One day little Johnny’s mother looked through the kitchen window and noticed he was playing Church with the family cat in the backyard. The cat was laying on the ground in front of Johnny as he preached a sermon. The mother smiled and thought to herself “how cute” and went about her business in the house. A few minutes later his mother heard the cat growling and hissing. She looked out the window and noticed that Johnny was trying to dump the cat in a pool of water. His mother yelled out the window, “Johnny, what are you doing?” He responded, “Mom, I’m trying to baptize my cat!” The Mom yelled, “Johnny, you can’t do that, cats are afraid of water!” Johnny replied, “Well then he should not have joined my Church!”
When we were Baptized we joined a Church. We became part of the Body of Christ and Jesus Christ is our leader.
For the past few weeks we have journeyed through the Christmas season. This has given us an opportunity to both reflect on and renew our awareness and appreciation that God has come to dwell with us forever. By coming to dwell with us, God has come to be our light and lead us through the dark and grey areas of our lives to the freedom that is truly ours in Him. Now as we close the Christmas season we are invited to follow the life of the now grown 30-year old Jesus as He begins His earthly ministry. Jesus begins this ministry in the same way we began our journey, Baptism (Luke 3:15-23).
“Why was the Lord Christ baptized? The Lord Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, why should he be baptized? Discover why he was born, and there you will discover why he should be baptized. There, I mean to say, you will discover the way of humility, which you cannot take with a proud foot; which you must step out along with a humble foot, or you will never be able to reach the heights to which it leads. He was baptized for your sake, having come down from heaven for your sake.”Saint Augustine (Sermon 292, 3-4)
The God who has come to dwell with us by humbling Himself to become one of us also participates in the ritual of Baptism. He does so as another way of leading us. Through His Baptism He offers us an example of how to accept the relationship that God has offered us from the beginning of our own journey that began with Baptism.
“The Lord was coming, you see, to recommend humility even in baptism, for the consecration of the sacrament itself, because he received baptism as a young man, in the same way as he received circumcision as an infant. He received remedies to recommend them to us, not wounds.”Saint Augustine (Sermon 204A)
The message that Jesus receives after His Baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” not only highlights the special relationship that Jesus has with the Father that will sustain Him throughout his earthly life and ministry. Jesus’ acceptance of this message at His Baptism and consistently throughout his earthly life models how we too can accept God’s gift of love over and over and over as we continue the journey of faith that began with our own Baptism.
“Grasp the truth of God by using the way He Himself provides, since He sees the weakness of our footsteps. That way consists first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, or humility. Unless humility precede, accompany, and follow up all the good we accomplish, unless we keep our eyes fixed on it, pride will snatch everything right out of our hands.”Saint Augustine (Letter 118, 22)
As we journey into Ordinary Time at the beginning of another year of uncertainty with the Coronavirus, the political and social divide in our country, an uncertain economy, and the normal ups and downs of everyday life, will we be attentive to where Jesus is leading us through the Words we will hear Him speak to us and the deeds we will witness Him perform? In those times when it may seem difficult to do so, will we rely on the love and the grace given to us through our own Baptism and the other Sacraments (such as the Eucharist and Reconciliation) that He has given us to sustain us on our way?
For in our own Baptism, we belong to Him. We have been “claimed for Christ.” Like a Shepherd, God feeds His flock (Isaiah 40:1-11) and has given us all the graces we need to continue the journey as we await His second coming (Titus 2:11-3:7). For He was born that we may be born again in Hope as we follow Him into the great unknown.
At this point in the year all the Christmas gifts may be unwrapped. However the love of God that has been given to us through the birth of the Savior on Christmas and modeled once again through His Baptism is the one gift that we can unwrap over and over and over again in the year ahead. However, it must be unwrapped and received in humility.
Have we accepted those graces with the humility that God has modeled through Jesus Christ? Or might we sometimes be inclined, as the cat sort of symbolically did in our opening story, resist Grace?
Do we openly accept the love that has been freely given to us or do we sometimes resist it with stubbornness of heart? A stubbornness that can tempt us to look down on ourselves or others based on past mistakes rather than seeing ourselves and others as God does … His beloved children? A stubbornness that can sometimes tempt us to live selfishly and refuse to open our hearts to the needs of those around us? A stubbornness that can lead us to shut down and refuse to listen to what the other side of an issue may have to teach us? A stubbornness that can tempt us to refuse to at least try to forgive someone we are called to forgive? A stubbornness that can lead us to just go through the motions of weekly Mass in this upcoming season of Ordinary Time and miss the graces we can experience as we truly open our eyes, mind, and heart to what Jesus will teach us through His words and deeds?
The Eucharist is a Sacrament like Baptism. We receive the Sacrament of Baptism only once, however we are invited to receive the Eucharist throughout the year. In the Eucharist we receive food for the journey, the gift of Jesus Christ Himself. Every time we receive the Eucharist, we are invited to open our hearts once again to the love that is poured out to us as we hear Christ say “this is my Body … this is my Blood … given for YOU!”
Do we truly believe those Words? Do we truly believe that God loved us so much that He gave us all of Himself so we can have all of Him? Do we accept that kind of love? As we begin this new journey into Ordinary Time, may we allow those precious words to become absorbed into our hearts so that as we enter this new year, we do so with hope because we know Who we belong to.