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 limits of human comprehension

Note: Sorry this didn’t come out earlier. I just started my new assignment and have been very busy!

If you ever meet someone who says that they understand the Trinity, that person is either lying or his name is Jesus and the second coming just happened. Alongside the Eucharist, how Jesus is both God and Man, what the Church actually is, and a few other things, the Trinity is one of the mysteries of our faith. We’ll never fully understand these things on earth, and even in Heaven we’ll be pondering them for eternity, but while we’re here, we can try and make at least a little sense of this whole Trinity thing.

How anything can be both one and three at the same time is baffling. Many analogies have been made over the last 2,000 to explain the Trinity, but none really work. All we are left with to describe the Trinity is words: words which can sometimes be very abstract, very confusing, and, frankly, very boring. I’ll keep this part as brief and simple as I can, but I think that is very important to try to understand a little bit about our God. He is, after all, who we come to visit when we come to Mass on Sundays. He is the one we receive in the Eucharist. We try to get to know our spouses and our friends, understanding that we never will know them fully, often through words. Why should we try to learn about God any differently? OK. Buckle up.

Shield of the Trinity, a visual representation derived from the Athanasian Creed.
Shield of the Trinity

The Trinity is God. Specifically, the Trinity refers to the fact that God is both one and three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean we have three gods. The three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—are not different things. They are one Trinity of Divine persons. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are, together, one God. But at the same time, they are each distinct. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.

If your brain is hurting, that’s a good thing. So is mine. That means that your beginning to grasp how mysterious God is to us. It is strange and confusing. It doesn’t make sense to us. Only God will ever truly understand what it means to be the Trinity. For us, it is important to know that God is the Trinity. Even more importantly, we must know that this Triune God loves us. God loves us more than we could imagine. God created us. After we fell the Father sent his only-begotten Son to us; so, God became one of us and to suffer and die for us. The Spirit was breathed into the world and into our hearts at Pentecost; so, that God could remain with us every moment of our lives. With all of himself, our Triune God loves us from before we are created by our parents and through all eternity. Even when we turn away from God, and deny Him, and cause him anguish because we sin against Him, he continues to love us.

Paul tells us that we must boast of this glorious God we have. No other religion makes such audacious claims as ours! Who else believes in a God willing to suffer and die for our love? Who else has a God who calls them to such perfection, yet offers such great mercy when we fall? Who else has a God who promises—and yes, as Catholics we believe what I’m about to say—that when we die we will become like him? St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the true bliss of man and end of human life” is to fully participate in the very life of God. 1 St. Athanasius said it very clearly: “the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” 2

This is a glorious promise that God has given us! We can start living this way now, by emulating God in our daily lives. We do this by following the commandments, the teachings of Jesus in scripture, and the teaching of the Spirit through God’s Church. This is hard work. It will bring us suffering and affliction in this life. But God suffered through many afflictions for us, and he did it as one of us. Paul teaches us that these afflictions teach us endurance. Endurance proves our character. This character teaches us to hope in God, and this hope does not disappoint, because through this hope God pours love into our hearts and transforms us to be like him right now, in this very place, today.

Today’s Readings
June 16, 2019
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

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 Thursday of Easter

The Gospel today takes place during the Last Supper, just after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. It ends with the line “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” What is Jesus saying?

Whoever receives the one I send receives me. In the various Gospel accounts, Jesus sent his disciples out several times to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. They acted as heralds, proclaiming that Christ, the Anointed One, had come. Jesus instructed the disciples what to do based on whether the people of the various towns received them. After his Resurrection, Jesus again sends his Apostles and disciples out, with the same mission: proclaim the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is, perhaps, the most clear at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, where Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teachings them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20 RSVSCE) We are, in fact, all sent through our Baptism and Confirmation on this same mission.

When people accept a Christian in love with Jesus into their lives, it begins a transformation process. Those who are strong in faith can’t help but share their love for God and the joy of living a virtuous life. They can’t help but to be overjoyed by the fact the God loves them, died for them, and invites them to share in eternal life. Even in times of suffering and difficulty, the Christian lives differently, with an interior freedom that cannot be found anywhere else, which is due to their relationship with God. By living this way, with this joy, others are attracted to the Jesus, and we evangelize the world. By accepting a Christian into their lives, they’ve invited Jesus into their lives, whether they know it or not. This is why God cannot accept a lukewarm Christian. When people accept a lukewarm Christian, they do not see the beauty and glory of God. Lukewarm Christians spread to others a distortion, a poor imitation, of God, not the full Truth and Beauty and Glory of God.

Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. When someone receives Christ into their lives, they start to become transformed little-by-little. They slowly come to experience the love of God the Father. Jesus was sent into this world so that this world may be returned to the Father. The Father loves all of us, and he desires that we all be with him in Heaven. The only way we can do this is through Jesus. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Jesus is unlike anything in creation. He is a true bridge to God. By his Incarnation (becoming human), Jesus expanded human nature—what it means to be human—so that it would be possible for man to be in communion with God. When we accept Jesus into our lives, this communion is no longer simply possible, but actual! The Most Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are one in communion, so when we accept Jesus in our lives, there is no possible way we can also reject the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three come as a package deal.

As we go about our busy lives, let us remember that we Christians are sent to be lights to the world. Through our actions and interactions with others, let us shine out as brightly as the sun. It might just be that one simple thing to us softens the heart of another just enough to allow Jesus to work within his or her life, and that is where the journey to true fulfillment begins.

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 & 27; Jn 13:16-20

Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

“Abram went as the Lord directed him.”

I am often tempted to think that life would be so much easier if God would just come down and tell me what to do. The Old Testament seems to be full of these stories, where God simply dictates commands, laws and prophecies to people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, and Isaiah. If God was willing to tell these guys what to do, why won’t he just come and tell us what to do? Again, I am tempted to think that if God would work some spectacular miracle, and through some miraculous appearance witnessed by millions announced his will, the whole world would change.

But it wouldn’t.

After realizing this, I also remember something critical: God did tell us what he wants us to do. He didn’t just send a prophet to tell us, either. He sent Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity to tell us. God Himself came to Earth, and He told us what to do to have eternal life with Him. Not only did he tell us how to reach paradise, Jesus offered up his own life as a sacrifice to redeem all of us.

In today’s psalm, we pray, “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.” We have put our hope in God, to lead us and to guide us. The Jewish people were waiting for the Lord to bring his mercy to them. They had no idea of the extent to which the Lord would go to shower his endless mercy upon us. His mercy delivers us from death, and preserves us always, fulfilling everything for which the psalmist prayed all the years ago—and for which we still pray today. God’s mercy has not dried up! He still showers it upon us every day.

The grace and mercy of God was “made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,” Paul says. Jesus saved us from death and opened the gates of Heaven for all who love God. Paul reminds us that our journey will be difficult—just as Abraham’s was. We, however, will not be alone. Paul reminds us that God will give us the strength that we need for the journey. This journey, to a holy life, is what we are called to do in this part of our lives. God calls us all to himself, and while we are alive on this earth and in this way, he desires us to live holy lives, to live our lives devoted to God and all those things which are good. We are called to love our neighbor, and to love our enemy. We are called to offer up our time, our talents, and our treasures not just to serve our God, not just to serve our neighbor, but to serve all people. We are called to be good stewards of this planet, good stewards of our countries, good stewards of our communities, and good stewards of our lives. Everything we have—even our body—is a gift for God himself!

Transfiguration - Raphaelthese gifts, of which we are called to be stewards, pale in comparison to the greatest gift God gave humanity. Through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed death. The effects of this are enormous! The Transfiguration in the Gospel today gives us a tiny glimpse into what this means. Our God is a God not of the dead, but of the living. The prophets of the Old Testament are alive with God, who in his glory shines as brightly as the sun!

Such an idea, such a sight can be frightening. Especially when a voice from Heaven accompanies it, says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But Jesus tells us not to be afraid.

Why should we not be afraid? Through our Baptism, we have become sons and daughters of God. God loves us, and desires that we join him in Heaven for eternity. This will happen if we follow the will of God and live holy lives. We can do this because God gives us the strength to endure hardship so that we may do what is just and right. When we trust God, as Abram did, he does not abandon us. Just look at what happened with Abram. God says to him

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”

God eventually made the Israelite nation from Abraham’s descendants, which was great and very blessed, until they turned away from God. While Abraham’s name was still great, the people had ceased being a blessing. They did not go out and spread their blessings to the other communities of the earth. The Israelites had become a curse unto themselves. Then Jesus came. He took the curse onto himself and brought the Kingdom of God onto the earth in the Church. The Church, now, takes the place of the Israelite nation. Abraham is known as “our father in faith.” The Church has been blessed throughout the ages, because God has protected it from the assaults of the enemy. All the communities on earth have been blessed by the Church, because that is her mission: to be all things to all peoples, and to go forth to all the nations, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Readings: Gn 12:1-4a; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9