Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord
January 12, 2014
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

The baptism of Jesus holds a significant place in scripture for many reasons. First, it marks the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus to fulfill scripture, particularly Isaiah’s prophecies. Second, the story contains John the Baptist, an enormously colorful larger-than-life personality who teaches us remarkable humility. Third, it settles the debate between in the early church about who was the stronger rabbi to follow. John becomes the friend of the bridegroom, the great forerunner of the Messiah. Fourth, with every baptism comes a mission and God called Jesus to bring about the victory of justice.

We take it for granted that John the Baptist was herald of Jesus because scripture has shaped our consciousness to believe the evangelists’ versions of the story, but even after the resurrection of Jesus, many people were still followers of the Baptist. The early storytellers pitched their story to show that Jesus was the stronger one, the one they should follow. It shows the power of the pen. God’s truth would have won out in the long run, but for the Jewish community at the time after Jesus’ resurrection, John’s way remained formidable. The Gospel resolves the tension as John is placed in a subservient role to Jesus. They make it definitive by declaring that God said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The debate ends. We move forward.

The singling out of Jesus at the Baptism was important, but the events that followed were more significant. In Acts, Luke says, “Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him,” and because Jesus was specially chosen, he became the means by which God shows no partiality. This is crucial in the Middle East where many neighboring people of Israel cannot even mention the name of the nation.

We think we are discreet and high-minded when change words in songs and carols to skip over references to Israel; many refuse to read the Old Testament because of the many citations of Jews as God’s chosen ones; people will not study our rich Judeo-Christian traditions because of long-seated animosities. Of course, there are sufficient reasons to be angry, but they throw out the proverbial “baby with the bathwater,” and many are angry at God for his covenantal relationship with the historical Jews. Learning how to read Scripture properly can produce a comprehensive understanding and can create peace of mind. A trained mind for scripture will help us focus on these words, “God shows no partiality. Rather in every nation, whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” God shows no partiality. God does not favor one people over another.

As we are baptized into Christ, we have to live like he did. Therefore, it is in our power to do good and to heal those who are oppressed by the devil. Our baptism makes us specially chosen as it did Jesus, but it is not superiority over other people, but rather a responsibility to Christify the world, that is, to bring about all things in Christ in the realization of the plan of God. The believing Christian has the consciousness of being immensely strong, by the grace of God that lives in him or her, and is capable of following the infinite example of love given to the person by the whole life of Jesus Christ.

I quote from Pedro Arrupe during his time as Superior General of the Jesuits from a talk he gave to European Christians in 1976. “Christianity is not a this-worldly power structure imposing itself according to a set of laws. Christianity is not a strategy that merely has to be applied according to the rules in order to be successful. Christianity is the breakthrough of God in time and in the world, a breakthrough that happened historically in Christ and continues to happen again and again in every true Christian. Humans can obstruct or prevent this breakthrough of God, and, in fact, we are very clever in finding obstacles. When this happens, the Gospel remains a dead letter, and we will be unable to hear the radical message of the Gospel because we distort it through our unbridled selfishness. We will not be capable of understanding the necessary personal and social changes because we are afraid of the consequences this would entail for ourselves personally. Without a profound personal conversion, we shall not be able to answer the challenge facing us today. If, however, we succeed in tearing down the barriers within ourselves, then we shall have a new experience of God breaking through, and we shall know what it means to be a Christian today.”

Baptism is both call and mission. Pope Francis is helping us return to the authentic message of God through Jesus. As we read the newspapers or Internet news and simply take a look around at our local world, we recognize the world needs our prayers. We need to help our world by letting God breakthrough into our hearts and minds so we can conform more fully to his plan. Tear down those walls and let God teach you new ways of being like Jesus Christ. You are special. You are chosen and you have important work to do. Christ is the victor of justice and you are part of his mission in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes. Go, with the grace of God.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In 1 Samuel, Elkanah, husband and Hannah and Peninnah, gave a double portion of his ritual sacrifice to Hannah because he loved her even though she was childless. Peninnah constantly demeaned her, but Elkahah consoled her and treated her well. Hannah, after a meal at Shiloh, went to Eli, the priest, at the Lord’s temple and vowed that she would give her son to the Lord if she were to conceive. When she had relations with Elkanah, she conceived and bore a son called Samuel. Years later when young Samuel was minister to the Lord under Eli, the Lord called him three times while Eli sent him back to bed twice. The third time, Eli told Samuel to reply, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” News that he was a prophet spread quickly. As the Philistines prepared for battle, Eli’s sons brought with them the ark of the Lord from Shiloh as a way of bolstering their morale and strength. Though the Philistines were filled with fear, they fought bravely and killed thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel. All the elders of Israel came to Samuel at Ramah and said, “Appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.” The displeased Samuel finally acceded to their wishes and announced the rules for kingship. The young Saul, son of Kish, met Samuel. He knew that Saul would become their king and after sharing a meal, he anointed Saul as commander over his heritage.

Gospel: After John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus proclaimed, “the kingdom of God is at hand,” and he called Simon and Andrew with James and John to himself as disciples. Jesus came to Capernaum and taught in the synagogue as one who had greater authority than the scribes. A man with an unclean spirit recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God and the spirit convulsed him until the unclean spirit was tossed out. From there, Jesus went to the house of Simon’s mother-in-law where he healed her of a fever. After sunset, many who were ill or possessed by demons were brought to him so that he may lay hands on them. A leper approached Jesus and asked to be made well, if Jesus desired it. He healed him and instructed him not to publicize the matter to anyone, but the leper spread the word loudly and wide. Jesus could no longer openly go into a village because he was considered unclean. Four men brought a paralytic to Jesus and opened the roof of his house so they could lower him. When Jesus saw the faith of the men, he forgave the sins of the paralytic. It caused a stir. They called him a blasphemer and in retort, Jesus healed the man. As Jesus went out along the sea, he saw Levi sitting at a customs post and he called him to become a disciple. Pharisaical scribes how saw Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors were upset with him, but he replied that those who are healthy do not need a physician.

Saints of the Week

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 12, 1544. Xavier wrote a long letter on his apostolic labors, saying he wished to visit all the universities of Europe in search of laborers for our Lord's vineyard. The letter was widely circulated and very influential.
·        Jan 13, 1547. At the Council of Trent, Fr. James Lainez, 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.