January 6, 2020

Baptism of the Lord (Jan 12, 2020 Sunday)

Baptism of Our Lord (1-page summary for an 8 minutes homily)

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. (A homily starter anecdote may be added here)

The turning point: His 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, St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), Gandhi, and Mandela identified with the people whom they served.] Second, it was a moment of conviction about His identity and mission, (although Jesus knew it as God, even as  as a child): that He is the Son of God and that His mission was to preach the Good News of God’s love and salvation and to atone for our sins by becoming the “suffering servant.” The  Father’s words, “This is my beloved Son,” taken from Psalm 2:17, gave Jesus the identity of 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 (although He was one with Jesus always) 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 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 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. (L/20)

Baptism of the Lord [A] (Jan 12) Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mt 3:13-17 (Full text)

Homily starter 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, 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 anymore, 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: The film Gandhi is a three-hour epic, depicting the life of Mahatma Gandhi in India. In order to lead the oppressed people of India to freedom from British rule, Gandhi adopted non-violent means such as fasting from food, vigils of prayer, peaceful marches, protests and civil disobedience. One of the reasons why Gandhi put on a loincloth and fasted from food, almost to the point of death, was to show solidarity with the Indian people, identifying with them in their physical sufferings. This finally brought independence to India. 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 of God’s forgiveness.
(Vima Dasan).

# 3: Called to Service: The late Nelson Mandela 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).

# 4: 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.

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.

Scripture readings summarized: In the First Reading, the first Servant Song in Isaiah (42:1-4, 6-7), is chosen because, because its opening lines (‘Here is my chosen one, in whom my soul delights’) [Isa 42:1]) is similar to the voice from heaven  about the identity of  Jesus following his baptism (‘This is my Son, the Beloved, my favor rests on him’ [Matt 3:17]). In the second reading, St. Peter states that Jesus’ baptism by John was the inauguration of Jesus’ divine ministry through his anointing by God the Father “with the Holy Spirit and power. Today’s gospel describes the baptism Jesus received from John the Baptist and how it was a turning point in Jesus’ life and public ministry.

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 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 him, “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. According to Rev. William Barclay (non Catholic Bible scholar) Jesus’ 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 (although he knew it as God even as a child), a) He was the “Chosen One” and the “beloved Son of God”; and the nature of His mission: 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 (although Holy Spirit was one with Jesus always) with the power 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”; 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; 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.

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 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.

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.”

USEFUL WEBSITES OF THE WEEK

1)Why Jesus baptized? Video answer by Jimmy Akin

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

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

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

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21- Additional anecdotes

1) 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? Thomas Merton. Today’s Gospel on Jesus’ baptism should challenge us, too, to examine whether we are keeping our Baptismal promises. (Fr. Phil Bloom).

2) A tiger cub discovers 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 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.

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 declared 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 & ’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.  He built a great industry through his scientific endeavors.  In January 1921, he was brought to Washington, D.C., to the House of Representatives’ 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 claim 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 their 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 if 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: This 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, 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 stumble 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!”

15) Wash Off the Stuff of the Day: One of the most successful and personable people on television is Oprah Winfrey. Movies, book clubs, huge business operations — she does it all. 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? 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 baptismal 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 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 windowsill. The one who felt that his sins had been washed away returns and places a dollar bill on the windowsill. 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 from before. We see other people differently from 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 the book, Roots, by Alex Haley, 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) Pope acting as an altar boy for a priest: During the very brief Pontificate of Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani; (August 26 — September 28, 1978),
an Irishman, Monsignor Magee, served as the Pope’s personal secretary.  As Papal secretaries are wont to do, the Monsignor spent much of his day with the Pontiff.  Each morning, he would serve the Pope’s private Mass in the Papal chapel in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. In a talk he gave in our diocese some years ago, Magee recounts an incident where the Holy Father said, “Monsignor, every day now that I have been Pope, you have faithfully served Mass for me.  You have never been late and your service has been impeccable.  So, tomorrow, we are going to do things a little differently.  You will serve my Mass as usual at 6:30 in the morning.  After my Mass, we will exchange vestments and then I will serve YOUR Mass.” Understandably, Magee resisted, saying he could not permit such a thing.  The Pope replied, “Are you rejecting a wish of the Pope?”  Magee replied, “Well, your Holiness…”  The Pope answered, “Very well, then.  I knew you’d agree.”  And Magee did.  He recalls this moment with great fondness.  Here was the Pope – the Vicar of Christ and the Shepherd of 1 billion Catholics acting as an altar boy for a priest – a reversal of roles. What I have just described is somewhat analogous to the scene in today’s Gospel taken from St. Matthew.  Incidentally, it is an event recorded in all four Gospels.  We have the King of Kings, the Savior of the World asking John the Baptist for baptism.  Like Monsignor Magee, we can imagine the awe of John the Baptist at the request of our Lord.  Like Magee, the Baptizer resists but Jesus insists and is baptized. (Priest Speaks). (L/20)

clip_image001 “Scriptural Homilies” Cycle A (No. 12) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Visit my website by clicking on http://frtonyshomilies.com/ for missed or previous Cycle A 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 and  the CBCI website https://cbci.in/SundayReflectionsNew.aspx?&id=cG2JDo4P6qU=&type=text. for a full version Or https://www.catholicsermons.com/homilies/sunday_homilies  under Fr. Tony or under CBCI for my website version.  Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.