Baptism of the Lord - 2014

Introduction: 

Because of a devastating childhood illness at nineteen months, Helen Keller (1880-1968) was left both blind and deaf. Her life was rightly written up as a "miracle story" and became a play called "The Miracle Worker" (1957) with Anne Bancroft starring in the Broadway production (1959). But the "miracle" Helen Keller experienced was not any return of hearing or vision. The "miracle" she received was the miracle of her committed, loving family, and of her relentlessly optimistic and patient teacher Anne Sullivan.  

When Helen was seven years old, trapped in a world where she could only communicate through a few hand signals with the family cook, her parents arranged for a twenty-year old, visually impaired teacher to come and work with their daughter. Using American Sign Language, Anne Sullivan spent months "spelling" words into Helen's hands. Everything Helen touched, everything she ate, every person she encountered, was "spelled out" into her hand. 

At first Helen Keller didn't get it. These random motions being pressed into her palm did not connect with experiences she felt. But Sullivan refused to give up. She kept spelling words. She kept giving "tactile-verbal" references for everything Helen encountered.  

Finally there was a "watershed" moment, which was indeed water-powered. Helen's breakthrough moment was as she was having water pumped over her hands and Anne Sullivan kept spelling the word for "water" over and over into her palm. Suddenly Helen "got it." Suddenly she realized those gestures meant something real and tangible. They were naming what she was experiencing.  

The world of communication, reading, literature, human interaction were all made possible to one person through the gift of another person. The "miracle" Helen's teacher Anne Sullivan worked was the miracle of patience. She simply kept on and kept at it, showing Helen there were "words" for "things," and there was true meaning behind all Helen's experiences. 

Wash Off the Stuff of the Day: 

One of the most successful and personable people on television is Oprah Winfrey. Movies, book clubs, she does it all. Huge business operations. While all the other talk shows on television are tearing people apart and putting all their illnesses out for public humiliation, Oprah is helping put people and families back together again. . . In a Newsweek magazine interview the interviewer asked her, "How do you separate yourself from work?" Answer, "I take a hot bath. . . My bath is my sanctuary. (Listen to this) It's the place where I can wash off all the stuff of the day" ((Jan 8, 2001, p. 45).

Baptism is a huge symbol -- it's the water of creation. . . .we are born anew. . . . life in the Spirit . . . all the "stuff" of the day is washed off. All of that is true. But at its basic level, baptism is the death of the old self. Before anything new can be born, the old has to pass away. (Brett Blair)

The Baptism of the Lord is the great event celebrated by the Eastern churches on 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. It is also an event described by all the four gospels, and it marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. The liturgical season of Christmas comes to a conclusion this Sunday with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. The 13th century king of France, St. Louis IX (1226-70), insisted that the grand celebration of his birthday should be held on the day of his baptism, and not on his birthday proper. His argument was that baptism was the beginning of a life that would continue for eternity in the everlasting glory of heaven.  

John the Baptist had already been baptising people before Jesus began his public ministry. John explained that his baptism was with water whereas Jesus’ baptism would be with water, the Holy Spirit and fire. The difference between the two baptisms was significant. Nevertheless, Jesus chose to be baptised by John in the River Jordan.

Jesus’ baptism was a defining moment in his life. It marked a departure from the years of relative anonymity (the hidden years, as they have sometimes been described) and the beginning of three years of public ministry. His baptism affected him greatly. He was revealed by the Father as being divine as well as human. He was commissioned to do the Father’s will and he was assured that the Father’s favour would be with him throughout his ministry.

During that ministry Jesus preached the Good News of salvation, worked many miracles and, ultimately, died on the cross to save us and all people from the consequences of sin. His ministry was effectively living the baptised life in union with God.

The sacrament of baptism is meant to be a defining moment in the lives of Christians. At baptism we are cleansed from sin through sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection. We are chosen by God to be agents and instruments of the Good News.

Thus baptism marks the abandonment of sin and the acceptance of God’s grace, which is given to us through Jesus Christ. We become brothers and sisters in Christ and our membership of the Church is initiated. Thereafter, our lives can never be the same again. There is a radical difference in our dignity and identity, provided that we assimilate the meaning of baptism in our lives.

The basic task for every Christian, then, is to live the baptised life. This means that we need to recognise that we have been chosen by God to share in Jesus’ life and ministry. It involves welcoming the presence of the Holy Spirit into our lives who, working through the Church, influences our decisions. Living the baptised life requires us to imitate the teaching of Christ and his Church. We reject sin and we teach others by our inspired words and good example. Only then can God say to each one of us: ‘You are my son/daughter; my beloved; my favour rests on you’ (see Luke 3:22). Therefore, baptism offers us a new identity in Christ.

Unfortunately, however, the effects of baptism are often more symbolic than real. There are only minor changes in our lives and we continue to sin. We do not permit the grace of baptism to affect our attitudes and behaviour and there is little or no evidence of genuine conversion. If we are honest, we may admit that we might as well have never been baptised because baptism makes no difference to our lives.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord challenges us to reflect on our baptism and its significance in our lives. At a time when many people have abandoned God it is imperative that Christians are committed to living the baptised life. Unless we are faithful to our baptismal promises by rejecting evil and being obedient to Christ, we cannot claim to be authentic disciples and we cannot be genuine witnesses to the Good News.  

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Michel de Verteuil: General Comments

The Baptism of the Lord is told in all four gospels with each one giving its own slant. We must be faithful to the text before us – St Luke’s version. The story can be read from different perspectives; in our meditation we are free to choose the one which corresponds best to our experience.

• It is first of all an extraordinary religious experience. St Luke’s is the only version which says that Jesus “was at prayer”. Luke does not emphasize the actual baptism at all, but presents it as the prelude to the main event – the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven.

We should enter fully into the images:

- “Heaven opened” indicates that all dualism is broken down – between God and humanity, between humanity and nature.

- “The Holy Spirit descended in bodily shape, like a dove” – the experience of the Holy Spirit is vivid but very gentle.

- “A voice came from heaven” should be interpreted in the same spirit as the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is so vivid and so gentle that it could only have come from heaven.
The voice makes three statements, each with its own importance:
- “You are my son” – in the Bible, divine sonship is attributed to kings, usually on the occasion of their enthronement; royal power is conferred on Jesus.
- “The beloved” – Jesus is assured that he is loved tenderly, as a bridegroom is loved by his bride.
- “My favour rests on you” says that God’s love remains permanently with him – it is not something temporary. We are reminded of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “As the Father has loved me so I have loved you, remain in my love” (John 5:9).

• Verses 21 and 22 make no reference to the historical context, but the inclusion of verses 15 and 16 in the liturgical reading reminds us that Jesus’ baptism took place when John the Baptist’s ministry was about to come to an end. The baptism was therefore Jesus’ call to public ministry. This fits the biblical pattern by which a call to do God’s work is always preceded by a deep experience of God, e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Gideon in the Old Testament, Mary and Zechariah in the New. 

Experience bears out that this pattern of a deep personal experience leading to a new commitment occurs in the lives of many people. It happened to saints such as Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila and Margaret Mary, and to many other great men and women. We can identify a similar pattern in our own lives too.

• Even though, as noted above, St Luke downplays Jesus’ baptism, we are free to focus on it. St Luke notes that Jesus came forward “when all the people had been baptised,” inviting us to see him as entering into solidarity with those who had come to John for baptism.

• In St Luke’s version, Jesus’ baptism was a personal experience. It happened when he was “at prayer” and “the voice which came from heaven” was addressed to him – “You are…”. This interpretation is not insisted on, however, so we have the latitude to interpret the story as a proclamation to the bystanders. It then becomes the story of when we perceive the spark of divinity in someone we previously looked down on.

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Thomas O’Loughlin: Homily notes 

1. Between today and the end of next November, except for some special days around Easter, we will be reading pas­sages from St Luke’s gospel each Sunday at the Eucharist. This year is known in the order of our readings as ‘the year of Luke’.

2. We can divide his gospel into three parts: the first deals with the events before and around the birth of Jesus (and we have just read this portion over Christmas; the third part deals with the last week of Jesus’s life in Jerusalem, his passion, death, and resurrection (and we will read this at Easter); and in between we have all the preaching and miracles of Jesus during his public ministry which St Luke sets out as taking place as Jesus moves along the road from Nazareth to Jerusalem.

3. This central part of the gospel- the teaching and preaching with recollections of healings and meals – all belong to what we traditionally call the public ministry of Jesus, his adult life, his activity among the people of Israel. It is this central part of the gospel that provides the passages for the ordinary Sundays during the coming year. This central part opens with the great scene of the baptism in the Jordan we have just read when Jesus takes over from John the Baptist. The work of the time of preparation is over; the time of the work of the Christ has begun.

4. Luke places this wondrous scene – the two great prophets meeting, and then the Father’s voice being heard and the Spirit appearing in the form of a dove – at the beginning of the public ministry to show us that this is the mysterious in­auguration of the new age of the Christ. He also does it so that when we hear what follows – Jesus doing this or that, saying this or that, meeting this person and then that person – we will keep in mind the full identity of the One we call ‘Lord’.

5. Luke presents us with a highly visual mysterious scene – pic­ture it in your minds – of Jesus and John in the river, crowds of followers around and then from above the heavenly voice and the dove: this is the true identity of Jesus. Jesus is a human being like us, the final prophet, the uniquely beloved Son of God, the one empowered by the Spirit, the revelation of the Father, Emmanuel – God with us, the glory of God made manifest to us.

6. We have to keep this wondrous image of Jesus in the Jordan, the revelation of his true identity, in our minds as we move onwards in our recollection of his words and deeds in the weeks and months ahead.

7. There are now between 345 and 351 shopping days before next Christmas.

Prayer reflection

“In discovering the Father, Jesus has found an ‘other’ (‘I and the Father are one’);
in the Spirit he has discovered his non-duality with Yahweh.”
Abhishiktanda (Dom Henri Le Saulx)
Lord, we thank you for deep prayer experiences when we are truly one with Jesus.
They always come to us as your free gift, unexpectedly,
after a long time of struggle when we felt we were drowning,
abandoned by all, including you.
After we have been baptised in these waters of loneliness, suddenly
- heaven opens and we feel at one with the universe,
the sun, the moon and the stars all seem close;
- your Holy Spirit descends on us, his powerful but gentle presence so vivid
that it is almost in a bodily shape like a dove;
- we hear a voice resonating so deeply within us we know it must come from heaven,
- telling us that we are not aliens in the world but princes and princesses,
members of your royal family,
- that we are beloved,
- and we must never allow ourselves to feel abandoned
since your favour rests forever on us.
Thank you, Lord.

Lord, remind us that we do not dare enter your presence
except we are in communion with the rest of humanity,
and especially with the humblest of our brothers and sisters,
- those written off as sinners by our Church community;
- the victims of racism, sexism, elitism and religious persecution;
- abandoned by their families because they are HIV positive;
- those who are mentally or physically handicapped.
It is only when, like Jesus, we have had our own baptism of solidarity with them
that we can enter confidently into prayer,
- look for the heavens to be opened,
- – your Holy Spirit to descend on us in bodily shape like a dove,
- your voice to assure us that we are your Sons and Daughters, your beloved,
and that your favour rests on us.

“The more a Christian community is rooted in the experience of God,
the more credibly it will be able to proclaim to others the fulfilment
of God’s Kingdom in Jesus Christ.”
Ecclesia in Asia
Lord, before we embark on a new direction in our lives
- the religious life, or marriage,
- a political involvement,
- going to a foreign country to improve ourselves,
- giving up a secure job so that we can serve the poor,
teach us to first humble ourselves before you, as Jesus did.
Only after we have been baptised will the heavens be opened,
the Spirit descend on us in bodily shape, like a dove,
and your voice will proclaim that we are your Beloved
and your favour rests on us. Then, like Jesus,
we will be ready to commit ourselves to the new venture you have called us to.

Lord, forgive us that as a Church we tend to come to others
with feelings of superiority.
Help us rather to see your son Jesus in whatever culture,
Ethnic group, race or social class you invite us to enter.
The world may describe them as backward, primitive, third world,
unemployable or lazy;
we pray that we will stand before them with respect
until we see the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descending on them,
gently like a dove, and hear your voice proclaiming mightily
that these are your Sons and Daughters, your Beloved,
and that your favour rests on them.

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HOMILIES: 

1.     Fr. John Speekman 

Atheists and believers are not always dissimilar, especially the non-practising ones. Atheists claim life is ultimately without meaning but most live as though it were not so. They are like the believers who claim faith in an afterlife but live as though their true home was here, on planet earth.

It’s difficult to fully live what we believe and few people actually do so. The great saints are exceptions, as are the great sinners. Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul II, Mary MacKillop are at one end of the spectrum while Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot are at the other.

Between these two extremes we find – ourselves - drifting on the fringes of the huge whirlpool of life, slowly rotating in the little eddies of our private lives, at a more or less safe distance from that violent centre which so preoccupies the true believer as well as the true atheist. Too many of us have somehow convinced ourselves that coasting along is really how it’s meant to be. We conveniently forget, though we deny that we do so, that we, too, will one day be claimed and drawn into the vortex of that great mystery at the heart of things. But that’s only one day and, in the meantime, we have such a lot of living to do.

At heart, the true problem of our religious lives is not faith as much as faithfulness to faith, or to put it in the words of today’s Opening Prayer faithfulness to our Baptism. Let me pursue this thought.

Baptism is many things but in the first place it is a rebirth. We have actually been born again. We have been regenerated. We are new, really and truly, new, and therefore we are different.

The philosophers speak of the foundation of our being as our ontological being. Ontologically we are men or women, ontologically we are human. No scalpel, however sharp, can change a man into a woman or a human into an animal. Our ontological foundation is inviolable – unreachable - except to the Sacraments.

We who have been baptised have been born again into a new life, the divine life of God, in Christ. This life was lost through Original Sin and with it the possibility of friendship with God. Baptism does not restore us, like a house is restored with a coat of paint, but we are made altogether new – ontologically. Now the very Spirit of God lives within us, in the core of our being; now we are ontologically sons and daughters of God and, therefore, members of his people on earth; now we are pointed towards, orientated to, destined for heaven.
The Opening Prayer puts it all in neat summary and adds a further thought: Keep us, your children born of water and the Spirit, faithful to our calling.

Baptism is also a calling. We have been born again into a new life which we, in our turn, are called to live. It is not a no-strings-attached gift from God but calls us to a whole new way of life.

The call is not an invitation; it is a command. The call to Baptism is an invitation; the call to live the Baptism we have received is a command, and unfortunately therein lies the crisis of the times we live in.

It is my firm belief that we do not, generally speaking, live our Baptism because we do not understand what it is we have received and what it has caused us to become.


The remedy for this sad state of affairs is, of course, clearer catechesis from the pulpit and a courageous repetition of the teaching even when some cry ‘Enough!’.

On the other hand, there is the matter of your, yes your, personal responsibility. I was speaking to someone, a Catholic in good standing, who expressed some surprise on learning that the Church does, in fact, still teach that to miss Sunday Mass without adequate reason is a mortal sin. He rightly criticised the priests for not telling him this was still the case, when others were saying it had all changed. He said: It would be better to get rid of the teaching than to keep it quiet like this because it confuses people and brings the teaching into disrepute. I agreed.

However, there is the matter of the responsibility of every lay person to educate himself in the faith and to make himself a catechetically mature Christian. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Catechism, are freely available in Catholic bookshops and on the Internet. Everyone should have a copy of the Catechism and everyone who is able should read it. The Internet abounds with good audio talks for those who find reading difficult. CDs and tapes are also freely available.

God has a plan for each one of us. We do well to understand this plan. It is a wonderful plan; a plan for peace. It begins with Baptism and leads, through a life of faithfulness to faith, to an eternal happiness in heaven with God. It is not impossible that your Christian life may touch the jaded heart of an atheist somewhere and lead him to reconsider whether he might not finally subscribe to God's plans for him.

2.     Fr. Charles Irvin 

This past year a great deal of attention was given to the question of same sex marriages, as we all know only too well. More attention will be given to these marriages this coming year as well. The fundamental question deals with the nature of marriage and how we are to understand it. Just what is marriage?

What is evident is the importance of the ceremony itself. The exchange of vows and their recognition by the laws of the state and their recognition by all is of great importance. The ceremony isn’t something that is simply “nice.” It is an event in which the status of the two individuals is changed. There is a legal and a civic change in who the individuals are both in law and how they are to be treated by the members of our society. 

Likewise his past year a great deal of attention was given to question of immigration. More attention will be given to the problem this year as well. The fundamental question deals with the nature of immigration and how we are to understand it and the legal rights it confers. What is evident is the importance of the ceremony itself. The swearing of allegiance to the United States and its laws is of great importance. The swearing-in ceremony isn’t something that is simply “nice,” it is an event in which the status of immigrants is changed. There is a legal and a civic change in who the individual immigrants are both in law and how they are to be treated.

There are other significant ceremonies that have real and yet unseen consequences. Take for instance the swearing in of the President of the United States, or the oaths of office that are ceremoniously taken by judges, governors, mayors, and other civic officials such as officers in our military branches of service. 

The question put to us today here at Mass is the meaning of baptism. Is it simply a “nice” ceremony? What is the deeper significance contained within the Sacrament of Baptism? 

Take water, for instance. Why is water the key element of baptism? We could spend the rest of the day considering the importance of water as presented in the bible, the Genesis waters of chaos over which God’s Spirit “brooded”  to bring order out of chaos. Then there is the Flood and Noah’s Ark, the waters of the Red Sea that liberated the ancient Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt, the waters of the Jordan through which the Jews entered the Promised Land, the water that flowed from the pierced side of Christ as He died on the Cross, and other instances of the importance of water. We cannot fail to note, too, that for the first nine months of our existence we lived in the waters of our mothers’ wombs. We were birthed in water. 

What is of particular importance is the role of God’s Holy Spirit that was highlighted in today’s gospel account of John the Baptist’s immersion of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River. St. Matthew reports: “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.

And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

 Once again, as at the beginning of creation and throughout the history of our salvation, as reported in the bible, the Spirit of God is at work. That is the key to our understanding of what is happening when we are baptized. God is at work in His New Creation. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are reborn in the waters of the baptismal font, the womb of Holy Mother Church. Who we are is radically changed. We are changed in our very being; we are newly created in God’s love by the power of God’s Holy Spirit in the recreating waters of Baptism. 

Allow me to point out that immediately after the waters of baptism have been poured out over the person baptized, or after the persons rises from being immersed in a baptismal pool, the bishop, priest, or deacon declares: God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life. Then in silence the celebrant anoints the individual with Sacred Chrism, the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit. The word “chrism” is taken from the word “Christ,” which means “The Anointed One,” the one anointed by the Holy Spirit of God, chosen and elected, sent by God to bring His presence into our world.

 I have presented all of these thoughts to you because you are not “nobodies.” Baptism makes you a son of God or a daughter of God. The world around you might regard you as insignificant, a mere “nobody,” but you are really special, really important, and of great significance in the eyes of God. Many of us from time to time may think we don’t amount to very much and that we are unimportant. But the truth of who you really are is found in the words of your Father in heaven. “This is my beloved son.” “This is my beloved daughter.” In baptism you became one of God’s sons or daughters in whom He is well pleased, chosen by your Father in heaven. And not only that, but like the disciples at Pentecost, you are sent, something that is confirmed when you received the Sacrament of Confirmation and were anointed by the Holy Spirit of God.

One again we need to realize that we don’t come to church simply to get something. We receive the Sacraments and we come to Mass to receive in order to be sent, sent into our world not to judge and condemn it but in the power of the Holy Spirit to redeem it. Our new pope, Pope Francis, stresses that repeatedly. His words are not addressed only to bishops, priests, and deacons but also to all who have been baptized into Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer who makes Himself present in our world through you and me.

 One last thought: How are we who have been baptized into Christ making Him present in our world? Baptism ought to make a difference; if it doesn’t then it may as well be simply a pretty ceremony, something that doesn’t change a thing in how we act and in how we treat others. Allow me to suggest that you might give it some thought. In our own uniqueness we each can have our own way in bringing Christ to the world around us. Just how are we doing that? How will you do that?  

3.     Connections: 

THE WORD:

Today’s Gospel is the final event of the Epiphany event: Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River by John.

The Baptizer’s refusal at first to baptize Jesus and Jesus’ response to his refusal (a dialogue that appears only in Matthew’s Gospel) speaks to Matthew’s continuing theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of the First Testament prophecies.  Jesus clearly did not need to be baptized.  But his baptism by John is an affirmation that God was with this man Jesus in a very special way – at the Jordan River, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled: “my favor rests on him.”  Jesus has come to identify with sinners, to bring them forgiveness; hence the propriety of Jesus' acceptance of John’s baptism.

Baptism was a ritual performed by the Jews, usually for those who entered Judaism from another religion.  It was natural that the sin-stained, polluted pagan should be “washed” in baptism, but no Jew could conceive of needing baptism, being born a son of Abraham, one of God’s chosen people and therefore assured of God’s salvation.  But John’s baptism -- a baptism affirmed by Jesus -- was not one of initiation, but one of reformation, a rejection of sin in one’s own life and acknowledgment of one’s own need for conversion.  In Christ, baptism becomes a sacrament of rebirth, a reception of new life.

In all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism, all four evangelists use a similar description of the scene at the Jordan when Jesus is baptized by John:  The Spirit of God descended and rested upon him, “hovering” over him like a dove -- as the Gospel story unfolds, the Spirit of God’s peace, compassion and love, will be the constant presence dwelling within and flowing forth from the Carpenter from Nazareth.

HOMILY POINTS:

In baptism, we claim the name of Christian and embrace all that that holy name means: to live for others rather than for ourselves, in imitation of Christ.

Our baptism made each one of us the “servant” of today’s readings: to bring forth in our world the justice, reconciliation and enlightenment of Christ, the “beloved Son” and “favor” of God.

In baptism, we embrace that same Spirit that “hovers” over us, guiding us in our journey to God.

Liturgically, the Christmas season officially comes to an end with today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  Now the same Spirit that “anoints” the Messiah for his mission calls us to be about the work of Christmas in this new year: to seek out and find the lost, to heal the hurting, to feed the hungry, to free the imprisoned, to rebuild families and nations, to bring the peace of God to all peoples everywhere.

4.     Andrew Greeley 

Background:
The baptism of Jesus was a problem for his followers, as we have said before. John's disciples could always lord it over the disciples of Jesus: "Our master baptized your master, nah, nah, nah!" It also creates a problem for those hyper-orthodox Catholics today who so emphasize the divinity in Jesus that there is little room for his humanity. They are also boxed in by the phrase that Jesus grew in wisdom, age, and grace. Any suggestion that God might grow scares them. 
 
 An authentic Christology, however, which sees Jesus like the rest of us in all things save sin, sees no problem in his listening to the Baptist and going through a ceremony of renewal and rededication before he began his public life. Did Jesus learn anything from the Baptist? If, like all humans, he grew in understanding and maturity, the only appropriate answer is that of course he did.
 
Story:  (a story for those who object to the humanity of Jesus)
 
Once upon a time a family moved into a new house. It was a very nice house with a lot more room than in their old house. However, it was also strange and when it came time to go to bed, the three children were very sleepy. They didn’t like their rooms because they were unfamiliar and they didn’t like the house because it was not their old house and they didn’t like anything because they were so tired. Well, finally they fell asleep and had terrible nightmares. Then they woke up and were frightened and angry.
 
 Their parents didn’t come to the room to tuck them in again. This made them more frightened and angry. So they stormed down stairs and discovered that both their parents had fallen asleep in the front room, their mother on the couch and their father on an easy chair. The kids were shocked and dismayed. What good were parents who grew so tired when they moved to a new house that they forgot their kids and just fell asleep.
 
 Their parents were not perfect. So they woke their mommy up and shouted at her. Why did you go to sleep on us mommy? Because I’m human she said and I get tired. Even Jesus got tired. Yeah said the kids but he wasn’t our mommy!
 

ILLUSTRATIONS: 

Over the centuries Christians have debated what baptism accomplishes, to whom it should be administered, and how much water should be used. 

Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 158.

The story is told about the baptism of King Aengus by St. Patrick in the middle of the fifth century. Sometime during the rite, St. Patrick leaned on his sharp-pointed staff and inadvertently stabbed the king's foot. After the baptism was over, St. Patrick looked down at all the blood, realized what he had done, and begged the king's forgiveness. Why did you suffer this pain in silence, the Saint wanted to know. The king replied, "I thought it was part of the ritual."

Source Unknown.

 BAPTISM, IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

As I shut the door of the office after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It seemed to me that I saw Him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at His feet. I fell down at His feet, wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed His feet in tears. I must have continued in this state for a good while. I returned to the front office, but as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any recollection that I had ever heard the subject mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to come in waves of liquid love; it seemed like the very breath of God. I wept aloud with joy and love. 

Charles Finney.

 1. A tiger cub discovers its identity:

There is an old Hindu parable about a tiger cub raised by goats. The cub learned to bleat and nibble grass and behave like a goat. One night a tiger attacked the goats, which scattered for safety. But the tiger cub kept grazing and crying like a goat without getting frightened. The old tiger roared, "What are you doing here, living with these cowardly goats?" He grabbed the cub by the scruff, dragged him to a pond and said: "Look how our faces reflected in water? Now you know who you are and whose you are." The tiger took the cub home, taught him how to catch animals, eat their meat, roar and act like a tiger. The tiger cub thus discovered his true self. Today’s gospel seems to suggest that Jesus received from heaven a fresh flash of realization of who, and Whose, he really was (his identity) and what he was supposed to do (his mission), on the day of his baptism in the river Jordan.  

2: Identity of the peanut scientist:  

Fr. Bill Bausch describes in one of his books George Washington Carver, the great black scientist who did a lot with the lowly peanut, both medically and commercially. He built a great industry through his scientific endeavors. In January 1921 he was brought to Washington, D.C., to the Ways and Means Committee to explain his work on the peanut. He expected such a high-level committee to handle the business at hand with him and those who had come with him with dignity and proper decorum. As a black man, he was last on the list and so, after three days, he finally walked up the aisle to speak. And on the way up he heard one of the committee members say – and quite loudly for all to hear – "I suppose you have plenty of peanuts and watermelon to keep you happy!" He ignored the remark as an ignorant jibe, although it stung him. He was further hurt on seeing another committee member sitting there with his hat on and his feet on the table remarking: "I don’t see what this fellow can say that has any bearing on this committee."

At this point George Washington Carver was ready to turn around and go back home, but he said, as he wrote in his autobiography, "Whatever they said of me, I knew that I was a child of God, and so I said to myself inwardly, ‘Almighty God, let me carry out your will.’" He got to the podium and was told that he had twenty minutes to speak. Carver opened up his display case and began to explain his project. Well, so engaging was his discussion that those twenty minutes went all too quickly and the chairman rose and asked for an extension so he could continue his presentation, which he did for an hour and three-quarters. They voted him four more extensions so he spoke for several hours. At the end of his talk they all stood up and gave him a long round of applause. And all that happened because he knew who, and Whose, he was and because he refused to be defined by the labels of his culture. "Whatever they said of me, I knew I was a child of God." So one function of this, our feast – this Baptism of the Lord – is to remind us of who, and Whose, we are. 

3: The weather is always a good source for small talk.

In these dark and dreary days of January, that "small talk" is probably even smaller - meaner and more morose. Whether it's chatting at the check-out stand with a cashier, or making conversation in the cramped quarters of a slow moving elevator, this time of year "weather talk" isn't likely to be upbeat.  

"I hate the snow!"
"Don't' you just love what the salt does to your shoes, your car, your clothes?"
"Tornado warnings in January? Really!!"
"It's dark when I go out in the morning and dark when I get home after work. I haven't seen daylight in weeks!"
"Why does every parking spot come equipped with its own giant puddle?"

Everyday grouses of everyday glitches. But they give our casual conversations and interactions a kind of "survivor" camaraderie. Verbalizing all our gripes might bind us together. But it doesn't lift us up. We're still all stuck in the same dreary day.

I'm going to guess that every one of you here this morning has a pet peeve. [You might want to make this an interactive moment, revealing one of your pet peeves and then asking for theirs. For example, one of my pet peeves is rudeness. Why are People So Rude? Why can't people be gracious and kind to one another? Here are some of my pet peeves of rudeness . . . In a store, the checkout people don't talk to you because they're talking to one another. When you hold the door open for someone, and they blast by you, and don't even look at you, forget about saying "thank you." The use of offensive, crude language in public does to me what a red rag does to a bull. Rude cell phone usage . . . Why can't people "Set Your Phasers on Stun!" . . . Sometimes I want to go up to people who are nice to each other and congratulate them for NOT being rude. . . .. See how easy it is to go on and on with "pet peeves?"] 

Why is it so easy to talk, tweet, or text all of our favorite "pet peeves" of the day, and not so easy to pay attention to and pass on those things that bring the gift of joy to a mundane moment in each day?... 
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 4: Meaning of Baptism

 Those who are baptized in Jesus do not need to strive after a new life. They have already attained new life through dying with Christ. But they do need to nurture that new life so it can grow and mature. That's what church is for. That's what Bible study is for. That's what prayer is for. It is like the Parable of the Sower. Many of those seeds sprouted up, but only a few grew into maturity. The rest withered and died.

A wealthy businessman was horrified to see a fisherman sitting beside his boat, playing with a small child. 

"Why aren't you out fishing?" asked the businessman.
"Because I caught enough fish for one day, "replied the fisherman.
"Why don't you catch some more?"
"What would I do with them?"
"You could earn more money," said the businessman. "Then with the extra money, you could buy a bigger boat, go into deeper waters, and catch more fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets. With the nets, you could catch even more fish and make more money. With that money you could own two boats, maybe three boats. Eventually you could have a whole fleet of boats and be rich like me."

"Then what would I do?" asked the fisherman.
"Then," said the businessman, "you could really enjoy life."
The fisherman looked at the businessman quizzically and asked, "What do you think I am doing now?"

 The baptism of Jesus is dying to our self-centered endeavors and being resurrected into a life marked by grace and love. When we live in the baptism of Jesus, we touch the hearts of others and help open them to the Holy Spirit and new life in Christ. Are you living and growing in the new life you have been given? 

Paul Peterson, The Waters of Death.
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 5: Washed Away in a New Beginning 

Some of you may have seen the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. This is a whimsical retelling of Homer's Odyssey set in 1930s Mississippi. Three hapless escaped convicts--Everett, Pete and Delmar--are hiding out in the woods, running from the law. There they encounter a procession of white-robed people going down to the lake to be baptized. As they move toward the water they sing, "Let's go down to the river and pray." As the baptism ceremony begins, Delmar is overwhelmed by the beauty and the mystery of this rite. He runs into the water and is baptized by the minister. As he returns to his companions, he declares that he is now saved and "neither God nor man's got nothing on me now." He explains that the minister has told him that all his sins have been washed away. Even, he says, when he stole the pig for which he'd been convicted. "But you said you were innocent of that," one of his fellow convicts exclaims.

"I lied," he says, "and that's been washed away too!"

Later the three convicts steal a hot pie from a window sill. The one who felt that his sins had been washed away returns and places a dollar bill on the window sill.  

Delmar wasn't made perfect by his baptism any more than any of the rest of us are made perfect by our baptism. But he was conscious that it was time for him to make a new beginning. That is why in understanding baptism we begin with the washing away of our sins.  

King Duncan
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6: Habits 

The American educator, Horace Mann, described the predicament of habits saying: "Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it every day, and at last we cannot break it." Mr. Mann, you are only half right. Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it every day, but it can be broken? There is One who will help you break it, if you desire it. Habits are often practiced without guilt, justified through cleverly devised mental schemes. We have to be continuously converted all the days of our lives, continually to turn to God as children. Life is a continuous conversion. In every setting in which we are put we have to "put on the new person." There are whole areas of our lives which have not yet been brought into subjection, and it can only be done by this continuous conversion. 

James T. Garrett
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7: Baptism: Take My Good Name 

French writer Henri Barbusse (1874-1935) tells of a conversation overheard in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. One of the men, who knew he only had minutes to live says to one of the other man, "Listen, Dominic, you've led a very bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so, here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my life and quickly, hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death."  

The Good News is that through Jesus, God makes a similar offer. Something wonderful happens to us when we are baptized. When we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Jesus. We publicly declare our intention to strive to be like Jesus and follow God's will for our lives. When we are baptized, our lives are changed. We see things differently than before. We see other people differently than before. Baptism enables and empowers us to do the things that Jesus wants us to do here and now. We are able to identify with Jesus because He was baptized. And we are able to love as he loved. Such identification is life changing. That kind of identification shapes what we believe and claims us.

Billy D. Strayhorn
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8: What's The Holy Spirit? 

A minister named Al was pursuing a doctoral degree in theology. He worked long hours on his dissertation, so many hours, in fact, that his children often entered the study to interrupt. "Daddy, can you come out and play?"
"Sorry, kids," he replied, "I have too much work to do."

"What are you working on, Daddy?"
Well, he couldn't really give the title of his dissertation, which was something like "the experiential dimension of the divine pneumatological reality." So he said, "I'm writing about experiences of the Holy Spirit."

They looked at him with blank faces and said, "What's that?" 

One day Al and his family were sitting in church. They had not expected much that morning, he says. The pastor was soft-spoken and meek. He never said anything very clearly, but everybody liked him. This particular Sunday was different. The pastor stood up and preached a powerful sermon on racial equality. This was during the sixties, in the South, in a white, middle and upper class congregation. People sat transfixed as the preacher laid his career on the line, perhaps even laid his life on the line.  

"The day is coming," he said, "when all God's children, white and black, will join hands in worship and service. And that day is upon us." 

The congregation left in shock. People couldn't understand how their mild, housebroken preacher could suddenly have been filled with such fire. On the way home, it occurred to Al what had happened. "Kids," he said, "remember how sometimes I go up to my study to write about the Holy Spirit?"
One of the children said, "Yeah, but Daddy, what's the Holy Spirit all about?"
Al said, "We got a good picture today, in church." 

They saw the power of God, pushing us to a day when every hand shall join in mission, when every voice shall join in praising the Lord. It is no empty promise.

Why, that power was given to us right over there ... at the baptismal font.

William G. Carter
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 9: God's Getting Better at It 

Since the beginning God has attempted to get people's attention and to call them into a commitment to live with principles, values, and sense of sacredness that God wants from all humanity. Sometimes the people heard and responded to God, and sometimes they ignored God.

God kept trying. God kept working at getting their attention. I heard about a little girl who sort of understands that about God. She was sitting on her grandfather's lap as he read her a bedtime story. From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek. She was alternately stroking her own cheek, then his again. Finally she spoke up, "Grandpa, did God make you?" 

"Yes, Sweetheart," he answered, "God made me a long time ago."
"Oh," she paused, "Grandpa, did God make me too?"
"Yes, indeed, honey," he said, "God made you just a little while ago."

Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, "God's getting better at it, isn't he?" 

God got better at it. After untold efforts to win our allegiance and our hearts, God took on human form, walking among us and living with us so that we would understand. It is in the living, breathing person of Jesus that we really see all things we call holy, such as forgiveness, sharing, joy, vision, courage, perseverance, and especially love. We might think we understand love, for example, but when we receive totally unconditional love from another person, love takes on a completely new meaning for us. Jesus shows us the ultimate example of love, namely, God's love. Seeing this example in the flesh makes all the difference in the world for us.

Lane Boyd, What's So Important about Jesus?
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10: Three times:  

Too many people come to Church three times primarily. They're Baptized, they get married, and they have their funeral service at the Church. The first time they throw water on you, the second time rice, the third time dirt! 

11: "Have you found Jesus?"

A drunk stumbles across a baptismal service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk down into the water and stand next to the Preacher. The minister turns and notices the old drunk and says, "Mister, Are you ready to find Jesus?" The drunk looks back and says, "Yes, Preacher. I sure am." The minister then dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. "Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asked. "No, I didn't!" said the drunk. The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” “No, I did not, Reverend." The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds t his time brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, "My God, have you found Jesus yet?” The old drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher... "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"
 

MORE ILLUSTRATIONS:

Water has been in the news a lot recently, at least in the forms of snow and ice. Winter storms and snow literally stopped traffic in many parts of the country. And as much as we try to forge through to get to work or school, sometimes we have to stop and respect what the water around us is doing. Water is part of the drama of our life. It brings life, but not enough or too much can bring destruction. Let us focus on the life giving power of clean, fresh water.

There are two very different ways to think about baptism. The first approach recognizes the time of baptism as a saving moment in which the person being baptized accepts the love and forgiveness of God. The person then considers herself "saved." She may grow in the faith through the years, but nothing which she will experience after her baptism will be as important as her baptism. She always will be able to recall her baptism as the time when her life changed.

The second approach wouldn't disagree with any of that, but would add to it significantly. This idea affirms baptism as the time when God's love and forgiveness are experienced. It also recognizes baptism as a time of change. However, where the first approach isolates the act of baptism as the most important moment, the second approach understands baptism more as a beginning. While it is true that in the waters of baptism God laid claim on our lives, it is also true that we spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what that means. The first understanding often overlooks the journey which follows baptism.
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Patience is not a very well-regarded virtue these days...
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Reasons for Jesus submitting to Baptism

1.     To fulfill all Righteousness: To be consecrated to God and approved by God.
2. The public announcement of the arrival of the Messiah and the inception of His ministry.
3. Identification with human sin and identification of himself with the people's movement toward God.
4. To be an example to his followers.

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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12. Welcome To a Journey 

The story is told of a pastor's words to a baby shortly after he had baptized her. No doubt, the minister was speaking as much to the congregation as to the infant. "Little sister, by this act of baptism, we welcome you to a journey that will take your whole life. This isn't the end. It's the beginning of God's experiment with your life. What God will make of you, we know not. Where God will take you, surprise you, we cannot say. This we do know and this we say -- God is with you."

And God will be with us as we live out our baptism.

William B. Kincaid, III, And then Came the Angel, CSS Publishing Company
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13. Unconditional Love 

I don't remember the first time I walked, but I imagine it went something like this: I stood at one end of the room with my mother and my father was a full three steps away. Before that day I could probably do the kind of creative dangling that almost looks like walking, when somebody held me by the hands and shifted me from side to side as my feet barely touched the floor. But this is the day when I will try a real honest walk on my own - all holds barred - with just two eager parents, miles apart, there to cheer me on. So I set out, wobbling at first, stumbling at second, but unmistakably making it on my own from one set of arms to the other. And then I imagine that my father lifted me high in the air with an exultant shout as if no one in human history had ever walked before. Then, after numerous kisses and exclamations, I probably felt like the most loved, most marvelous boy in all the world.

After a time I could walk with more assurance but, for some reason, I didn't receive so much praise. In fact, I can't remember the last time that anyone praised me for walking across a room. So I had to do other things. Simply walking just wasn't good enough anymore. I had to strive to make a splash in other ways, just to get back to that feeling, that feeling of being noticed, of being picked up with a shout of delight, of being valued.

For the most part, we don't have much experience with unconditional love, so we try to create conditions in which we will feel worthy of love. We do not entirely trust love without reasons, so we strive to create reasons for the love received.

And in all that striving, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that my parents did not praise me because of my accomplishments. Rather, they praised my accomplishments because they loved me, and would have loved me if there were no accomplishments to praise.

If parents sometimes have something like unconditional love, a love without reasons, for their children, how much more so does God love God's children? All of our striving to try to win something that is ours already. God values you, not because you have distinguished yourself in some way, but because you are God's beloved.

Martin Copenhaver, Whispered in Your Ear
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14. Jesus' Consecration 

Some years ago, a Scottish minister told his congregation about dreaming he had died. When he came to the pearly gates, to his dismay, he would be denied entrance until he presented his credentials. Proudly the Pastor articulated the number of sermons preached and the prominent pulpits occupied. But Saint Peter said no one had heard them in heaven. The discouraged servant enumerated his community involvement. He was told they were not recorded. Sorrowfully, the pastor turned to leave, when Peter said, "Stay a moment, and tell me, are you the man who fed the sparrows?"

"Yes," the Scotsman replied, "but what does that have to do with it?"

"Come in," said Saint Peter, "the Master of the sparrows wants to thank you."

Here is the pertinent, though often overlooked, point: great and prominent positions indicate skill and capacity, but small services suggest the depth of one's consecration.

And so it is with Jesus' Baptism. He submits to John's baptism of repentance even though he himself was perfect and had no need to repent. Jesus identified with our sins by being baptized. He joined in the popular movement of his day. It was a grass roots movement started by a desert monk named John the Baptist. John was calling for the repentance of Israel. Jesus chose to be baptized because he wanted to participate with the people in their desires to be close to God.

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com. Adapted from G. Curtis Jones, 1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching, Nashville: Broadman, p. 241.
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16. Life as a Piece of Music 

Think of your life as a piece of music. Life in the microwave world provides you the staccato notes, the quick and sometimes dissonant voice. By itself, it is confusing and lacking in substance or form. It may even seem chaotic and annoying.

A long baptismal obedience in the same direction provides the sustenuto, the sustained voice, the continuo line. It gives body and substance to the piece. By itself, it could become tedious or dull.

But when the sustained voice undergirds and supports the staccato notes -- when life in the microwave world is sustained and supported by God's gift of a long baptismal obedience in the same direction -- then life is a magnificent fugue -- beautiful, rich, multi-textured, varied; surprising yet graceful and grace-filled.

Such a life is beautiful music; played and sung to the glory of the composer God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, into whose eternal name we are baptized!

Mark WM Radecke, God in Flesh Made Manifest, CSS Publishing
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17. We Draw the Circle Too Small 

Roy Lloyd, a Lutheran minister, once interviewed Mother Teresa. He said that one of his questions and one of her answers stands out in his mind as "a bright sun burning in my mind." He asked her, "What's the biggest problem in the world today?" And she answered, without hesitation, "The biggest problem in the world today is that we draw the circle of our family too small. We need to draw it larger every day."

With all that is evil and wrong in this world today it would be easy to answer that question with a hundred different events. That's what makes Mother Teresa's response so jilting. She is saying that the problem is not so much with the world as it is with us. We need to see more people as our neighbor than we are currently doing.

I see Jesus doing this in his baptism. In his baptism he included us in his righteousness. He identified with humanity, with our need to be cleansed, and our need to be made pure. If you have been baptized you have been drawn, by Jesus' baptism, into the circle of God's family.

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com.
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18. What Will You Do with Your Gift? 

There is a folk tale from India that summarizes our thoughts this morning. It seems that there was a good king who ruled wisely and who ruled well. One day the king called his three daughters together and told them he was leaving on a long journey. "I wish to learn about God, so I will need to go away and spend a long time in prayer. In my absence I will leave the three of you in charge. Before I leave I would like to leave each of you with a gift; a gift I pray will help you learn how to wisely use your power to rule." Then he placed in each of their hands a single grain of rice.

The first daughter tied a long golden thread around her grain of rice and placed it in a beautiful crystal box. Every day she looked at it and reminded herself that she was powerful. The second daughter took one look at the common grain of rice, and threw it away, thus squandering her father's mysterious gift. The third daughter just looked at her grain of rice for a long, long time - until she finally understood what to do with it.
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From Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1: Identified with victims:
 
When leprosy broke out among the people of the Hawaiian Islands in the middle of the 19th century, the government authorities responded by establishing a leper colony on the remote island of Molokai. The victims were snatched by force from their families and sent to this island to perish. However, moved by their terrible plight, a young Belgian priest, Damien De Veuster, asked permission from his superiors to minister to them. Straightaway he realized that there was only one effective way to do this, and that was to go and live among them. Having got permission, he went to Molokai. At first, he tried to minister to the lepers while maintaining a certain distance. But he soon realized that he had to live among them in order to gain their trust. As a result he contracted leprosy himself. The reaction of the lepers was immediate and wholehearted. They embraced him and took him to their hearts. He was now one of them. There was no need, no point any more, in keeping his distance. The lepers had someone who could talk with authority about leprosy, about brokenness, about rejection and public shame. Today’s gospel tells us how, by receiving the baptism of repentance, Jesus became identified with the sinners whom he had come to save (Flor McCarthy in Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies).

2: The film Gandhi
 
is a three-hour epic, depicting the life of Mahatma Gandhi in India. In order to lead the oppressed people of India to freedom from British rule, Gandhi adopted non-violent means such as fasting from food, vigils of prayer, peaceful marches, protests and civil disobedience. One of the reasons why Gandhi put on a loincloth and fasted from food, almost to the point of death, was to show solidarity with the Indian people, identifying with them in their physical sufferings. This finally brought independence to India. Jesus’ baptism, as described in today’s Gospel, was his identification with God’s chosen people who became aware of their sinful lives and need of God’s forgiveness. 

(Vima Dasan). 

3: Called to Service:
 
The late Nelson Mandela will go down as one of the greatest leaders of this century. He was instrumental in ending apartheid and bringing about a multiracial society in South Africa. Mandela belonged to the Xhosa people, and grew up in the Transkei. But how did he come to play such a crucial role in the history of his country? In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he tells us that all the currents of his life were taking him away from the Transkei. Yet he had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth. He says: “A steady accumulation of insights helped me to see that my duty was to the people as a whole, not to a particular section of it. The memory of a thousand indignities produced in me anger, rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, ‘Henceforth, I will devote myself to the liberation of my people’; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise” (Flor McCarthy in Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies).

  4: The 13th century king of France,
 
St. Louis IX (1226-70), insisted that the grand celebration of his birthday should be held on the day of his Baptism, and not on his birthday proper.  His argument was that Baptism was the beginning of a life that would continue for eternity in the everlasting glory of Heaven.