SM Icons

Baptism of the Lord

Gospel Text: Matthew 3:13-17 Michel de Verteuil
Textual Comments
The story of Jesus’s baptism is told in all four Gospels – an indication that the early Christians considered it an important event in the life of Jesus.
There are two aspects to the event:

– verses 13 to 15: something happened between Jesus and John the Baptist;
– verses 16 and 17: something happened to Jesus.
• Verses 13 – 15
Baptism of JesusJesus’ baptism by John the Baptist seems to have caused much soul searching among the early Christians – how could the sinless Jesus subject himself to John’s “baptism of repentance”? The soul searching can be inferred from the way the successive gospel accounts tell the story:
– Mark (the earliest) is straightforward: Jesus was baptised by John.
– Matthew ( a little later) agrees with Mark that Jesus was baptised by John, but adds a dialogue showing that both men were aware that there was a problem.
– Luke (still later) refers to the baptism but only as an introduction to the voice from heaven, and in any case makes ne reference to John.
– John (the latest) makes no mention of the baptism.
Parallel texts are not directly a concern in lectio divina, since the method requires that we focus on the text before us – St Matthew’s in this case. However, parallels with other texts can give us an insight into the text, and for this reason we may want to refer to them (although it is never necessary to do so).
In today’s meditation we are free to focus either on Jesus or on John the Baptist. In either case, awareness of the soul-searching behind the text reminds us that from time to time we too have to make choices which can be misunderstood. As happened with Jesus’ baptism, our communities may need time to clarify misunderstandings; we can be confident that once we do “what righteousness demands,” later “evangelists” will explain our actions to those who come after us.
a) Jesus: We can see a progression of thought from Mark to Matthew in explaining how Jesus came to “appear” on the banks of the Jordan. Whereas St Mark says that Jesus came from Galilee “and was baptised”, Matthew says he came from Galilee “to be baptised”. St Matthew stresses therefore that Jesus sought baptism by deliberate choice; he chose to leave his familiar surroundings and join the rest of the population in the national renewal movement.
He explains his position to John by saying, “We should do all that righteousness demands.” This is biblical language which must be interpreted. “Righteousness” means more or less the same as “salvation”, so Jesus is saying in effect, “There is an important work of salvation taking place in our country at this moment, and here and now (“for the time being”) I cannot stand aloof but must be part of it.” He is accepting fully the consequences of the Incarnation, the Word has truly become flesh and he must dwell among his brothers and sisters. He was to continue making this choice right through his life – the model of leaders who lead not “from above” but by “being with.”
b) John the Baptist: John the Baptist becomes aware that he is ministering to someone greater than himself but still goes ahead with his ministry – “he gave in to him.” This is an experience that we have from time to time as parents, teachers, spiritual guides, community leaders. We become aware of our unworthiness and that we are the ones who “need baptism”. The result is that we accept our responsibility but with greater humility – it is only “for the time being.” This was the response required of St Joseph when he was told, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (cf. 4th Sunday of Advent).
Verses 16 – 17 : Jesus’ experience
Jesus’ baptism was a turning point in his life. Up to then he was a carpenter at Nazareth, now he would begin his ministry as an itinerant preacher of the Kingdom. The baptism therefore fits into the biblical pattern by which a call to do God’s work is preceded by a deep religious experience, e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Gideon in the Old Testament, Mary and Zechariah in the New. Many saints of the church had similar experiences before embarking on a new stage in their lives, e.g. St Augustine, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Teresa of Avila and St Margaret Mary.
This shows us that God does not invite people to do his work without first assuring them of his undying love. We can recognise this truth from experience – ours and that of people who have touched our lives. God’s way of acting is a model for all who invite others to work with them – parents, spouses, community leaders.
“My favour rests on you” says that God’s love is permanent. We are reminded of Jesus’s words at the Last Supper: “As the Father has loved me so I have loved you, remain in my love” (John 15:9). St Matthew says that the experience came “after he came up from the water.” It was the fruit of his humility, “he who humbles himself is exalted.”
Jesus’s experience was first in symbols and then in words.
a) Verse 16 – symbols.
holy spirit– “The heavens opened” – this is the “negative” aspect, the barrier between God and humanity is removed, they can now communicate freely. We remember similar experiences of reconciliation with God: we thought that the heavens were closed to us, then “suddenly” (i.e. unexpectedly) they were opened.
– The Spirit of God descends like a dove and comes down on him. This is the positive aspect, an experience of God’s presence, real but gentle, not possessive or dominating.
b) Verse 17 – words (“a voice from heaven”). The words echo two Old Testament texts both in the context of a call to service:
– “This is my son” echoes psalm 2:7, “You are my son, today I have become your father”.
– “The Beloved, my favour rests on him” echoes Isaiah 42:1, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.”
Both are “feeling words” communicating intimacy and permanence.

Scriptural Comments

“I am a shepherd who with his people has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth – our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in the world.” …Archbishop Romero in his acceptance speech when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Louvain
Lord, we pray that your church may always, like Jesus,
choose to go from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John.
“Between the silence of God and the silence of my own soul stands the silence of the souls entrusted to me.”   …Thomas Merton
Lord, in our different vocations, you call us to minister to others
servingas parents, church ministers, friends, spiritual guides,
but every once in a way we find ourselves in the position of John the Baptist with Jesus.
People come to us to be ministered to
when it is we who would need to be ministered to by them:
– one of our children is more courageous than we are;
– holy people confess their sins to us;
– someone we admire greatly comes to us for advice;
– we are asked to pray for someone from a different religion
who is more spiritual than we are.
Our first response is to try and dissuade them,
but then we realise that we must leave it like this for the time being,
since this is what your saving will demands,
and so we give in to them.
Lord, often in life moments of grace come after great trials.
We remember a time when we felt overwhelmed with troubles,
and it was as if we were drowning.
Somehow we survived, and as we came up from the water
the heavens opened and we felt your love descending on us gently like a dove.
We knew that we were your beloved, and that your favour rested on us.
holy spirit“The church herself knows how richly she has profited by the history and developemnt of humanity.” …Vatican II, Document on the Church in the Modern World
Lord, in our time you have given humanity some important new insights
into the evils of racism, of sexism, of individualism.
We sometimes think that as a church we do not need conversion.
Teach us to be humble like Jesus,
to leave our comfortable Galilee and make our way to the Jordan
to be baptised like everybody else by John the Baptist.
God communicates himself to all persons, redeems them and stamps their being with an orientation towards sharing his life.”        Karl Rahner
Lord, the role of the church in society today is to proclaim
that every human being is one for whom the heavens opened
and the Holy Spirit descended.
Lord, we remember with gratitude times when we had a deep experience:
– at the end of a retreat;
– at the Easter vigil liturgy in our parish;
– in the sacrament of reconciliation celebrated after many years.
As we came out, the heavens opened
and we felt your Spirit descending upon us,
and we knew that your favour rested on us.
“Faith like a canoe at evening coming in, like a relative who is tired of America, like a woman coming back to your house.”  Derek Walcott, Caribbean poet
Lord, we thank you for the gift of faith,
the kind we experience quite suddenly coming out of the sea one day
when we know that the heavens have opened,
that your Spirit has come down upon us and your favour rests on us.
“Proud as I was, I dared to seek that which only the humble can find.”          …St Augustine
Lord, we thank you for the times when you gave us the grace
to humble ourselves before you.
As soon as we did this and were coming up from the water,
suddenly the heavens opened and we saw your Spirit
descending like a dove and coming down on us,
and we heard a voice that spoke from heaven,
telling us that we were your Beloved and that your favour rested on us.
******************************************************** 
3. Thomas O’Loughlin,Liturgical Resources for Advent and Christmaswww.columba.ie
Introduction to the Celebration
Jesus with H, SpiritToday we celebrate our faith in Jesus: he is the beloved of the Father, the anointed one, and the one on whom the Spirit rests. During the coming months we will be recalling each Sunday his works and preaching as the Chosen One of the Father, but Christians have always begun the retelling of the gospel of Jesus by reminding ourselves who Jesus is. The gospels tell us this by recalling that he was baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan and at that moment the Father’s voice was heard and the Spirit appeared in the form of a dove.
Let us pause and reflect that we are here because we believe that Jesus is ‘the Anointed One,’‘the Christ,’‘the Messiah,’‘the One who does the Father’s will’.
Homily Notes
1. This is a good opportunity to give a simple catechetical homily whose aim is to impart some simple linguistic clarity in order to help people reflect on the gospel’s image more fruitfully.
2. We use the words ‘Jesus Christ’ over and over again. Indeed, we use these two words so often side-by-side that we forget that they have any meaning. Sometimes, we almost think that the word ‘Christ’ is just a surname tacked on as if one needed to distinguish several people called ‘Jesus’. Most Christians use the words interchangeably. I have seen history books with the index entry: ‘Christ, J.’ followed by page numbers. When I asked a student what was the significance that her essay kept varying between using ‘Jesus said’ and ‘Christ said’, her answer was that she changed the usage simply to make it sound less repetitive! So this is a phrase whose significance we cannot take for granted.
Beloved son23. But our confession of faith is that ‘Jesus is the Christ: The word christos means the marked one, the one who has been smeared with oil. But why use this as a description of Jesus? The people of Israel looked forward to the new David, the new King who would institute the Day of the Lord and his victory. David had been marked out as the chosen one of the Lord: ‘Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward’ (l Sam 16:13). ‘To be marked out with oil’ is the same as ‘being the Anointed One’ or, if one uses Hebrew, ‘the Messiah’ or, if one uses Greek, ‘the Christ’ or to say ‘he is the Chosen One of the Father:
4. Jesus was not literally anointed with oil to mark him out as ‘the Anointed One: but in the gospels he is shown as being marked out by the Father’s voice and by the descent of the Spirit upon him. To say ‘Jesus is the Christ’ is to say he is the one who is uniquely the Son of the Father, and uniquely the bearer of the Spirit.
5. To say ‘Jesus is the Christ’ is to utter a basic creed which only makes sense when we imagine that statement within the scene we have just read in the gospel. To say ‘You, 0 Jesus are the Christ’ is to offer praise through the beloved Son to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

***********************************

John Litteton
Journeying through the Year of Matthew 
www.Columba.ie

Gospel Reflection
Liturgical time is cyclical and passes rather quickly. It must do so because, every year, it remembers and makes effective the entire story of God’s salvation of his people (‘the gradual unfolding of the drama of salvation history’, as scholars often depict it).
BaptismWe recently commemorated the birth of our Saviour on the first Christmas, as we do every Christmas. During those days we celebrated the reality of the Word becoming flesh, of God becoming human (the Incarnation), when we reflected on the newborn infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Now, however, within a few days we have moved rapidly to Jesus’ public life, by-passing his adolescent and early adult years, which could be described as the hidden years — although the gospel records that he lived under the authority of Mary and Joseph in Nazareth. Today we commemorate his baptism in the River Jordan when the Holy Spirit descended on him at the beginning of his public ministry.
Baptism was given a new meaning by Jesus and all Christians share in that meaning. We have been baptised into the Christian faith by water and the Holy Spirit, and our Christian faith teaches us that sacramental baptism is the gateway to the other sacraments.
Baptism in the nameThere is powerful symbolism associated with water. It can sustain life and cleanse, by its thirst-quenching and purifying qualities. But it can also destroy that same life through drowning. Thus water has the potential to give life and to cause death. Too much water is as damaging as too little water.
The religious symbolism of water in sacramental baptism reolves around our dying to alienation from God through the washing away of our sins, and around our new identity which is flourished and deepened by our sharing in God’s life and by being incorporated into the Body of Christ which is the Church.
That is why we say that, in baptism, we die with Christ, gomg into the tomb with him, and we rise with him to a new and everlasting life. The significance of God’s invitation to share in this newness of life offered in baptism is well summarised in the words: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him’ (Mt 3:17).
Baptism is powerfully effective in our lives. The sacrament does what it is a sign of — in other words, it is efficacious. Thus it washes away Original Sin and restores us to the life of grace, which is God’s life in the soul. This baptismal dignity will continue to lead us to God if, when we sin, we repent and avail of the sacrament of reconciliation.


Living in Jesus
Throughout our lives, if we open our hearts to God’s loving presence and if we listen to the word of God, then our souls will be nourished and live in a healthy state of union with God’s will.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we have a timely liturgical reminder that we have been baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection. We share in his risen life through baptism and we know that God has made an irreversible commitment to us.
Living in JesusLet us renew again our commitment to the baptised life and its meaning which, from our perspective, focuses on living in faithfulness to the teaching of Christ and his Church regardless of the difficulties and challenges of that teaching. Let us recognise once more our need of God’s saving help in our everyday lives and let us rejoice that our souls will live because of the eternal life brought through the water of baptism at the outset of our Christian life.
For meditation
As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. (Mt 3:16)
******************************************************************
Donal Neary SJGospel Reflections for Sundays of Year A:  Matthewwww.messenger.ie
You are beloved
Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist had a different meaning from ours. It was more a baptism of sorrow for sin and of forgiveness; in this plunge into the river, Jesus identified with his people in his  baptism.
At the baptism he heard the best words he could hear; You are my beloved. God led Jesus to    John to hear these words.
One of us,one with us, he could now be one for us. Joy flooded his heart as he heard these words. Something happened for Jesus at that moment that only he could know – like bells ringing that only he could hear. Have you heard it in your life? At times we face the huge mysteries love, beauty, friendship, birth, death.And we know in the middle of it all , that we are beloved.
Our call is to be fully involved in life and love. The Christian is called to be involved with others at the times of need, of depth and mystery. Jesus did that – plunging himself into our humanity and with all of us.
The feast of the baptism is something new for all. The son of God is one of us. We have a new way of knowing God not just in the laws of old but in the new Spirit of Jesus.
So let the bells of love ring for us in God; and wherever we find it; let’s ring bells of love for all the most needy of God’s people.
****

From The 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.

The plunge

She and her own nine-year-old son were riding their bicycles near Turtle Pond in New York’s Central Park. 
Looking back, she doesn’t remember which she heard first, the cry or the splash, but instinctively she ran to the edge of the pond and waded into the murky water to grab a little boy who had fallen in.  The next thing she knew, she couldn’t get out.  A competent swimmer but no lifeguard, she lacked the upper-body strength to haul them both up and out.  But with one hand she clung to a boulder, with her other hand she held on to the terrified little boy.  A young woman ran over and clutched her arm.  “Get the child!” she screamed.  Someone was already lifting him out, as the young woman and another woman helped her out of the pond. 
On dry land again, with water and mud dripping from her jeans, she was both relieved — and shaken.  She discovered in that instant the deep ties of responsibility and dependence that bind parents and children, neighbors and strangers, in this city.
As she and her son mounted their bikes, the woman who had grabbed her said, “I’m sorry you were the one who had to get dirty.”
“You would do the same for my child, right?” she asked.
She nodded and said, “You know I never would have let you go.”
[From “The Plunge” by Lesli Camhi, The New York Times Magazine, July 21, 2013.]
Without hesitating, a mom puts her own safety aside to plunge into the water to save a little boy — and discovers in that moment a connection with other moms and children and neighbors.  It is a “baptismal” moment.  As Jesus does, she “empties” herself of her own fears to enter the water, compelled by compassion — and comes out of the experience transformed by a new appreciation for the community around that water.  To be baptized into Christ requires that we let go and empty ourselves of our own wants and needs in order to embrace the life of God around us.  Hope that gives birth to new life, light that shatters the darkness of despair, love that lifts up the fallen all become real possibilities — if follow the lead of Jesus and take the plunge.  


******
ILLUSTRATIONS: 

From  Fr. Jude Botelho:

The people of Israel had shown signs of repentance for their sins, and received from God a promise of consolation: the glory of the Lord will be revealed. The passage from the first of the Servant songs refers to a servant figure who could point to the forthcoming messiah. In the liturgy today, this servant is identified with Jesus, who is manifested as such in his baptism. The latter part of the servant songs speaks of the task of the servant: to establish peace on earth, to be a covenant to Israel, a revelation to the gentiles, and to proclaim the liberation of captives. The description of the servant aptly fit Jesus and his future ministry.Moment of decisionA moment of decision can be thrust upon a person like a bolt out of the blue. This happened to the Dubliner, Matt Talbot. He was drinking himself to death. One day he was standing outside a pub, begging the price of a drink from people he considered his friends. But they passed him by. Suddenly the scales fell from his eyes. He saw that he was destroying himself, and he made a decision to give up drinks, and to try, with the help of God, to become a saint. Or this moment may come upon a person gradually, as happened to Mother Teresa. She was working for well-off girls in a Loreto convent school in Calcutta. But meanwhile she was becoming more and more uneasy about the fact that poor people were lying uncared for on the streets just outside the convent walls. One day she left her convent and went to work among the poor. Her name became a byword for devotion to the abandoned.
Anonymous

Today’s gospel tells the story of the crossing of one threshold to another. Many moved by John’s fierce preaching at the Jordan mistakenly believe that he is the Messiah. John tells them that he is only preparing the way. He performs an ancient ritual symbolizing conversion and repentance. The Baptist refers to the one who is to come, ‘who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!’ If the one who is to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit, then he must be possessed by the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism two events take place. One is seen the other is heard. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus is described as the descent of a dove. Then the voice from heaven announces: “You are my son, the Beloved”. After his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus in prayer, receives the anointing of the Holy Spirit to consecrate him to announce to the poor the good news of their salvation. The arrival of Jesus is not the end of the story. One part of God’s history has come to a close, but another is about to begin. The wonder of God’s coming among us has been celebrated over the Christmas period. Now we are called to live lives that reflect our belief that he is truly among us. As we begin our year we are challenged to recall our own baptism, we too are the well-beloved sons and daughters of the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit, and commissioned to bring God’s favour and fire into our world. Are we ready to live this year proud to be Jesus’ people?

Identifying with sinners
Mahatma Gandhi was not a Christian, yet he was one of the most Christ-like men of this century. Gandhi was a staunch opponent of India’s iniquitous caste system. He referred to it as ‘a blot on the soul of India.’ He especially abhorred the treatment meted out to the untouchables – those who belong to the lower caste. They were barred from entering the temples. In towns and cities they were confined to the slums and allowed to perform only the most menial jobs. In the country they were forbidden the use of the wells. On his journeys through India, Gandhi was warmly welcomed by the people. When he entered a village the head of the village would invite him to stay in his house for the night, where he would be assured of a bath, good food, and a decent night’s rest. But Gandhi politely refused the offer. He asked, ‘Where are your untouchables? I will stay with them.’ And he did, even though his action shocked many.
Flor Mc Carthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’

Jesus, Lamb of God
Some time ago, on a Christian mission in Southern Sudan, a group of children came for instruction for baptism. The instructions began on Ash Wednesday and ended with baptism on Holy Saturday. On Ash Wednesday, the Maryknoll missioner gave them a newborn lamb to be in their care. The lamb stumbled awkwardly at first, but soon playfully charged at the children, who fed it milk from a bottle. All through Lent, the lamb grew to be more gentle, accepting, innocent, and trusting. The lamb, always with the children, was never troublesome or demanding. When the children sat in a circle, the lamb played within it. A strong bond grew between the lamb and the children. Toward the end of Lent, the catechists explained how they would have their Holy Thursday Eucharist, which would be followed by a special community meal; and they announced that their little lamb would be the paschal lamb. On Holy Thursday morning, there were special prayers by which the lamb took on their sinfulness. Then a catechist slaughtered the little lamb. They watched as even in its last moments the lamb seemed to trust them. The meal was well prepared, and the children ate the meat because meat came so seldom to their table. But there was a mood of quiet sadness; and there was tremendous awareness of Jesus the Lamb of God.
Harold Buetow in ‘God Still Speaks: Listen’

Power Source
The Greatest is a film about Muhammad Ali’s career as heavyweight boxing champion. It shows not only how he was gifted naturally with agility and strength, but also how he trained extensively with rigorous workouts and diets. But Muhammad Ali said one time that although all these things helped, the real secret of his power source was a set of inspirational tapes to which he listened. The tapes were recorded speeches of a Black Muslim leader, the honorable Elijah Muhammad. They deal with self-knowledge, freedom and potential. Muhammad Ali would listen to these tapes when he got up in the morning, when he ate his meals during the day and when he retired at night. He claimed that these inspirational messages gave him the power to fight for his black people, not only for their glory in the ring, but also for their civil rights in the arena of life. In today’s gospel, we have revealed the secret of the power of another man, Jesus Christ. The baptism scene drawn for us is another epiphany episode following last week’s one with the Magi. Three signs accompany our Lord’s baptismal experience to reveal who he is. First, the heavens were opened to symbolize a new divine intervention in human history. Second, the Spirit descended on him like a dove signifying the presence and power of God. Third, a voice was heard designating him as God’s beloved and favored Son.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

What’s purpose in life?
An executive hirer, a “Head-hunter” who goes out and hires corporation executives for other firms, once told me, “When I get an executive that I’m trying to hire for someone else, I like to disarm him. I offer him a drink, take my coat off, then my vest, undo my tie, throw up my feet and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he’s all relaxed. Then, when I think I’ve got him relaxed, I lean over, look him square in the eye and say, ‘What’s your purpose in life?’ It’s amazing how top executives fall apart at that question. “Well, I was interviewing this fellow the other day, had him all disarmed, with my feet up on his desk, talking about football. Then I leaned up and said, ‘What’s your purpose in life, Bob?’ And he said, without blinking an eye, ‘To go to heaven and take as many people with me as I can.’ For the first time in my career I was speechless!”
Josh McDowell from ‘Building your self-image’

Baptism –Commitment
A pig and a chicken were out for a walk one day. The pig wasn’t too bright and tended to repeat everything that others said or suggested. The chicken remarked ‘Those are very nice people down in that house down there.’ ‘They are indeed,’ replied the pig, ‘they are very nice people.’ ‘They are very good to us,’ continued the chicken. ‘They are indeed’ replied the pig, ‘they are very good to us.’ ‘Do you know what I was thinking’ asked the chicken. ‘No’, said the pig. ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘I was thinking’ that we should do something for them’ That’s a very good idea’ replied the pig. ‘I think we should do something for them. What did you have in mind? ‘I was thinking that we should give them something’ said the chicken. ‘A brilliant idea’ said the pig. I think we should give them something. What did you have in mind? ‘I was thinking’ said the chicken, ‘that we should give them bacon and eggs. The pig quickly stopped in his tracks, and said ‘Definitely not! For you it’s only a slight inconvenience, but for me it’s total commitment!’- Baptism is intended to lead us to a total commitment and our acts of Christian charity should be seen as anything but slight inconveniences.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’
*****


From the Sermons.com

1: 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. 
"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.
_________________
2: 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
_________________
3: 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
______________________
4: 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
__________________________________________________
5: 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
______________________
6: 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?
______________________
7: 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!

8: "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?"
--------------
9. Solidarity with his people:

The movie Gandhi is a three-hour epic depicting the life of Mahatma Gandhi: the Father of the Nation in India - a man of faith and a writer, a politician and a pacifist. To lead the oppressed people of India to freedom from British rule, Gandhi adopted a pacifist, non-violent approach. By means of hunger strikes (fasting from food), long vigils of prayer, peaceful marches, non-violent protests and civil disobedience, Gandhi persuaded the British to grant independence to India in 1947, although the British empire separated Pakistan from India. Even though a civil war between the Muslims and Hindus in the states bordering Pakistan followed, and Gandhi himself was assassinated in 1948, Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violent and peaceful resistance inspired many leaders all around the world.  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 millions of his people who were poor and hungry and to identify with them in their suffering. Today’s gospel tells us that it  was to show solidarity with sinners that sinless Jesus received the baptism of repentance in the River Jordan from John the Baptist (Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’).
---------------------------
10:  “You are My beloved SonWith You I am well pleased:”

On Jan 19, 383, the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius named his son Arcadius as co-emperor. It was during a period in church history when the Arian Heresy was spreading throughout the Roman Empire. The Arian Heresy held that Jesus Christ was not fully God. Theodosius called for a truce between Christians and Arians and called for a conciliatory conference. One Christian bishop who was not willing to compromise his faith in Christ's deity was Amphilochus of Iconium. So he had to suffer persecution from the Arians. On Arcadius’ coronation day, bishop entered the reception hall, bowed to the emperor, ignored his son and made a poignant speech and turned to leave. "What!" said Theodosius, "Do you take no notice of my son the co-emperor? Is this all the respect you pay to a prince that I have made equal dignity with myself?" At this the bishop gave Arcadius a blessing and replied, "Sir, do you so highly resent my apparent neglect of your son because I do not give him equal honor with yourself? What must the eternal God think of you, who have allowed His coequal and coeternal Son to be degraded in His proper divinity in every part of your empire?  Remember God the Father’s proclamation on the day Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.”
---------------- 
11. Baptism of a cat:

Johnny's Mother looked out the window and noticed him "playing church" with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She called out, "Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!" Johnny looked up at her and said, "He should have thought about that before he joined my church."
 ---------------
12. 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!
-----------------------------
13. Baptized in luxury:

When our church was renovated, adding a baptismal pool, we were pleased. So was our daughter. While riding in the car with my daughter and her friend, we went past a pond. My daughter's friend proudly declared, "I was baptized in that pond." My daughter responded with no less pride: "Oh, I was baptized in a Jacuzzi at our church." (Pastor Davis)
----------------------
14.  “Born-again.”

When Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States, he described himself as a “born-again” Christian. For many Americans this was an unfamiliar term. By the time of the next election primaries, nearly all the candidates were claiming to be “born-again.” Political satirist Mark Russell suggested, “This could give Christianity a bad name.”  
-------------------
15. A little girl

who normally attended another Sunday School happened to attend a Methodist Sunday School one week-end, while visiting her grandmother. In the course of the morning she heard a number of things she wasn't quite sure about, but when the teacher said that Jesus was a Jew she responded, "Maybe Jesus was a Jew, but God is a Baptist!"
---------------


From Fr. 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 anymore, 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.

5.  Baptism of a cat: Johnny’s Mother looked out the window and noticed him “playing church” with their cat. He had the cat sitting quietly and he was preaching to it. She smiled and went about her work. A while later she heard loud meowing and hissing and ran back to the open window to see Johnny baptizing the cat in a tub of water. She called out, “Johnny, stop that! The cat is afraid of water!” Johnny looked up at her and said, “He should have thought about that before he joined my church.”

6. 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!

7. Baptized in luxury: When our church was renovated, adding a Baptismal pool, we were pleased. So was our daughter. While riding in the car with my daughter and her friend, we went past a pond. My daughter’s friend proudly declared, “I was baptized in that pond.” My daughter responded with no less pride: “Oh, I was baptized in a Jacuzzi at our church.” (Pastor Davis)

8. “Born again.” When Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States, he described himself as a “born-again” Christian. For many Americans this was an unfamiliar term. By the time of the next election primaries, nearly all the candidates were claiming to be “born-again.” Political satirist Mark Russell suggested, “This could give Christianity a bad name.”

9. A keg of beer and a case of whiskey: Before performing a Baptism, the priest approached the young father and said solemnly, “Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?” “I think so,” the man replied. “My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.” “I don’t mean that,” the priest responded. “I mean, are you prepared spiritually?” “Oh, sure,” came the reply. “I’ve got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey.”
10. Baptism Catholic, Baptist & Jewish style: A Catholic Priest, a Baptist Preacher and a Rabbi were sitting around drinking coffee. Someone made the comment that preaching to people isn’t really all that hard, a real challenge would be to preach to a bear. One thing led to another, and they decided that each would find a bear and attempt to convert it to their religion. Seven days later, they all came together to discuss their experiences. Father Flannery, who had his arm in a sling and had various bandages on his body and limbs, went first. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear came after me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb.’ Reverend Billy Bob the Baptist spoke next. He was in a wheelchair and had an IV drip. ‘I went out and found me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from the Bible! But that bear came after me. We wrestled down one hill, until we came to a creek. So, I quickly dunked him and baptized his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. The Priest and the Reverend both looked down at the Rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and traction with IV’s and monitors running in and out of him. The Rabbi looked up and said: “Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start? (Email from dcngary@hotmail.com)

21- Additional anecdotes

1) Thomas Merton: A young man once described his experience of sinking into insanity. He was a very bright university student, but he had abandoned his studies in favor of nightclubs and pornography. One night he retired to a hotel room. As he lay in bed, the window appeared to expand until it reached the floor. He heard a mocking voice in his mind saying, “What if you threw yourself out of that window?” The young man wrote: “Now my life was dominated by something I had never known before, fear. It was humiliating, this strange self-conscious watchfulness. It was a humiliation I had deserved more than I knew. I had refused to pay attention to the moral laws upon which all vitality and sanity depend.” Well, this young man did begin to pay attention to the moral law. He began to put his life in order – and to experience inner peace. He eventually entered the Catholic Church and went on to become one of the most famous monks of the twentieth century. His name? Thomas Merton. Today’s Gospel on Jesus’ baptism should challenge us, too, to examine whether we are keeping our Baptismal promises. (Fr. Phil Bloom).

2) 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 of what He was supposed to do (His mission), on the day of his baptism in the river Jordan.

3) Moment of Affirmation: When the American writer, Maya Angelou, was growing up, she didn’t see her mother very much. She was brought up in large part by her grandmother, a wonderful and saintly woman. She tells how when she was twenty years old, she took a trip to San Francisco to visit her mother. It was a particularly important yet vulnerable moment in Maya’s life; she was struggling to make her way in life and groping her way towards becoming a writer. She had quite a good meeting with her mother. When it was time to leave, her mother walked her down the hill to the waiting bus. As they parted, her mother said, “You know, I think you are the greatest woman I have ever met.” Years later Maya could still recall that moment vividly. She said, “Waiting for the bus, I sat there thinking, ‘Just suppose she’s right. Suppose I really am somebody.’ It was one of those moments when the sky rolled back. At times like that, it’s almost as if the whole earth holds its breath.” Maya went on to become a highly successful and respected writer and poet. She composed and delivered an inspiring poem at the inauguration of President Clinton. Today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus heard the voice of His Heavenly Father, immediately after His baptism, affirming him as “My beloved Son” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).

4) “This is my beloved daughter, this is my beloved son”: 
Edward Farrell, a friend of mine, is a Catholic priest who serves an Inner-City Parish in Detroit. He’s written some marvelous books. One I would especially recommend is entitled Prayer Is a Hunger. Ed is a part of a small group with whom I meet each January. I’ve told you about this group. We call it the Ecumenical Institute of Spirituality. It’s an important group for me. Though we meet only for three days once a year, sharing our spiritual pilgrimages with one another, seeking to focus our minds and hearts on some growing edge, it’s an important part of my life. Ed is a part of it too. He’s one of the most genuinely humble persons I know. Serving some of God’s forgotten people in one of Detroit’s most depressed areas, he is quietly profound. I never will forget the insight he provided me about this text. He said that Jesus went to the cross so that we too could hear the same word Jesus heard at his baptism – so that you and I can hear, “This is my beloved daughter/this is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” Have you thought about it that way? Jesus’ paid the price so that for you and me, the Heavens could open, and we could know the reality of God’s Spirit as a living Power and Presence, in our lives. Jesus wanted us to know the reality of Good News in the dark days of hopelessness and despair. The Voice which declared Jesus God’s beloved Son is still speaking in our souls, “You are mine. You are unique and special. I am pleased with you. I love you. I love you so much that I gave My beloved Son for you. You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.” (Rev. Maxie Dunnam).

5) Two sources of inspiration: Among the millions of Jews imprisoned by the Nazis in the death camps of the ’30’s & ’40’s was Victor Frankl. In spite of the horrors and the odds, he survived. Around him, next to him, each day of his ordeal, dozens, hundreds, thousands of fellow-Jews and others died. Most of them died in the ovens, of course, but there were others who died simply because they gave up hope and lost heart, overwhelmed by horror and fear and hopelessness. Frankl survived, he said, because two forces sustained him: one was the certainty of his wife’s love. The other was an inner drive to rewrite the manuscript of a book he had completed after years of labor — which the Nazis had destroyed. Frankl’s imprisonment was lightened by daily imaginary conversations with his wife and by scrawling notes for his book on all the bits and scraps of paper he could find. Now Frank has written eloquently of these two insights to cope with life: first, the discovery and certainty of being loved, and, second, having a clear and controlling purpose in life. [Nate Castens, Chanhassen, Minnesota, via Ecunet, Gospel Notes for Next Sunday, #2815] Both are the messages we receive in Christian Baptism.

6) “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” On January 19, AD 383, the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius named his son Arcadius as co-emperor. It was during a period in Church history when the Arian Heresy was spreading throughout the Roman Empire. The Arian Heresy held that Jesus Christ was not fully God. Theodosius called for a truce between Christians and Arians and called for a conciliatory conference. One Christian Bishop who was not willing to compromise his faith in Christ’s deity was Amphilochus of Iconium. So, he had to suffer persecution from the Arians. On the coronation day Bishop entered the reception hall, bowed to the emperor, ignored his son and made a poignant speech and turned to leave. “What!” said Theodosius, “Do you take no notice of my son the co-emperor? Is this all the respect you pay to a prince that I have made equal dignity with myself?” At this the bishop gave Arcadius a blessing and replied, “Sir, do you so highly resent my apparent neglect of your son because I do not give him equal honor with yourself? What must the eternal God think of you, who have allowed His coequal and coeternal Son to be degraded in His proper divinity in every part of your Empire? Remember God the Father’s proclamation on the day Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.”

7) Identity of the peanut scientist: In one of his books, Fr. Bill Bausch describes George Washington Carver, the great black agricultural scientist who did a lot of research work on the commercial and medical uses of the lowly peanut.  He built a great industry through his scientific endeavors.  In January 1921, he was brought to Washington, D.C., to the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee to explain his work on the peanut.   As a black man, he was last on the list and so, after three days of waiting, he finally walked up the aisle to speak, ignoring the racial comments and ridicule.  Later 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.  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.  The feast of the Baptism of our Lord reminds us of who we are and Whose we are.

8) America’s fast-growing non-religious community: One in five Americans (19 percent), now claim no religious affiliation, up from 6 percent in 1990. The so-called “nones” include unbelieving atheists who staged a massive “Reason Rally” in Washington, but two-thirds of the unaffiliated say they believe in God or a universal spirit. Almost nine in 10 say they’re just not looking for a Faith to call their home. An April study found that among the under-30 set, the only religious group that was growing was the “unaffiliated,” with an increasing tide of young Americans drifting away from the religion of their childhood. By year’s end, a study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that there are about as many religiously unaffiliated people in the world (1.1 billion) as there are Catholics, and they’re the third-largest “religious” group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims. (http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/ )

9) God’s Press Conference: When likable Lou Holtz was announced as the new head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, he was touted as one who would restore the school’s football program to its tradition of excellence. Whenever a new leader appears on the scene, whether it is the new coach of a team or the new president of a corporation, a press conference is usually held to proclaim that leader’s qualifications and potential. Such press conferences usually create some excitement about the leader’s identity and arouse our expectations with glowing promises about what this leader will accomplish. Today’s event of our Lord’s baptism is something like this. It’s as if God Himself called a press conference to reveal His Son Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and to give us a preview of what His mission would accomplish (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

10) On the right road in the wrong direction: A friend of mine vouches for the truth of the following incident. He was traveling down the country one day. His journey brought him along some by-roads, where the signposts were few and far between. After a while, he was unsure if he was on the right road, so he decided to ask the first person he saw. Eventually he came across a farmer driving his cows home for milking. He stopped the car and asked him if he was on the right road to Somewhere, just to give the place a name. The farmer told him that he certainly was on the right road. My friend expressed his thanks and was about to move forward when the farmer added, in a very nonchalant way, “You’re on the right road, but you’re going in the wrong direction!” Today’s reflection on Jesus’ baptism challenges us to examine whether we are on the right road and moving in the right direction for our eternal destiny.

11) Part of the ritual: This 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.” (Knowing the Face of God, Tim Stafford, p. 121ff).
12) “Agnes, you’ve been a real jinx!” John was an old man, and he lay dying. His wife of many years was sitting close by. He opened his eyes for a moment, saw her and said, “There you are Agnes, at my side again.” She smiled faintly and fluttered her eyes and said, “Yes, dear, here I am.” Then John said, “Looking back, I remember all the times you were at my side. You were there when I got my draft notice and had to go off to fight in the war. You were there when our first house burned to the ground, and we lost everything we had. You were there when I had that accident that destroyed our car, and I was seriously injured. And you were there when my business went bankrupt, and I lost every cent I had.” Agnes again smiled faintly and fluttered her eyes and said, “Yes, Dear, I have been – by your side – all the time.” Then the old man sighed and said, “I’ll tell you what, Agnes, you’ve been real bad luck!” (Norman Neaves, “Are You Ready to Take the Big Step?”). That’s not what Agnes expected to hear. The experience is ridiculous but makes the point. Any experience may be perceived differently by those involved. Today we look at one of the pivotal experiences in Jesus’ life: His baptism. How do we look at it?

13) “Have you found Jesus?” A drunk stumble across a Pentecostal 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 this 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?”

14) Salvation by Christian Baptism or Jewish Circumcision? There is a funny story about a Catholic Priest, a Baptist Preacher, and a Rabbi who were good friends. They would get together two or three times a week for coffee and to talk in a coffee shop. One day, someone made the comment that preaching to people isn’t really all that hard – a real challenge would be to preach to a bear. One thing led to another, and they decided to do an experiment. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it. Seven days later, they all came together to discuss their experience. Father Flannery, who had his arm in a sling, was on crutches, and had various bandages on his body and limbs, went first. “Well,” he said, “I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear wanted nothing to do with me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb.  The Bishop is coming out next week to give him first communion and confirmation.” Reverend Billy Bob spoke next. He was in a wheelchair, had one arm and both legs in casts, and had an IV drip. In his best fire-and-brimstone oratory, he claimed, “WELL, brothers, you KNOW that we don’t sprinkle! I went out and I found me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from God’s HOLY WORD! But that bear wanted nothing to do with me. So I took HOLD of him and we began to wrestle. We wrestled down one hill, UP another and DOWN another until we came to a creek. So, I quickly DUNKED him and BAPTIZED his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus. Hallelujah!” The priest and the reverend both looked down at the Rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and traction with IVs and monitors running in and out of him. He was in really bad shape. The Rabbi looked up and said: “Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start!”

15) Wash Off the Stuff of the Day: One of the most successful and personable people on television is Oprah Winfrey. Movies, book clubs, huge business operations — she does it all. 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; quoted by Fr. Tony Kayala).

16) “Watershed” moment.” 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. (Quoted by Fr. Tony Kayala.)

17) 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 baptismal 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 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 windowsill. The one who felt that his sins had been washed away returns and places a dollar bill on the windowsill. 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. (Rev. King Duncan; quoted by Fr. Tony Kayala.)

18) 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 from before. We see other people differently from 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)
19) Initiation Rite: Remember the initiation rites of our ancestors? In some places, as in the Sepik, even today, they lock teenage boys in an enclosure for a month of isolation. Here their bodies, especially their backs are cut and bled. They are taught to bear pain. They are taught all the labors of the clan. After four weeks they are let out of the spirit house, and now they enter into a new life. That is the life of an adult. Now they can marry. In one place on the Sepik the boys crawled out of the initiation enclosure through the jaws of the imitation crocodile. This is symbolic for being born again into a new life. –Baptism means the same thing: entry into a new life; it also gives us a new status, more than what the initiate has achieved, namely child of God, heir of heaven, member of the Church etc. (Frank Michalic in Tonic for the Heart; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

20) Called by Name: One of the most dramatic moments in the book, Roots, by Alex Haley, is the eight-day ceremony when Omorro gives his new-born son, Kunta Kinte, his name and the child becomes a member of his tribe. In the culture of western Africa, the name given a child is both a gift and a challenge. Haley describes the naming rite: “Omorro lifted up the infant and as all watched, whispered three times into his son’s ear the name he had chosen for him. It was the first time the name had ever been spoken as the child’s name; for Omorro’s people felt that each human being should be the first to know who he was.” That night the father completed the ceremony: “Out under the moon and stars, alone with his son that eighth night, Omorro completed the naming ritual. Carrying little Kunta in his strong arms, he walked to the edge of the village, lifted his baby up to the heavens and said, softly, ‘Behold the only thing greater than yourself.”- Jesus received his calling from His Father. Jesus is greater than all creation, and Baptism makes us one with Jesus. (Gerard Fuller in Stories for all Seasons; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

21) A most important date: An old gentleman walked into a fashionable florist shop. “I want a beautiful corsage,” he said, “not a big one, but just about the prettiest one you can make.” He smiled broadly, “it’s for my granddaughter and she is having her first date tomorrow.” The florist was all curious. “How old is the young lady?” he asked, eyeing his flowers speculatively. “Two weeks,” replied the grandfather. The florist turned in utter amazement. “Did you say, a date… a corsage…two weeks old?” “Precisely,” said the old gentlemen. “And I want the corsage that’s exactly right. She’ll never have more important date than she has tomorrow. My little granddaughter will be baptized.” (Frank Michalic in Tonic for the Heart; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

22) Pope acting as an altar boy for a priest: During the very brief Pontificate of Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani; (August 26 — September 28, 1978),
an Irishman, Monsignor Magee, served as the Pope’s personal secretary.  As Papal secretaries are wont to do, the Monsignor spent much of his day with the Pontiff.  Each morning, he would serve the Pope’s private Mass in the Papal chapel in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. In a talk he gave in our diocese some years ago, Magee recounts an incident where the Holy Father said, “Monsignor, every day now that I have been Pope, you have faithfully served Mass for me.  You have never been late and your service has been impeccable.  So, tomorrow, we are going to do things a little differently.  You will serve my Mass as usual at 6:30 in the morning.  After my Mass, we will exchange vestments and then I will serve YOUR Mass.” Understandably, Magee resisted, saying he could not permit such a thing.  The Pope replied, “Are you rejecting a wish of the Pope?”  Magee replied, “Well, your Holiness…”  The Pope answered, “Very well, then.  I knew you’d agree.”  And Magee did.  He recalls this moment with great fondness.  Here was the Pope – the Vicar of Christ and the Shepherd of 1 billion Catholics acting as an altar boy for a priest – a reversal of roles. What I have just described is somewhat analogous to the scene in today’s Gospel taken from St. Matthew.  Incidentally, it is an event recorded in all four Gospels.  We have the King of Kings, the Savior of the World asking John the Baptist for baptism.  Like Monsignor Magee, we can imagine the awe of John the Baptist at the request of our Lord.  Like Magee, the Baptizer resists but Jesus insists and is baptized. (Priest Speaks). (L/20)