interviewing this fellow the other day, had him all disarmed, with my feet up on his desk, talking about football. Then I leaned up and said, ‘What’s your purpose in life, Bob?’ And he said, without blinking an eye, ‘To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.’ For the first time in my career I was speechless!” The baptism of Jesus enabled him to realize his identity as the son of God and his mission of saving mankind from sin by his suffering, death and resurrection.(Josh McDowell from Building Your Self-image; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

33) “What do you think I am doing now?” A wealthy businessman was horrified to see a fisherman sitting beside his boat, playing with a small child. “Why aren’t you out fishing?” asked the businessman. “Because I caught enough fish for one day, “replied the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch some more?” “What would I do with them?” “You could earn more money,” said the businessman. “Then with the extra money, you could buy a bigger boat, go into deeper waters, and catch more fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets. With the nets, you could catch even more fish and make more money. With that money you could own two boats, maybe three boats. Eventually you could have a whole fleet of boats and be rich like me.” “Then what would I do?” asked the fisherman. “Then,” said the businessman, “you could really enjoy life.” The fisherman looked at the businessman quizzically and asked, “What do you think I am doing now?” The baptism of Jesus is dying to our self-centered endeavors and being resurrected into a life marked by grace and love. When we live in the baptism of Jesus, we touch the hearts of others and help open them to the Holy Spirit and new life in Christ. Are you living and growing in the new life you have been given? (Paul Peterson, The Waters of Death). (L/19)

Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No. 9) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Visit this website by clicking on http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed or previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at akadavil@gmail.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily. Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.

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