Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baptism of the Lord - homily

Officially, the Christmas season ends today. So, if you have been debating with your co-workers or family members about what is the proper day to take down Christmas decorations, today is the day (I’m sure you’ve been debating!). Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of Jesus’ “early life” and the beginning of his public life. Jesus wasn’t baptized to be saved; he is the Savior. He was baptized to be an example for us to follow. In his baptism, as the Pope has reminded us, we see similarities with our baptism.

Baptism comes in three forms: by water (which is most common), by blood (martyrs), and by desire. The last one would be for people who have never heard of Jesus Christ or the call to be baptized by water. In their hearts, they desire to do good and to do God’s Will. There still are people in our world who have never heard of Jesus Christ. The foundation for the understanding of the three forms of baptism comes from our second reading (1 Jn 5:1-9): by water, blood, and Spirit. Jesus says in Mark 16:16 that “those who are baptized are saved”. One needs to be baptized in one of the three forms in order to be saved. Baptism washes away Original Sin and brings Sanctifying Grace which we need to have eternal life, to get to Heaven.

Baptism also gives the gift of faith. Each of us received the gift of faith at our own baptism. At one of my first baptisms as a deacon, the father of the child came up to me afterwards and said, “this is the best gift I could ever give my kid”. It was such a profound and true statement! He wasn’t talking about toys or athletic ability or intelligence or even education (which are all good gifts). He was saying that faith is the best gift he could give his kid. I repeat that story at every baptism I celebrate.

So, faith is a gift that we receive at baptism. It’s like any of the gifts we received at Christmas: we can either use it or just put it in a closet and never use it and let it go to waste. It’s always a scary thing to clean out our closets after some time. We come across gifts from Christmases or birthdays from years before, and think, “oh, man, I forget about this one…oops…oh my gosh, I never used that!”.

Well, some people have that experience with regards to faith. It might be later in life that they realize that they hadn’t used the gift of faith for years and years. Heaven forbid, it might be after they have died that God shows them that they didn’t use the gift of faith they had been given. I have come across some who have realized it in this life. They come to Confession after 30-40 years and admit, “I haven’t been living my faith”. Or, so many conversations I’ve had with young people over the years – they admit in maybe their first real conversation about faith that they haven’t been using it.

The scary thing for someone who doesn’t use the gift of faith that they received in Baptism is not just that they let it go to waste in their own life, but Christ’s life and death becomes a waste in their lives. It’s like he died in vain; his death and resurrection go to waste. His whole mission is a failure in their lives.

But, for those who do their best to live their faith in Christ, there is victory! St John says in the second reading it is the “victory that conquers the world.” The victory that conquers the world! Christ won victory over sin and death, and all those who show faith in him as the Son of God share in his victory. Whenever we come to Mass or Adoration or go to Confession or pray to Him or pray the rosary or keep the Commandments or pray over Scripture or talk to others about Christ or serve the poor, we live our faith and share in Christ’s victory, the victory that conquers the world.

The best way for us to live out our Baptism, my brothers and sisters, is in the Eucharist. At every baptism, I challenge the parents and godparents to be men and women of the Eucharist, to be good examples to the kid of people who are living their faith. Baptism gives us faith, the Eucharist nourishes our faith. When we come to the Eucharist, we honor Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and share in his victory, the victory that conquers the world.


At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my youngest child was baptized several years ago, Fr. Mike did something that made an impression on me. I have a big immediate family, but with all the extended family (grandparents, nieces, cousins, aunts, uncles, close friends, etc) in attendance, we were a pretty large group. Fr. Mike asked each person there, young and old, Catholic and non-Catholic to come up to the baptismal font and make a sign of cross on my daughter’s forehead. He explained that he was inviting each person there to be a part of the commitment to my daughter’s baptismal promises. With my other children that was something that had been pretty much reserved for my husband, me and the Godparents. It made me think about the wealth of what we are baptized into. It actually brought me to tears.

At 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question about Baptism by Desire-

Say someone had heard of Jesus, was not a Christian but still answered a call to do a life of good work. Perhaps they were well-educated but were raised in a place where Christianity was not prominent and the lived values espoused by another faith, and their life was committed to love, peace and equality. Would that person be considered saved- if they knew of Jesus but did not claim him as their savior?

Obviously, no one ever knows, but I'm curious about what might be thought about someone like Ghandi.

At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I think about Baptism, I think of Original Sin. I asked a lot of questions about suffering and sin. FG answered many but I didn’t understand why he’d say that all suffering was the result of sin. I didn’t understand that (some) suffering wasn’t a God-given thing. I struggled with (the idea of) unexplained illnesses and other physical challenges and losses that seemed to come from “no where,” as opposed to something like a smoker getting lung cancer.

Before, I didn’t really ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I hadn’t graduated to that yet, because I was instead asking, “Why do certain bad things happen at all?”

FG suggested that I read about the doctrine of Original Sin, and that answered a lot of my ?’s. While I understood that Baptism washes away the stain of Original Sin but our fallen nature remains, I had previously defined our nature by our inclinations. So, some suffering made sense. I didn’t connect that our human (fallen) nature is also our mortality. So, it makes sense that suffering is the result of sin. Baptism is a great gift because it gives us the Sanctifying Grace to deal with the reality of our nature- mind, soul and body.

I would appreciate some clarity on the difference between Sanctifying and Actual Grace.

At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's curious to me that when something good happens, everyone says that was God working in your live, but when something bad happens and you ask "Why would God let that happen?", everyone says that God didn't do it -- sin did.

At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 9:24-
I guess it comes down to what you believe about the nature of God.

God created us in His image but also gave us freedom. If the nature of God is good, then all the good that exists in the world must originate from Him. For example, I believe that the desire to do an act of kindness is the result of being made in God’s good image.

Growing up, I had a friend who was Muslim. Her father was very strict and talked often about the “proper path.” While he may have seen that path as a little narrower than I do, I understand why he acted as he did. His beliefs were that God set all men on a “good” path and “evil” came to be as man stepped away from that good.

In part. I think this thinking compliments the Catholic faith. We are given good in the world, but we are also given freedom to choose something else.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger fran said...

Gen 2:16-17, sums up the goodness of God and the sinful act, by man, which brought sin and suffering into the world.

" 'The Lord God gave man this order: "You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.' "

Being all good, God makes it quite clear that if man eats from the tree of knowledge he will die. I don't see how he could have made it any more clear. The good is all Him, the sin is all man's.

He speaks clearly once again, in Gen 4:6-7
"So the Lord said to Cain: "Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master."

God, being all good, clearly tells Cain that he can be his own master over sin. Cain freely chooses otherwise, chooses sin, and kills his brother. The suffering of man continues.

Because of our sinful nature, God allows suffering. He does not will it, nor does he orchestrate it. Just as with Cain, He tells us again and again, that it is in our hands to be our own master over sin. Think of how pleasing this would be to an all good, all loving God, if we could achieve this.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

Well, but God is good and not evil, right?

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

St. Augustine satisfied a lot of my questions-
All things are good, a greater and lesser degree of good, but ALL is good. We have evidence that God exists and is good, so He would be incapable of creating evil. So, something else must be the source. St. Augustine explains what evil is.

Since all things were made with goodness, evil must be the privation of goodness. That makes good a being, a "thing," while evil (being the absence of good) is not. He explains that evil is the action of turning away from good.

In a nutshell-
All things created by God are good
Evil is not good
Evil could not created by God
God created every thing
Evil is not a thing
God did not create evil

So- good that exists in our lives is from God. Evil is the result of sin- our turning away from good.

At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:30 PM anon:

You got me thinking, thanks!

I found the following explantation to be relatively easy to understand.

Sanctifying Grace

A supernatural state of being infused by God into our soul that gives us participation in the divine life. The participation in the divine life is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
Sanctifying grace belongs to the whole soul, including the intellect and will. It is greater than the virtue of charity because charity belongs only to the will.

Sanctifying grace is a permanent part of our soul as long as we cooperate with its effects. When we have sanctifying grace in our soul we are said to be in the state of grace. If we pass into eternity while in the state of grace we will go either to purgatory or directly to heaven. When we commit a mortal sin, the offended Holy Spirit departs from us and we lose our sanctifying grace. If we pass into eternity while in the state of sin we will, objectively speaking, send ourselves to hell.
Actual grace helps us grow in sanctifying grace.
Sanctifying grace is sometimes called habitual grace or justifying grace.
Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1996-2005
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

Actual Grace

God’s temporary enlightenment of our mind or strengthening of our will to perform supernatural actions that help us obtain, retain, or grow in sanctifying grace.

For example, God may give us actual grace that strengthens our will to go to Daily Mass. If we do go, our attendance and reception of the Holy Eucharist strengthens our sanctifying grace.

Actual grace with which we freely consent to cooperate is called efficacious grace, because it accomplishes God’s purpose in granting it. Actual grace to which we freely refuse consent is called sufficient grace, because it would have been sufficient to accomplish God’s purpose. Our decision to cooperate or not cooperate belongs to the will.
Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2000, 2024
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 11:56- your easy isn't mine, or maybe I'm dense...

"Sanctifying grace belongs to the whole soul, including the intellect and will. It is greater than the virtue of charity because charity belongs only to the will.”

I don’t understand that statement. How does charity belong only to the will, rather than the intellect & will?

“Actual grace with which we freely consent to cooperate is called efficacious grace, because it accomplishes God’s purpose in granting it. Actual grace to which we freely refuse consent is called sufficient grace, because it would have been sufficient to accomplish God’s purpose. Our decision to cooperate or not cooperate belongs to the will.”

You lost me there.

At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

How does charity belong only to the will, rather than the intellect & will?

Broadly speaking, the intellect is what we use when we know things, and the will is what we use when we love things.

Sanctifying grace affects both our knowledge and our love.

The distinction between efficacious and sufficient grace is made to address a somewhat technical problem: If we can only do good with God's [actual] grace, then how can we be responsible for not doing good?

The idea is that God always provides us the actual grace to do good ("actual" because it's for a specific, individual act), but that the grace is only effective when we choose to allow it to be.

The Catholic teaching on grace lies between two extremes: on the one side, that we don't require grace to do good; on the other, that our doing evil means God didn't give us grace.

At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t like to ask for help. If I asked for help in the past, and continue to struggle with the same things, I feel stupid asking for more help. Sometimes I asked for help and felt judged, like I was evaluated and it was concluded that I liked my sin. I mean, I kept repeating it, right? Have you ever watched Dr. Phil ask someone is crisis, “How’s that working for ya?” To those people, I want to say, I don’t like my sin. I don’t like it, but I can’t always see a way to get out of it or don’t think I deserve help. So I stay in the sin. And then somehow God breaks through, and then I get grace. I really do think people who are sinning hate their sin. I used to wake up in the morning looking at an empty bottle, feeling like crap, and say “I’m never doing that again.” You know why? Because I hated that. I hated how it felt. I hated what I did. But then a couple of days later I felt okay, and I did it again. I couldn’t see anything else. I couldn’t see any alternative. I didn’t think grace was for me. I didn't think I deserved it.

Then I think of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is preaching and drawing large crowds, but then he turns the crowd away. He turns the crowd away by telling them what the kingdom is about. “Blessed are the broken. They shall have the kingdom.” The kingdom comes to broken people! In truth, we are all “broken” people, but he’s talking about those who are broken and know they are broken. I like to think about his audience then- on one side the poor, the prostitutes, the known sinners- all people who don’t look too great. On the other side, the Pharisees, the wealthy, the wise, the noble and the strong. The first group is feeling bad about being such a mess, and the second group is thanking God they’re not like the “those” people. Jesus says to all of them, “No, you don’t get it. Blessed are the broken. Theirs is the kingdom.” To “those” people he says that it’s okay to be broken. It’s when you’re broken that you get grace. It’s when you’re broken that the kingdom comes to you in your weakness and your brokenness. To the other group he says, “You guys aren’t getting this, go! You guys are fine, right? Well, go be fine. People who are fine don’t need a doctor to heal them.” Blessed are the broken. I like to think grace exists for them.


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