I am on vacation in India so no homilies till February 2019. Thank you and God bless you.
The Baptism of the Lord
Is.40:1-5, 9-11, Tit.2:11-14; 3:4-7, Lk.3:15-16, 21-22
A man was down the country travelling along by-roads where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, unsure of his directions, he decided to ask the first person he saw.
When he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking he stopped the car and asked if he was on the right road to Mallow. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the Mallow road.
The driver thanked him and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a nonchalant way, “you’re on the right road, but you’re going in the wrong direction!’
Today’s reflection of Jesus’ baptism challenges us to examine whether we are on the right road and moving in the right direction for our eternal destiny.
The sacrament I like celebrating the most is the sacrament of baptism. It is always a happy occasion.
A father is in church with three of his young children, including his five-year-old daughter. As was customary, he sat in the very front pew so that the children could properly witness the service.
During this particular service, the minister was performing the baptism of a tiny infant. The little five-year-old girl was taken by this, observing that he was saying something and pouring water over the infant’s head.
With a quizzical look on her face, the little girl turned to her father and asked: “Daddy, why is he brainwashing that baby??”
The joy of the occasion is palpable, especially when the parents and godparents come up to the baptismal font and the water is poured over the head of the child by the celebrant.
Each child is anointed before and after baptism with special oil, the oil of catechumens and the oil of chrism; the baptismal shawl is placed around the child and the baptismal candle is lit.
The whole occasion is somehow uplifting in a way that is unique to that sacrament.
Today we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus. The Baptism of Jesus is the great event celebrated after 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.
Jesus’ 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.
Second, it was a moment of conviction about his identity and mission: that He is the Son of God and 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.”
God 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, 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 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.
The Feast of the Lord’s Baptism is also an occasion for us to go over our own baptism. This could be more urgent especially now that baptism has been reduced to a social occasion, devoid of its spiritual meaning. We need to go back to the true sense of this sacrament.
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a good day for cultivating gratitude for the graces that flow from the One who descended into the waters of the Jordan so that our sins might be washed away.
How can we cultivate gratitude in our spiritual life? The most obvious answer is to say “Thank you” to God during our daily prayers, whether first thing in the morning or before going to sleep.
But there are even simpler ways to cultivate gratitude for the gift of supernatural life. Last year Pope Francis gave some very practical advice about the Sacrament of Baptism:
“It is important to know the day on which [one] was immersed in that river of Jesus’ salvation. And I will allow myself to give you some advice…
Today, at home, go look, ask about (or make sure) the date of your Baptism; that way you will keep in mind that most beautiful day of Baptism.
The danger of not knowing is that we can lose awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received. We are called to live out our Baptism every day as the present reality of our lives.”
So the Pope himself has asked you to memorize the date of your baptism. Within families, the date of each member’s baptism ought to be celebrated with at least as much importance as one’s birthday.
After all, the anniversary of a person’s birth is for celebrating one’s first step—so to speak—into this world.
But the anniversary of a person’s baptism is for celebrating one’s first step towards Heaven!
In some homes on a family member’s baptismal day, that person’s baptismal candle is brought out, placed on the dinner table, and lit as part of celebrating with gratitude the gifts first given at baptism.
There are four gifts given, or four changes that happened to you at the moment that you were baptized.
For each of these we need to express gratitude to God. The first change was a washing away of something negative: all of your sins, both Original Sin and any personal sins.
But this cleansing was simply preparatory for the other three changes: that is, the gifts that positively strengthened you. These three are inter-twined.
At the moment of your baptism, God made you His own child by infusing you with the divine virtues of faith, hope, and love.
At the same time, you were incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. Any time that a person becomes God’s child, it’s as one member of the Body of Christ.
So in this sense, Baptism united you not only to God, but also to all the other members of the Church. This new life of Baptism is about gaining not just a spiritual Father, but an entire spiritual family!
Yes, 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.
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.
Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.
The Epiphany of the Lord, Year C -19
Is 60:1-6/ Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6/ Mt 2:1-12
While they were talking about the story of the three wise men, a woman asked her parish priest, this question, “Do you know why God gave the star to the wise men?”
When he professed his ignorance, she told him: “God knows men are too proud to ask directions.
If there had been three wise women instead of three wise men, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and given some practical gifts!”
I entered the seminary when I was in the 10th grade. That might seem premature and perhaps even reckless by today’s standards, but the 1980’s were a very different age.
I decided I wanted to be a priest, and so I threw myself into preparation at the seminary with all the confidence and bravado that only a 16 year old could muster.
It was not long however, that I began to have some problems or doubts but I had challenged my mom. My mom said that it is difficult for me to become a priest because I get angry. She used to say, you get angry at the tip of your nose.
I told my mom or I challenged my mom telling her that even if I don’t become a priest I will not return back home. May Be a premature decision.
But you know I had no problem till I went to Philosophy and there was a challenge. There was a misunderstanding between the rector and me. So I decided to leave.
But my older brother said, you are most welcome back and I will educate you and get you a job but before you come back, discern if your decision is from the Lord or from the devil.
I received a letter back from my brother encouraging me to stay. He always writes a proverb or a poem. He wrote: A King had a queen and queen had 9 kids and none of them proved their lives. We are 9 siblings and none of us have proved our lives.
Then after Philosophy I was sent to a very remote village for one year of field experience (regency). When every one of my classmates had a good place I was very far from my hometown traveling more than one day to a tribal area for my experience.
One of my friends wrote to me stating the proverb: even from the gutters you can see the star and it included in it a little poem which I still remember. It goes like this:Two men looked out of their prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.”
Now the poem is very simplistic, and maybe even a little corny. But it got me thinking. I knew what the difficulties were but I had not focused on what might be good in my situation.
If I had leaned on God not on me in life, focus on the stars rather than the mud, perhaps it would make a difference. I followed that advice, and here I am today.
Even after becoming a priest I never wanted to come to a foreign country but the Lord brought me here to do his ministry. Our ways are different from God’s ways.
I thought of this poem on the feast of the Epiphany because it is certainly true that the wise men had all kinds of reasons to stay at home.
If they would have chosen to focus on how difficult the journey would be, how others might make fun of them because they were dreamers, or the possibility that the Christ Child would not accept their gifts, they would have stayed where they were in the East.
But the Magi set their sights higher than their fears and their doubts. They looked to the star, and the star led them to the Christ Child. These strangers from the East became among the first ones to worship the Jewish Messiah.
Now the point of this homily is not simply we should be positive thinkers. That is much too simplistic. There are bad things in this world and sometimes those bad things happen to us.
At times there is no amount of perspective or attitude that can protect us from evil. Yet having said that, it is also true that we usually see the things upon which we focus.
We usually find the things that we are looking for. So why not look for the things that are good rather then the things that are bad?
Rather then centering on all the things that are wrong, why not look and search out those things for which to be thankful, for which to be joyful.
I think we all know people who are examples of this kind of living. I remember a woman from the parish where I was the pastor in TX. An elderly woman but full of life and energy.
She was always the center of the fun, always the one who would make others laugh. One day she shared with me that her health was failing and she would need to check herself into a retirement home.
I told her that it will be difficult for her because she is a chain smoker and I said the nursing home will not allow you to smoke. She said that she need to quite smoking and she did it.
For many people moving into that kind of facility would have been the end of life, a reason to give up, a reason to despair. But not this woman.
She told me, “Father, it’s going to be good. I am going to meet some new people and I am going to have some new opportunities.” I watched her as the months passed by. It was good. She made new friends.
She became involved in new activities. She came to that situation expecting goodness and she found it. She brought joy, and the joy she brought she shared with others.
On this feast of the Epiphany the Gospel challenges us to look for the positive things in our life. Where should we look for goodness?
Who are the people, the situations, the issues that are pulling us down? Can we not ask God to help us see them differently?
Is there the possibility that there might be some goodness that we are overlooking?
Yes, there are things that discourage us, but are there not also reasons for hope?
On this feast of the Epiphany let’s pray that God will guide us to what is good, that God will give us the light that we need.
God led the Magi to the Christ Child. God did not lead them astray. I believe there is every reason to trust that God will do the same thing for us.
But first, we need to move our eyes off of the mud and onto the stars. Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.