13 Jan Baptism of the Lord
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting this homily on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you, I can take no credit for it: ‘tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
Today’s homily is inspired by a meditation by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis in Fire of Mercy: Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Vol. One.
God bless you.
There are very few times in the Bible that God speaks “from heaven” for all to hear. In today’s gospel, on the threshold of Jesus’ public ministry, however, the Father makes clear who Christ is and why he has come by declaring: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus Christ was God’s Son, even before he became Mary’s son. Though the nature of Christ’s eternal Sonship remains cloaked in the unfathomable mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Church gives us an inkling of what it means through the words we use in praying the Creed: “The Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” Somehow while being a distinct person from God the Father, Jesus Christ shares fully in the God-ness, the divine nature, of the Father. Jesus Christ, then, is God, the second person of the Trinity: “This is my Son, the Beloved.”
At Christmas, we celebrate Second person of the Blessed Trinity’s coming to earth as a man. This he did in order to re-establish communion between mankind and the Father, a communion broken when the human family displeased God and rebelled against him through committing Original Sin. Now at thirty years of age God the Father reiterates this fundamental mission of his Son and explains why we should pay attention to Christ:..the Father’s favour rests on him. Christ restores friendship between the Father and mankind by taking on human nature, by being a man who thoroughly pleases the Father; if we want to enter into that renewed friendship, we only need to follow Christ.
When we are baptized the relationship with God that was broken by our first parents when they rebelled against God and committed the original Sin of disobedience…that broken relationship is re-established. In our Baptism, original Sin is washed away, Jesus, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, did not need to re-establish this relationship for Himself. As God he did not need that. But he is baptized to show us how essential this reestablishment of our relationship with God is.
I came across one a very moving meditation on the Baptism of Jesus that I would like to share parts of it with you. It began by pointing out that Jesus had come all the way from Nazareth. He had made the laboroious trip from the North Country to seek out John and his baptism of Water. …It goes on…”Here, in Jesus being baptized, the wholly unexpected occurs. The more powerful One, whom John had declared was coming and would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, comes to request John’s inferior and symbolic baptism of water. The one to whom man’s mind and heart must turn in a gesture of repentance himself teaches us that gesture by submitting to his own minister, to John the Baptist. He who is the living Kingdom of God in his own person, puts on the penitential garb and recites prayers of contrition for our sinful flesh, which he has now taken on. He lays aside his glory on the banks of the Jordan and, for the sake of mankind, each one of us, prefers nakedness and the chill of muddy waters in the desert to the adoration of the angelic orders. God’s holiness must descend to the level of man if man is to be inflamed by the fire of God’s holiness. Before he utters any teaching, Christ’s first revelation of the interior Being of God, occurs in this gesture of humility, his Baptism. From now on, how can the creature, how can any one of us, consider ourselves worthless in the sight of the Creator if the Creator has shown his loving preference for His creature by really condescending to our level, deep in the purifying waters of the Jordan? From now on the creature,…us, will forever be haunted by the dignity the Creator has shown us to have, if we will only take the path of penance and regeneration.
The path of penance and repentance is the very opposite of the path of sin, self-destruction and self-disdain. God desires the sinner to turn away from the darkness of his own nothingness and come to Him, to draw life from His life. Sin is grounded in an allusion…concerning my own alleged greatness and work in my own eyes. Repentance is grounded… not in a desire to please myself…but in a clear understanding and a proud conviction of my great worth in the eyes of God.
[Penance springs from the knowledge that I am worth so much that I do not have the right to deprive myself of the life God wants to give me or deprive God himself, for that matter, of the irreplaceable love he seeks in me.…] repeat.
This profound meditation brings to mind, that great pope, St. John Paul II, at World Youth Day in Toronto, exhorting the young people…to live up to who God has created them to be.
The call to Christian conversion intends that the path of penance and repentance is not a humiliation but a show of intelligence to admit that my own reservoirs are broken, empty, and clogged with accumulated refuse that I must go to the fountain of the Savior, to the heart of Jesus…Realizing that only there will my raging thirst be quenched.
The Christian’s authentic sense of self Worth consists in this conviction that I have both the right and the possibility to quench a thirst that is the expression of the noblest part of my being; and this conviction, resulting in so much trust, was brought to us by Jesus coming among us in the flesh.
In Jesus coming to John seeking the baptism of water, we witness Christ’s first teaching to us about the nature of divine life. It is a gesture of gentleness and lowliness, an acknowledgement of human frailty but at the same time of the awesomeness of mankind’s vocation to awaken to the life of God out of his frailty and darkness. The meditation concludes: the human face of God is humility, confession, the seeking of the newness of life and mercy. In order to show us how we should approach God, God himself comes to us bending his head in a gesture of humility. John was expecting a sweeping cosmic gesture, something cataclysmic. What he received was …God’s humility.”
As Jesus came up from the water, God’s Spirit came down. Jesus’ Baptism results in the descent of the Spirit upon Him. Baptism is a rite of repentance. It provokes an immediate response from the Father in the sending of His Spirit. The Dove is no mere symbol of reconciliation: it is the visible presence of the divine life flowing down upon us in response to repentance; in response to reconciliation. By submitting to the human baptism of John, which showed us the depth of Christ’s humility, the Saviour brings down upon the world the bath of God’s fiery life. By being plunged into the Jordan by John, Jesus plunges us into the Blessed Trinity’s very life when we are baptized.
Jesus shows us that human repentance in the presence of God results in the gift of the Spirit.
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
In the repentance of Baptism, we become the Father’s adoptive sons and daughters, His Beloved, in whom the Father is well pleased.
The key of our spiritual lives is to remain in that Belovedness. And that is why we have the rest of the Sacraments: Confirmation, Holy Communion, Marriage and Priesthood strengthen us to live lives of Belovedness, following the example of Christ. Confession and the Anointing of the Sick heal us when that Belovedness is lost or broken through our failing to follow the example of Christ.
The Only reason Jesus gave us the Sacraments is to keep us in that Belovedness we receive in Baptism. The only reason He gave us the Church is to give us the Sacraments.
In Jesus’ example of being baptized he is calling us to live lives of conversion, repentance and humility. Then, we can live in that great hope at the end of our lives we will hear…
“This is my Son, This is my daughter,…my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”