Jesus Redeems our Baptism

Note: this homily was preached on January 12, 2020. It was posted online on January 17, 2020.

Why did Jesus insist on being baptized?

Battesimo di Cristo (Baptism of Christ) – Andrea Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci

It was not even the same as the sacramental baptism we now receive. Strictly speaking, it had no power of law over the people. Jesus had no need of John’s baptism. John knew this. He protested Jesus’s request. Jesus replied to these protests, saying, “Allow it for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean, though? How would Jesus receiving John’s baptism fulfill righteousness?

John’s baptism was one of repentance. It had no sacrament power to forgive sins, but it allowed people to show God that they recognized their sinfulness and that they desired to repent and be closer to him. In receiving John’s baptism, Jesus showed solidarity with us. He had no need to repent. It is quite impossible for God himself to sin, but Jesus was also fully human. He knew that we need to repent. He wanted to be with us in every way possible. There is an ancient principle within Christianity, it goes back to at least St. Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century. In the fourth century, we, as a church, still had a lot to figure out. Many heresies attacked the idea that Jesus was fully human and fully God at the same time. People were scandalized that God would demean himself so much that he would become a human being. In fact, some say that this scandal goes back to before the creation of the universe itself—that Satan’s refusal to follow God was based on the fact that God was going to become human. Anyway, the principle St. Gregory Nazianzus articulated was the idea that anything which is not assumed is not redeemed. If Jesus had not been fully human, if he had not lived a fully human experience, then we could not be healed of our sins and saved. Jesus allowed a baptism of repentance so that he could experience the very human experience of repentance. He experienced human repentance and purified it, he healed it, he made our repentance holy.

While John’s baptism could not change Jesus, Jesus did change baptism. By being baptized in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus communicated his holiness to those waters. By submitting to John’s baptism of water, he made the waters of baptism holy. His holiness was contagious. That water communicated the holiness to all the rest of the water on the planet, by virtue of the water cycle and all that science stuff we learned about in grade school, and so now all water has been made holy for baptism. When we entered into these now holy waters of repentance in our baptisms, they put to death all that is sinful within us. Then this same sanctified water is used when the Holy Spirit raises us back to life, instilling the fire of Christ in our hearts, as the words that change us and open us up to a new life of grace are pronounced: I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This brings me to my final point. Jesus’s Baptism is also an epiphany. We used to celebrate it as a part of Epiphany, and the Eastern Church still celebrates this feast primarily on Epiphany. God reveals himself to us in a couple of critically important ways on this occasion. It is, perhaps, the first time when God the Father, in the voice, God the Holy Spirit, in the dove, and God the Son, as receiving the baptism, are all together and manifesting themselves to the people at the same time. God reveals himself to be a Trinity at Jesus’s baptism. Furthermore, when the Father calls Jesus his Son, it reveals that this person standing before them, Jesus, is truly God, truly divine. God fully reveals himself at the Baptism of Jesus: He shows that Jesus, the Messiah, is truly and fully God and truly and fully man, and God reveals that he is a communion—a community—of persons.

Today, we thank God for the gift of his Baptism, through which he revealed so much of himself to us. We also thank him for the gift of our own baptisms, through which he opens our hearts and our souls to his holy grace which, if we allow it, will lead us back to him in Heaven.

Today’s Readings:
January 12, 2020
Baptism of the Lord, Year A
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

The Fuel for our Lamps

At our baptisms, our godparents lit a small candle from the light of the Easter candle. This candle was then presented to us, or our parents if we were not old enough. This candle was a visible symbol of the light of Christ that had now been lit within us. Jesus calls us to keep that light burning, not just for us, but for all those around us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 1 We must put the light within us on display so that others can see it, and so that our light can guide others to Christ.

To effectively guide others to Christ and his Heavenly Kingdom, we must ensure that our light shines as brightly as possible, and that it continues to burn. How are we to do this? How do we make the light of Christ within us burn ever more brightly? What must we do to ensure that the light of Christ within us continues to burn?

The light of Christ within us grows with our virtue. As we become better people, people who are more like Christ, the basket around our light is lifted. When we put sin behind us and dedicate ourselves to doing the work of God and his kingdom, we work to remove the basket that covers our light. In addition to the basket around our light being removed, the light itself can grow to hold more fuel and to burn brighter. This happens when we regularly receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

Reconciliation trims the wick of our light. It may sting, and it may be painful, and we may really hate having to do it, but it is worth it. Just as when a wick is trimmed, the lamp glows brighter, so when our soul is healed by reconciliation God shines more clearly through us. The Eucharist grows the size of our lamp. By increasing our charity and love for others, the Eucharist gives our lamp the ability to hold more fuel. When the Eucharist increases our hope in God, it gives a purity to the flame, allowing it to shine even more brightly and beautifully. The Eucharist strengthens our faith, which makes the light within us stronger, so that it may withstand even the strongest gusts of wind that work in opposition to it.

Let us now turn our attention to the second question: how do we ensure that the light keeps burning? This is the question asked by today’s Gospel. The virgins are awaiting the return of the bridegroom. They do not know the hour at which he will come and call them into the wedding feast. The wise virgins ensure that they have strong lamps, and that they have plenty of fuel—even if the bridegroom comes at a very late hour. The foolish virgins do not take such precautions. Even when the bridegroom is delayed, these virgins do not go to find more fuel. They squander their time, waiting until the very last possible moment, when the bridegroom’s imminent arrival is announced, to search for more fuel. At this point, it is much too late to search for more fuel.

The wise virgins are unable to give them fuel. They can’t give them the fuel, for two reasons. Firstly, their fuel would be too strong for the foolish virgins’ lamps. The fuel of the wise virgins—the fuel that powers the light of Christ within each of us—is purified and strengthened and cleansed by our virtues. It will destroy a lamp not strengthened by the grace of God’s sacraments. Secondly, the fuel is not theirs to give. The virgins have a duty to light to path for the bridegroom. If they give their fuel away, they will be unable to complete the one task which they were called to do. Similarly, the fuel powering our lamps is given to us by God as a gift. This gift is called grace. While we can give some of these graces away for the betterment of others, we cannot give them all away. This grace, sanctifying grace, is necessary for us to enter into Heaven. Only God can give us these graces. Any other source simply cannot give us the graces we need for the light of Christ to burn within us. These graces are free gifts from God, but we must prepare ourselves to receive them, and we must be willing to receive them. We do this by living a virtuous life and by receiving the sacraments regularly.

Where do we get the fuel for our lights?

Today’s Readings:
Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A
Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Reflection for Pentecost

Every year on Pentecost, we hear about the noise and the wind rushing upon all those gathered with the apostles. We hear of the tongues that appeared as fire resting upon each of them. We are told that this is the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that nobody can say Jesus is the Lord except through the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that he will send his Spirit among us, and through the Power of the Spirit gives the apostles the ability to forgive and retain sins.

These are all amazing things. I have just one question for us all: who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us in each of the Sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, and He dwells within us. If the Spirit is living inside of us, then shouldn’t we have a relationship with Him? Should we not know him as more than simply the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity? Isn’t it insufficient to think of Him as a little dove who hangs around God the Father and God the Son, who are depicted as men with impressive beards in artwork?

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

I like to go back to the images from today’s first reading. First, the tongues that appear as fire. I can’t help but to think of the Sacrament of Confirmation when I read that portion of the story. The tongues of fire, which represent the Holy Spirit living inside, are like the pilot lights on a water heater or a furnace. They get things moving, but they must be given fuel, and they cannot heat the water or the air on their own. The Holy Spirit, to me, is like the pilot light and the fuel. What does that make me? That makes me the guy who controls the on/off switch for the burners. If I accept the gifts that the Spirit gives me, it is like turning on the switch, allowing the fuel to flow, warming the water or the air. If I do not accept these gifts, by sinning—it does not matter whether it is mortal or venial—then I turn the switch off. The graces that the Holy Spirit wishes to give me to fuel the fire of love within my soul are unused.

The Holy Spirit, to me, is the source and the reason for all the love that I have for God. If I did not have the Holy Spirit assisting me, daily, I would not be able to love God. Going back to my image of the water heater: sometimes the water gets too hot, and so the water heater will turn off. With love for God, however, this is not the answer. A soul on fire with love for God is a beautiful thing to witness, and it must not be turned down. In fact, we should turn the switch on even higher. We may think it is too much, but the Holy Spirit helps us to be strong, to be daring enough to enter into this burning love for God.

The image of the noise and power of the wind rushing upon the apostles and their companions reminds me that the Spirit has immense power. The Bible uses images such as the waves of the sea or the rushing of the wind to depict God’s immense power over all things. When we recognize that the Holy Spirit has this incredible power, and that He is the one urging us to enter into the burning fire of God’s love, we should know that we are safe. The Spirit will protect us from all things—even ourselves—and bring us to a level of joy and love and happiness of which we never could have dreamed.

Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

The Holy Spirit is my friend, who guides me toward Jesus Christ, my Lord. He is my strength, who gives me the graces and energy to follow God down roads I may not want to go. He is the “pilot light” in my soul, always ready to reignite me when my own love for God wavers and flickers. He is my protector, who saves me from the evil one, his minions, the follies of this world, and myself. He is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and through the Son into this world to assist mankind in blessing, redeeming and sanctifying it.

To me, the Holy Spirit is the One who will take me by the hand and lead me to Heaven, so that I may conquer sin and live forever with God in eternal bliss.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Reflection for the Fourth Monday of Easter

Non-Jews are also called to the kingdom of God! What fantastic news! This is made clear in today’s first reading. Peter is called to declare clean all foods which God has created. (I will try to write an article about all the reasons this is important in the somewhat-near future!)

Right after declaring the dietary laws unnecessary, Peter baptizes an entire household—this would have included the husband, the wife, any children, and any slaves living there—of Gentiles. The reading makes special note that they received the same gifts as the Jews in their baptism. When the Christians hear that these non-Jews received the same gifts, they did not become angry and jealous: they glorified God!

This is one way we can identify true Christian charity (a.k.a. love): it is overjoyed to be shared. True love cannot be turned in on itself, it must be shared. This is especially emphasized in Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Today, let us try to be joyful with all around us, because God has called them to salvation. Perhaps through our example of living in Christian joy, they may recognize the gift God has given to us and seek it for themselves.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 42: 2-3, 43: 3, 4; Jn 10:1-10 or Jn 10:11-18