10 January 2021Baptism of the Lord

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of the Lord - Cycle B - Mark 1:7-11

An atheist said, "If Christians are the light of the world, somebody has forgotten to turn the switch on."

"Since 1960, there has been a 560% increase in violent crimes, more than a 400% increase in illegitimate births, a quadrupling of divorce rates, tripling of children in single-parent homes." The speaker was William F Buckley, Jr. The world, according to him, does seem to be going to hell in a hand-basket.

But was the world of Jesus really that different when He was baptized by John in the Jordan? Listen to John as he answers that question in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. "Turn away from your sins. You snakes. Don't collect more than is legal. Don't take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely." The world of Jesus' time seems to resemble our own. John the Baptizer could very easily recycle his Jordan sermons to speak to our problems. Listening to him, contemporary preachers might be tempted to whisper, "I could use John's material. He describes our times."

The crucial question is how the Christ responded to the dry rot all about Himself. The answer is to be found in the cleansing waters of the Jordan and in today's feast.

It is important to note that all four Gospel writers refer to the baptism of Jesus. So, in their minds, the baptism is

e-mailing an important message. It is our job to discover what that message is.

The baptism was important to Him. He uses this dramatic event to commence His public life and work. If one could say Jesus had an inauguration, this was it.

The silent Jesus waded out to the spot where John stood in the Jordan river. He asked for baptism. John went into immediate shock. He intuitively knew that this baptism was not designed for the Man from Nazareth. He waved Him off. He had no desire to hold a fully grown tiger by the tail. Yet, Jesus insisted and gave him no choice. John knew who it was standing in the cold rushing water before him. The reluctant John baptized Him, but he must have sensed the Saviour had a method in His apparent madness. He did and we find the answer in art, courtesy of Henri Daniel-Rops.

Artists from day one have wrestled with the Master's baptism. You will find drawings in the catacombs, in early sculptures, in books on liturgy, in mosaics, and in stained glass. Curiously though, the artists have invariably treated the subject in a minimalist style. One finds neither embroidery nor embellishment. What you see is what you get.

Even the untutored eye will find this minimalism in the stained glass window at the Chartres cathedral outside Paris. It is the case even more so in a famous medieval psalter by the Dane, Ingeborg. His work portrays Christian subjects in rich and opulent colors with one exception. Yes, Jesus' baptism! But why?

Jesus is telling us that we must first direct our attention to our own personal lives with little ceremony and less pomp. We must cleanse ourselves with rough brown laundry soap in clean waters as He did. Then and only then can we properly address ourselves to the many human problems referred to by Mr Buckley. Every reformation must first begin in one's own home and with oneself. It must be done as simply and quickly as possible.

It was St Paul who told us that "He was like unto us in all things except sin." And yet that sinless Christ took it upon Himself to enter the waters and wash Himself before He set out to reform anyone else. Can anyone of us do less?

The Teacher is a doer, not a talker. He wants action, not

pious platitudes or vague resolutions.

The Associated Press breathlessly reported that a British astronomer speculated that the Christmas star was the "coming together of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces in 7 BC." Perhaps and of course perhaps not.

Yet might we not all agree that one can still see traces of that Christmas star in the night sky? But this time it is illuminating not the creche but the confessional in your church. Why not step in there and first purge yourself of your sins? Then, like the renewed Christ, tackle the problems in your families, community, and the world.

St Peter of Alcantara puts the case this way. "Truly matters are in a bad state. But if you and I begin to reform ourselves, a really good beginning will have been made."

Remember the monk's dictum. To show His love, Jesus died for us. To show our love, we must live for Him.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Baptism of the Lord

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: Trusting in the Son of God

The Christmas season ends today with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The beginning and end of the season have much in common. On Christmas, we celebrate God becoming one of us, taking upon himself a human nature. On the Feast of the Baptism, we celebrate the public proclamation that Jesus is more than just one of us. He has more than a human nature. He has a Divine Nature. He is the Son of God, in whom the father in well pleased.

We begin with John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of John’s birth. You remember, Zachary and Elizabeth were unable to have children. Elizabeth was past childbearing age when Zachary had a vision in the Temple of the angel Gabriel telling him that he and Elizabeth would have a son that he would name John. This son would be a prophet like Elijah, one of the most powerful prophets of the Old Testament. You remember how Gabriel also told Mary about Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Elizabeth was a kinswoman of Mary’s; so Mary went to see Elizabeth. When she arrived, the baby inside of Elizabeth stirred. Elizabeth recognized that Mary’s baby was the Lord. 

Today’s Gospel, from the Gospel of Mark, advances the story 30 years. We come upon John, teaching and baptizing at the Jordan River. He is demanding an end to evil in the world and calling the people to accept his baptism as a sign that they will join him in the fight for the Kingdom of God. He also speaks about the one to come. The last book of the Old Testament is the Book of Malachi. It ends with a prophecy that Elijah would come again to prepare the world for the Messiah. John is this new Elijah, as Gabriel had told Zachary.

Jesus chooses to be baptized by John to show that he is one with all those who are fighting against evil and fighting for the Kingdom of God. John says that he himself does not deserve to unfasten Jesus’ sandals, but Jesus demands he be baptized. The people of the world who long for the Kingdom must see that their King is one of them. The voice of God the Father proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God. This is my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

What does this mean to us? It means that our union with Jesus is a union with God. It means that Jesus is not just another man, not even another extraordinary man. He is God. He has a human nature given to him through Mary, and a divine nature eternally at one with the God. The One who is our brother is also the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. We don’t just give him the title God. He is God.

When we call upon Jesus to help us, we are praying to God. When we receive communion, we receive God within us. When we seek forgiveness, we are forgiven not by the priest but by God. When you married in the Church, Jesus united His Love to your love for each other in the sacrament of marriage.

A few years ago Nicole Mullen wrote about the power of the Lord we receive in prayer
I'm so very ordinary
Nothing special on my own
Oh, and I have never walked on water

And I have never calmed a storm
Sometimes I'm hiding away
From the madness around me
Like a child who's afraid of the dark

When I call on Jesus, all things are possible
I can mount on wings like eagles and soar
When I call on Jesus, mountains are gonna fall
'Cause He'll move Heaven and earth to come rescue me when I call

Weary brother, broken daughter
Widowed, widowed lover, you're not alone
If you're tired and scared
Of the madness around you

If you can't find the strength to carry on
When you call on Jesus, all things are possible
You can mount on wings like eagles and soar
When you call on Jesus, mountains are gonna fall
'Cause He'll move Heaven and earth to come rescue you when you

Call Him in the mornin', in the afternoon time
Late in the evenin', He'll be there
When your heart is broken and you feel discouraged
You can just remember that He said, He'll be there

When I call on Jesus, all things are possible
I can mount on wings like eagles and soar
When I call on Jesus, mountains are gonna fall
'Cause He'll move Heaven and earth to come rescue me when I call

When I call on Jesus, all things are possible 
I can mount on wings like eagles and soar
When I call on Jesus, mountains are gonna fall
'Cause He'll move Heaven and earth to come rescue me when I call

Do you remember the disciples on Lake Gennesaret, being tossed about in the storm? Like the disciples, in the middle of these storms, we can call on Jesus to bring calm, serenity, and peace of mind.

When we think our situation is hopeless -- we need to call on Jesus.

When we cannot see our way through -- we need to call on Jesus.

When we feel totally overwhelmed -- we need to call on Jesus.

When we feel that we are the worst person on the earth -- we need to call on Jesus.

When we feel that no one loves us and nobody care for us -- we need to call on Jesus.

Jesus is not just another human being. He is God. Yet he is one of us. He knows all the emotions that we feel. He has felt them in his human nature. Through His divine nature, he can and does heal us.

We go down into the water with John the Baptist, determined to fight for the Kingdom of God, and we leave the water with Jesus Christ, our Divine Champion.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is an Epiphany. God is manifested to us in Jesus Christ. We need to pray to Him. We need to trust in Him.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Baptism of the Lord

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Baptism of the Lord

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Baptism of the Lord

John the Baptist looks hard at Jesus and says, ‘Look there is the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples with him immediately follow Jesus. This says a lot about John the Baptist. It says that he had schooled his disciples to follow Jesus when he was finally able to point him out. â€‹

It says that he was a good teacher since his disciples didn’t need to be told twice and furthermore it says that John the Baptist wasn’t interested in his own glory; his job was finished and it was time for him to get off the scene. He knew his mission and that was to be a forerunner for the Messiah when he made himself known. When the moment came, there was no hesitation or second thoughts. John hands over to Jesus and immediately steps into the background.

Knowing one’s task or profession thoroughly is a sign of great wisdom. Confining oneself to that particular task shows even greater wisdom. We all know of craftsmen who have learned a given task so thoroughly that it has become almost part of them. These men confine themselves to what they know and could never be described as jacks of all trades. They are true craftsmen.

These craftsmen and women are a dying breed, mores the pity. But we can learn from them because they are invariably very steady people, they never seem to be in a hurry; they have a rhythm to their work and rarely make mistakes. They know their business and all its aspects thoroughly. They are the very salt of the earth.

We are Christians, followers of Jesus. We too ought to know our task and carry it out assiduously. That means we must know Jesus, study his Gospels, and most of all spend time with him in prayer.

A lifetime spent in this way will have incalculable effects on our lives. It will mean that we will have rooted out petty jealousies, risen above mundane squabbles, and consistently avoided superficial judgements. We will have become so identified with our subject that no one will think of us without being reminded of Jesus’ own qualities of goodness and kindness.

These two disciples of John the Baptist slipped very easily from one master to the other. They did so because they could see that Jesus was truly the one who was foretold by the Prophets. They had listened to John and come to understand what kind of person the Messiah would be and so were able to recognise him when he was finally pointed out.

Quite naturally they begin to call him rabbi, teacher. It was as if they had moved up a class in school, moving on to higher studies. Moving from an elementary teacher to a true master. Later in John’s Gospel they will drop this title rabbi and call him Lord reflecting a deeper understanding of his role.

In John there is a quite different approach taken than in the other Gospels to the very first disciples and how they came to follow Jesus. There Jesus takes the initiative; here the disciples take the initiative. There are good theological reasons for John’s different approach. Jesus asks, ‘What do you want?’ or in other translations, ‘What are you looking for?’ By this John the Evangelist does not mean a banal enquiry as to why they are following Jesus. He is drawing attention to the basic need of man that causes him to turn to God.

And the answer that the disciples give is meant on the same theological level. They want to ‘stay’ with him. Here John means not just spending some time with Jesus but the need in man to find a lasting dwelling place, something that amidst the transient things of this world is truly permanent. Jesus answers, ‘Come and see.’ Once more we are on a theological level. Seeing for John means faith. They see with the eyes of faith which means that they believe in him.

These two first followers immediately act like disciples and go out to recruit others, most important among them being Simon Peter. You will notice that just as John the Baptist looked hard at Jesus and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God,’ now Jesus looks hard at Simon Peter and says, ‘You are to be called Cephas’ –meaning rock.

As we have said there is a lot in this looking, this seeing. John the Baptist says, ‘Look there is the Lamb of God.’ Jesus turned around and saw them following and after they say ‘Where do you live?’ he replies, ‘Come and see.’ They went and they saw where he lived. Seeing is believing, so runs the proverb. In John’s Gospel this is quite literally the case. So with the fourth Gospel you must always try to look below the surface and see the significance of these key words and discover the hidden layer of meaning which is so rewarding.

There are very many lessons for us in this particular Gospel passage and we have adverted to quite a few of them already. However, if I was to take one which I think is more important than the others I would say it is this: we have to graduate, to move up a step in our discipleship. I hope it is true that we all see ourselves as disciples. We are certainly all Catholics, we believe in God and in Christ and in his Church. But without denigrating the belief of any single person here I would like to suggest that you ought to think of cranking things up a notch or two.

Think about those two disciples: Andrew who was named and John himself the writer who didn’t give his name but who certainly knows what he is talking about. Think about them, they follow the Baptist and they surely believe that they are doing quite well. John can’t have been very easy to follow; his Gospel of Repentance was surely hard to live out in practice; and that’s saying nothing about his diet of locusts and wild honey!

They are prepared by John for the coming of the Messiah and all at once there he is standing before them and John the Baptist quietly fades into the background. Suddenly these two are in the presence of the real Master and they discover that with John the Baptist they have been only paddling in the shallow-end. Now with Jesus they must dive in the deep-end and they do so with great success.

It’s the same with us. There is a call within a call. There is the call which brings us into the fold of the Church. This might be through conversion as with quite a few here or, as with the majority, through coming to a personal decision to stay in the Church in which we were raised. That’s the first call. But then there is the second call, the call within the call, and that is to follow Jesus in a deeper more radical way. It is to take up with him completely and to dedicate one’s entire life to following him wholeheartedly.

It means spending a lot of time with him in prayer each day, it means studying the scriptures, it means going the extra mile, it means loving till it hurts, it means avoiding all forms of evil, and it means helping to carry his cross. Most of all it means dying and rising with him. This is moving up to the big class. This is achieving one’s full stature as a Christian. This is the challenge that lies before each one of us. This is letting Jesus look us full in the eye, like he did to Simon Peter, and saying from now on you will be called ‘rock’.

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