Sunday, January 13, 2019

BE IMMERSED INTO CHRIST! a homily for the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, Year C (Luke 3:15–16, 21–22)

How strange John must’ve looked with his uncut hair and beard, wearing camel hair clothes and living on insects and wild honey.  Traditionally he was called ‘the Forerunner’, the one who went ahead of the Lord,  as well as ‘the Baptist’.  But he called himself the ‘bridegroom’s friend’, and the ‘voice of one calling in the wilderness.’  Here was a man from a priestly family who gave up everything to be totally at God’s service.  John himself identified the Lord as the ‘Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world’ and by calling himself the bridegroom’s friend he identified the Lord as the Bridegroom of Israel, that is, God Himself. 

John’s practice of baptism was not that unusual.  Throughout Israel archaeologists have found large pools cut from the stone for the Jewish purification practices.  They are called mikvahs and are still used by orthodox Jews to purify themselves whenever life makes them impure according to the Law.  So immersing oneself in water was quite common.  They had strict rules though about the kind of water one could use and how it was stored.  The best was fresh flowing water and this is why John is at the Jordan, the boundary of Israel, baptising, that is, immersing people in the flowing waters of Israel’s only major river.  He has placed himself outside and over against the structures of Judaism and offers what people long for: the promise of forgiveness, healing and restoration.  He does not promise to give these things but proclaims that the longing will soon be met.

John’s baptism is therefore symbolic.  It expresses a desire to change and a hope of restoration and renewal.   By submitting to John’s baptism our Lord identifies Himself with us, with our condition, with our holiest longings and gives us an example of humble submission to God.  By this baptism, by His immersion in the Jordan river He sanctifies the waters of the world for through His immersion into our material human nature He has sanctified matter itself.  The whole world is revealed and made holy by His becoming man.  His baptism, his immersion not just into the Jordan’s waters but into our very nature  has made  our baptism, our immersion into His Divine personhood possible.  By becoming one of us, one with us, He makes it possible for us to become one with Him for ever. 
His baptism makes our baptism possible.  Our baptism is an immersion into His death and resurrection, into His Divine Person so that through Him we share in  His Eternal Life.  Through baptism we are no longer mere human beings but our immortal souls have been given Eternal Life of God, a life to its fullness, a life our bodies will share in too on the last day.  
Jesus’ baptism is an act of profound humility.  Indeed the whole of his life, the whole of His incarnation right up to and including accepting suffering and death on the cross and burial in a tomb  was one long act of humility.  He was humbly revealing to us the One who sent Him, the Father.  Everything He did, said or though was about the Father.  He is the centre of His entire life.  On the Cross  He revealed, through His suffering and death, by means of His humility and obedience who worthy of love that Father is.  Not only that He made visible His eternal worship and love of the Father  and offered it to the Father on our behalf.  The sacrifice He offered on the Cross therefore infinitely outweighs any and all sins ever committed and all sins we could ever commit even if the entire human race did nothing but sin for all eternity.  

Not only that there’s more!  He did not merely offer a sacrifice to wipe away our sins.  His sacrifice gains for us the infinite gift of sonship.  As I have already said by our baptism we are immersed into Christ, into His Divine Person.  In baptism we put on Christ and share in His roles as priests, prophets and kings.  As priests we can offer our sacrifices to God through Christ and they will be accepted.  As prophets Christ can speak and act through us and as royalty we are full members of the royal family - the real royal family not the Mickey Mouse variety across the water.
There’s more!  Baptism makes each of us, male and female, young and old, whatever our nationality or culture, not just a child of God but a Son of the Father.  This means we share, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in His Sonship.  We are given a place in the very heart of God, in the very heart of the Most Holy Trinity.  When the Father looks at you He sees His Son, the Beloved.  When you pray He hears His Son.  This is not a mere veil, or a self-deception on God’s part.  It is not God turning a blind eye to our true nature.  In baptism our fallen human nature is changed and we are empowered to become one with Christ.  We are truly one with Him in the Sacraments and have His Holy Spirit in us. 
This is why sin is so terrible.  Sin is not the breaking or arbitrary rules or guidelines.  It is not just doing things our own way.  Sin is the violation of the moral law at the basis of our existence, that is woven into the very fibre of our being.  Sin is even worse for those of us who are baptised for it is an assault on the very likeness of Christ within us and a rejection of the infinitely beautiful and valuable gift He has given us.  It is through baptism and because of baptism that we are called to the heights of holiness so that the likeness of Christ shines out in us illuminating a world that is sunk in moral and intellectual darkness and devoid of hope and peace.  

If we take this gift seriously and embrace it, if we unwrap it and let it flourish within us we will bring great blessings on ourselves, on those we love and those we meet.  We will become saints and brings many, many souls to salvation.  If we live our baptism wholeheartedly the day will come when we will see God the Father and He will say to us “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Sunday, January 6, 2019

WHAT GIFT WILL YOU BRING HIM?: a homily for the Feast of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1–12)

I remember one Christmas day as we were having breakfast my mother heard a child crying and when she went outside there was a young traveler boy just outside our front door.  He had hurt his ankle and could not walk.  It was bitterly cold and he had only a thin jacket and shorts on while on his feet were a pair of wellies.   My mother brought him in and sat him down at our table.  She took the boot off the injured foot and checked it for any injury.  Once she had made sure he was ok, that it was only a sprain and she had strapped it up, she gave him breakfast.  I wasn’t too happy having a traveler sit at our breakfast table but the memory has stayed with me and its lesson: charity comes first and one never turns away a human being in need.   It was also a lesson in the real meaning of what it is to be a Christian.

Three events are celebrated today in this one feast:  the visit of the wise men to Jesus in Bethlehem,  our Lord's Baptism in the Jordan and his turning the water into wine at Cana.  Each of these events is a revelation of the glory of God's presence in our Lord.  The wise come to Bethlehem lead by a star.  People back then did not view the sky as we do.  The stars belonged to a level next to God.  Their movements reflected God’s plan for the world.  That this star appears and disappears shows us it was no ordinary heavenly event but a spiritual one.  These men used their reason to navigate by the stars and that reason has brought them to Bethlehem to meet our Lord the source of all reason and of creation itself.  They rightly bring Him Kingly gifts in tribute, gifts that point to who He is and what He will suffer.

At Cana our Lord, prompted by His Mother, took on the role of bridegroom and, turning water into the best wine, provided a sign that He is the true Bridegroom of Israel come to wed mankind to Himself.  He is the one to liberate us from our useless way of life and give us the truth, the best wine of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth. He revealed His glory in the meekness with which He listened to His Mother and responded to her.  Their lack of wine is a symbol of the lack of real love and the best wine is a symbol of the joy that comes only from communion with God.

At His baptism he showed publicly for the first time the depth of His humility when He who needed no purification, indeed is the source of all purification, chose to identify with sinners.  By His descent into the waters of Jordan He sanctified all water.  In response to His humility the Father and the Spirit affirmed His Sonship, a Sonship we share in through baptism.  He immersed Himself in the Jordan so that we could be immersed into His death and His resurrection.  John’s baptism was a mere sign that our Lord has made a Sacrament for it truly gives what it signifies: it cleanses of sin and refreshes the soul with eternal life. 

Our Lord came to transform our lives and our world and He deserves our worship and love.  He came to immerse Himself in our human nature so that we could, through Him, be immersed into His Divine Nature.  He came to turn the stale water of human love into the living water of God's love.
He did not come with armies and the force of His will but with gentleness and merciful love.  He did not come with power to dominate us into being holy.  He did not come to violate our freedom but to make it possible for it to flourish into holiness.

Our Lord reveals His glory in His humility.  He has made Himself vulnerable for us in the crib and on the cross.  In this He reveals His gentleness and His power.  It is through giving Himself away, through sacrifice,  that He conquers.   He revealed His glory in His humility by accepting baptism from John, a symbolic baptism, but one for repentance.  In identifying with sinners, the sinless one has offered us hope.  He comes not to condemn but to justify, to set us free and make us holy.

So today and in this season we celebrate the glorious humility of God who has become fully human for us.  We celebrate His love, His self-sacrifice, and His mercy.  If we do not experience the joy of these truths it is not His fault.  They are available to us in the Sacraments.  They are available to us in stillness and prayer.  They are available to us for the asking.

Since He is so good to us, since He loves us so much how then ought we to respond?  What thanks, what gifts can we offer the One who saves us from eternal death?   He has given us the answer: to believe in Him, to love Him and to love our neighbour, to avoid evil and to do good.  These are the simple steps that mean we are following Christ.  These are the steps to holiness, to eternal life.

If we are not seeking to be holy then we are not really Catholic.  By holy I do not mean ‘pious’ or ‘devout’; those are good things but not necessarily signs of holiness.  Holiness is being right with God and our neighbour.  To be holy is to seek the will of God in everything and the will of God is not hard to know – just do the duties of your state of life while seeking to avoid evil, that is, sin and do good.  That’s it in a nutshell.  The greatest gift we can offer the Lord is to seek to do the will of His Father.  

We have been given an infinite gift in Christ.  Like all gifts it must be unwrapped.  If we really know Christ then we cannot keep Him to ourselves but must share Him with others above all in the way we behave.  We will want to share Him with everyone, even the traveler, the immigrant, or the homeless at our door.  So in this Christmas season do your best to share the good news that God has become man for us by how you treat those around you: point your anger away from others, try to be patient, kind and generous, forgive others and show them the mercy God has shown you.


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