Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Baptism of the Lord

January 13, 2013
Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalm 104; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16,21-22

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” The church wants us to realize what God is doing for us on this feast of the Baptism of the Lord. God understands that our existence, fraught with difficulties, causes us to lose hope. Some of these hardships are unforeseen and unpredictable; others arise from our sinfulness. Individual and social sins tear the fabric of society apart and we get cut off from others, which makes us wonder if God is there for us. We wonder why God allows certain events to happen to us and we want to know that someone stands in solidarity with us.

God responds by telling us what is in his heart. God speaks tenderly to us as a sympathetic comforter and lets us know that our time of penance is over. We can have confidence that God welcomes us back into the fold and integrates us into his world. Many of us have an experience as a youngster of being punished by our parents and sent to our rooms to think on the sin we committed. We disliked getting scolded and cut off from our family. Sometimes we sank into our self-pity or fumed in anger. We had to grapple with interpersonal loss – loss of being connected. Once we had calmed down and was able to reflect on matters more clearly, our parents lovingly brought us back into the family – sometimes after a reasonable, yet caring conversation – sometimes after a stern command not to act in the same way again.

Our parents taught us proper boundaries; God does the same thing, but they both re-integrate us and restore us to our loved ones. They both redeem and accept us wholeheartedly, even when they do not condone our behavior. Neither parents nor God want to see us cut off from them. Rather, they want to compassionately teach us to act righteously and to be without harmful sin. With contrite hearts, we can see the ways we harm ourselves and others while also seeing the good God and parents intend for us – even if it smarts.

Let’s look at the Gospel. The people gather around John the Baptist seeking confirmation that he is the Christ, the Messiah. They want him to be the One. When Jesus and all the people are baptized, it then happens that Jesus goes to pray. During that prayer, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove with a voice from heaven declaring, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This scene comes as a surprise to all of John’s friends because he isn’t the one appointed by God. The people believe in him and see his goodness, but the more obscure Jesus from Nazareth becomes the anointed one.  The change in worldview John’s disciples go through is not easy for them because many remain loyal to John and cannot easily give up their belief in him.

Change comes with pain. We avoid pain and we find all sorts of reasons to blame the agent of change. We risk losing what has long been comforting to us. We risk losing our influence upon the process and we fail to see that security and control are illusions. When change comes, we defensively try to control all the more fiercely because we don’t want to lose what we have established. Our childish impulses surface and we deal with our anger unhealthily – often displacing it. We try to hurt others. I cannot speak for the feelings of John the Baptist’s disciples, but I can know for sure -  because they are human – that they had a range of negative feelings about their friend being passed over. They cannot accept Jesus as the anointed one until they actively work through anger and loss. They are unable to receive grace with open arms until they let go of their need to control their small world.

Paul, in the second reading, tells us to reject godless ways and worldly desires. He asks us in this age to live temperately (not hot-headed), justly (not with retaliation or lashing out with hurtful words), and devoutly (always thinking of doing good and putting the needs of others first) as we await the blessed hope, which is the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse a people as his own, eager to do what is good.

God wants us to see what he has done for us in his kindness and generous love. To do that, we are to realize who we are before God and others. John the Baptist had to let his ego go so he could embrace Jesus of Nazareth. We ask ourselves, “Do I need to let go of the illusion that I hold about myself?” Our attitude is everything. It determines whether we can see Jesus as the Christ. It determines whether I can accept him. We further must ask ourselves, “What are my behavioral patterns during change and what do I need to do to embrace and be a part of this new way of being?”

These are tough questions to ask ourselves, but it is what baptism is all about. It is letting death come, or better yet, killing our illusions and letting the way of sin and death be a part of the past. It is about participating in the new life that is offered to us and restoring us as a whole person to the community of faith. Parents instinctively know how to do it with their wayward children. God offers it for us. When we take our eyes off ourselves and see what God holds out to us, we cannot help but embrace the new change that we once feared. We immerse ourselves in new life and wonder why we delayed. Then, we want to bring others to the liberation that God offers us through Christ. We hear him say again and again, “You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Ordinary time, we shift to Hebrews where the nature of Jesus is explained. The author tells us that in times past, God spoke through prophets, but now God is able to speak directly through Jesus who was made heir of all things. God did not subject all things to angels, but in order to subject all things to himself he required that his Son make salvation perfect through suffering. Jesus shared in the blood and flesh that through death he might destroy the one who has the power over death. He frees those who fear death and have been subject to slavery all their life. Jesus became a descendent of Abraham in order that he become like his brothers and sisters in every way.

Take care that none of you may have an evil and unfaithful heart so as to forsake the Living God. Be on guard to receive the good news just like our ancestors did. Let us enter into the rest Jesus offers us because he has won our salvation. The word of God is living and effective, sharper than a two-edged sword, penetrating between soul and spirit. We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses because he was tested in every way, yet without sin. Because of this we can confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Gospel: After John the Baptist is arrested, Jesus begins to proclaim the Gospel of God and the time of fulfillment. He calls Simon and his brother Andrew beckoning them to become fishers of all people. Later, he calls James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Jesus arrives in Capernaum and teaches in the synagogue. An unclean spirit recognizes him and calls us, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus teaches with authority over spirits. They arrive at the house of Simon and Andrew, and Jesus heals Simon’s mother in law who is gripped with a fever. At evening, people bring all sorts of people to Jesus to be healed and exorcised. A leper then approaches Jesus and asks Jesus to cleanse him, if Jesus wishes it. Of course, he does. In doing so, Jesus becomes ritually unclean and must avoid towns and villages. When Jesus returns to Capernaum, he teaches again at his home. Four men bring a paralytic to him by opening the roof and lowering him so Jesus can see him. Jesus forgives his sin and then heals him. Jesus then sees Levi, a tax collector, at his customs posts and asks him to join him in his ministry. Many object to his choice of disciples and wonder if he has lost perspective.

Saints of the Week

January 13: The Baptism of the Lord is recounted in Mark’s Gospel where the baptism of water is to be replaced by a baptism of fire. God confirms the person of Jesus when he rises from the water and a dove alights on his head. God is well pleased.

January 14: Hilary, bishop and doctor (315-367), was born in Gaul and received the faith as an adult. He was made bishop of Poitiers and defended the church against the Arian heresy. He was exiled to the Eastern Church where his orthodox rigidity made him too much to handle so the emperor accepted him back.

January 17: Anthony, Abbot (251-356), was a wealthy Egyptian who gave away his inheritance to become a hermit. Many people sought him out for his holiness and asceticism. After many years in solitude, he formed the first Christian monastic community. Since he was revered, he went to Alexandria to encourage the persecuted Christians. He met Athanasius and helped him fight Arianism.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Jan 13, 1547. At the Council of Trent, Fr. James Laynez, as a papal theologian, defended the Catholic doctrine on the sacraments in a learned three-hour discourse.
·      Jan 14, 1989. The death of John Ford SJ, moral theologian and teacher at Weston College and Boston College. He served on the papal commission on birth control.
·      Jan 15, 1955. The death of Daniel Lord SJ, popular writer, national director of the Sodality, founder of the Summer School of Catholic Action, and editor of The Queen's Work.
·      Jan 16, 1656. At Meliapore, the death of Fr. Robert de Nobili, nephew of Cardinal Bellarmine. Sent to the Madura mission, he learned to speak three languages and for 45 years labored among the high caste Brahmins.
·      Jan 17, 1890. Benedict Sestini died. He was an astronomer, editor, architect, mathematician, and teacher at Woodstock College.
·      Jan 18, 1615. The French Jesuits began a mission in Danang, Vietnam.
·      Jan 19, 1561. In South Africa, the baptism of the powerful King of Monomotapa, the king's mother, and 300 chiefs by Fr. Goncalvo de Silveira.