Baptism of the Lord 2021: Sweet Water

Today’s reflection is for The Baptism of the Lord, Sunday January 10, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. Sadly, there was no recording of this homily. Happily, you can still read it below.

In the very first verse of the first book of the Bible, The Book of Genesis, which literally means, “In the Beginning,” we read, “A mighty wind swept over the waters…” God’s Spirit swept over the waters of the abyss, brought order out of chaos, and light and beauty out of darkness. God started something new. He created by his Word and saw that it was good. 

Today we celebrate the baptism of the Lord, where God again sends down His Spirit, only this time upon His son, the Word made flesh, and upon the waters of baptism by John, in the Jordan. Today we hear, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” God was creating something new again, and the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are there to give witness that it is very good. And what happened at Jesus’ baptism happens at every baptism. 

You know, I don’t think most Catholics have any idea how powerful baptism is. In the Catechism we read, “ Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life…Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God.” (1213) When we are baptised, and when we bring our children to the Church to be baptised, the Holy Spirit–the same Spirit that created the earth and all that is in it, and the same Spirit that descended upon our Lord, and same Spirit that descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost–descends upon us and our children to save our eternal soul. 

It doesn’t just add to what is, it transforms every part of our being for the rest of our lives. Again, the Catechism, “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes [us] “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,”69 member of Christ and co-heir with him,70 and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1265) This is such an amazing gift! In the early church, people wanted to keep returning to the waters of baptism to be re-baptised, or after committing sin, wanted to recommit their lives to the Lord through baptism again. The Church said once is all you need. In the Creed that we are about to profess we say, “We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

How amazing that at every Christian baptism, the heavens tear open and the voice of God booms so that we can hear we are his beloved son or daughter. Who wouldn’t want to hear that time and time again? I even have a protestant friend, who every time he attends a baptism, he enters into the water! He recommits his life to Jesus Christ, his savior. He jumps right into the pool where they are baptising, and he encourages others to do the same. I want us to do the same too. 

Not jump into a pool – but recommit our lives to Jesus in the sweet waters of baptism again and again. You know, we do actually recommit ourselves to the Lord in this Church. How can we jump into the pool? How can we dedicate ourselves to Him again? It’s why we love our holy water so much in this Church! The same Spirit that blesses the water at our baptism, blesses water, and makes it holy so that it can bless others. 

When we walk into the church, under normal circumstances, there is holy water there. We dip our fingers in the water and we renew again our baptismal promises. We make the sign of the Cross and proclaim that we have been baptised in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. All throughout the Easter season, at house blessings, at various events throughout our lives, and finally at Christian funerals, we are sprinkled with holy water and reaffirm the truth that we have been claimed for Jesus Christ, that we are God’s beloved, and that this is not our home. We love him, and he loves us. And that mutual love should transform us–maybe not overnight, but certainly over time. We must become day-by-day the goodness and love of God in our family and in our communities that Jesus was in his time. We are fresh water in the midst of the sea. 

St. Ephraem the Syrian said, “A man at sea stores up sweet, fresh water in his boat; in the midst of the sea he lays up and keeps it, the sweet in the midst of the bitter.” He says, “In the same way, amidst the floods of sin, keep the water of baptism.” We are that sweet water in the midst of the salty sea, a sinful world. As we celebrate Jesus’ baptism and ours, we are mindful of what baptism means for us and for the world. Our world needs Christians more than ever. Too many Catholics today–my family included–are not bringing their children to the waters to be reborn as children of God. Bring them forward. 

Baptism is the seal of eternal life.  If we “keep the seal” until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of our Baptism, we will be able to depart this life “marked with the sign of faith,” in expectation of the blessed vision of God. (1274) May we never take our eyes off the prize, the salvation souls. Let us return to the waters with our children and grandchildren. Let the skies be torn open that we might hear the voice of God and watch the Spirit descent to renew the face of the earth–one soul at a time. 

Epiphany 2021: Follow the Star

Today’s reflection is for the Epiphany of the Lord, Sunday January 3, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

As we celebrated the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, two days ago, we were reminded that, “With God, all things are possible,” as Mary was opened to God’s will and brought forth the world’s savior. Today, I want to encourage us to be wise at all times, and no matter what happens, always follow the star. 

A friend of mine just a couple of weeks ago, from Tennessee, wrote me to say that the Bethlehem Star could be seen in the night sky. It was last seen in 1226 and won’t be back for another 800 years. I was eager to look out at the night sky to see it for myself, but I live in Denair, and it was so foggy that my hand in front of my face couldn’t be seen, never mind a star in the sky. I was disappointed that I couldn’t see it, even though it was still there. 

I have a lot of respect for the wise men that we heard about and celebrate today. They knew something special that I think we should remember too. First of all, like my friend, they were expectant. The wise men looked to the sky relying on the promise of God. I know we’re not supposed to have our head in the clouds, but we do need to keep an eye in the sky. Not only do the stars remind us of our connectedness to something greater, they also remind us that God is dependable. Every 800 years, like clockwork, that Bethlehem star appears. When times are difficult, we need to look to the stars and talk to God in an expectant way. “God, I don’t see a way through this difficult time, but I know I can always count on you. I don’t see a way, but I know that you have a way.” Be expectant, look to the sky, and speak with God from the heart. 

A second thing we can learn from the Wise Men is that people who are expectant and prayerful are filled with joy. The reading said, “[The star came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing [it].” They were expectant and joyful. I think they knew the secret of a joyful life–seek God, be expectant, and celebrate often. I can just imagine those three fellas riding their camels, singing songs, and praising the God who always comes through to those who eagerly seek him day and night. I know that I struggle the most when I get bogged down with work, and bills, and earthy burdens. I lose my joy. Life begins to be a drudgery. When things get tough, Wise Men start reading the Scriptures, remember God’s promises, start talking to God, and start singing praises to God the Father.

Another thing we can learn from the Wise Men, is that we need to enter the house! They didn’t just get there and wait outside. Wise men know that although God can be found anywhere and everywhere, the real encounter, and the end of the journey demands that we enter through the door. That’s why Catholic Baptisms start at the doors of the Church. We begin our relationship with God by entering through the door. Every other grace and Sacramental encounter follow from entering into the Church and the mystery of God. My friends, we gotta get through the door if we want to be truly close to God. 

I’ve got friends who don’t go to church, they find God on their own, and I know Christians who go to church just a couple times of year–you know, atheists, spiritual people, and once or twice a year Christians have a lot in common–they don’t talk about God much. They don’t look any different than anyone else who doesn’t follow the star. Wise Men know that if they want to encounter the savior, they’ve got to enter the door. 

Finally, we can’t forget to give our gifts to God. I think I have the most respect for Melchior, the wise man who carried the gold. Probably not too hard to hang onto the frankincense and myrrh throughout the journey, but if you’re like me, it’s pretty easy to spend the gold! Wise men know that we need to be willing to pass up creature comforts and earthly wants to make sure that God gets some gold. The Wise Men knew that sometimes earthly wants have to wait so that we can give our treasure to Jesus. I fear that too many of us enter the house with frankincense and myrrh, but come up a little short when it’s time to pony up on the gift of gold.

On this Feast of the Epiphany, my prayer is that we have an epiphany! I hope that God has opened our hearts to some important lessons from these wise men: Be expectant always, be filled with joy, enter the door, and leave your gift. They were Wise Men, but we can be too.

Theotokos 2021: All Things Are Possible

Today’s reflection is for The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Friday, January 1, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here soon.

Let me first wish everyone a very happy new year, as we continue through the twelve days of the Christmas Season. Today we celebrate 8 maids a milking, 7 swans a swimming, 6 geese a laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 french hens, 2 turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. We also celebrate that Mary is indeed the Mother of God! In Greek, the Theotokos, the God bearer (see CCC 495). Mary gave birth to God, and we must celebrate. 

Mary is the Mother of God because the eternal Son of God emptied himself of all his glory and freely subject-ed himself to the entire spectrum of human existence–from birth to death. St. Athanasius said, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” And God called on Mary to do it. In 431 AD at Ephesus, the Church declared that Mary could indeed be called Mother of God, because she gave birth to Jesus, the eternal Son of God. No wonder Jesus said, “With God all things are possible” (MT 19:36)

With God, all things are possible–which brings us to our New Year, and what is possible in 2021. First off, ALL THINGS are possible with God. Mary knew it, Jesus taught it, and the real question is whether we believe it. For many people, 2020 was one, big dumpster fire. Last night me, Jill, and the boys reflected on all the wonderful blessings this past year brought to us, and the wonderful things God had done in our life–even amid the difficulty and the struggles of a pandemic and worse, the world in pandemonium! God blesses even in the darkness, the New Year invites us to consider our response to that blessing.

Which brings us to New Year’s Resolutions. I have heard that many are choosing NOT to have resolutions, as their first resolution. As Christians, we are too well-aware that there is always room for improvement. And that’s what resolutions are about. God has great things in store for us, and unlike Mary, many of us need to get into shape to embrace the challenge! I’m honestly a bit put-off by people who say they don’t do resolutions. I say, “Let me rephrase what you just said, ‘You have given up on trying to be better tomorrow that you are today. You have given up on being better next year that you were last year. You have given up on growing in virtue, holiness, and quality of your character.”  

My brothers and sisters, we are NOT among those who give up and quit. We are among those who pursue life, and holiness, and goodness, and truth, in our world, in our country, in our family, in ourselves. St. Thomas Aquinas (qtd. In the CCC 460) said, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” We can admit we are not there yet. But don’t give up. Be resolute. Resolve to make small changes each year to be more the person God calls you to be. Make resolutions. 

If I may offer some practical suggestions: The first, is that in all of these suggestions we take baby steps. No one goes from the couch to winning a marathon. So here are some thoughts from Deacon Stephen:

  1. We are mind-body-soul unities; make resolutions that improve your mind, body, and soul. Exercise daily, pray daily, and read daily. 
  2. We are communal; make communal resolutions. Resolutions that improve me, improve our marriage, and that improve our family. And come up with resolutions as a family.
  3. Write them down. Post them on your refrigerator, your bathroom mirror, on your nightstand.

Finally, never give up. Resolutions are not one-and-done. We resolve for the whole year. Recommitting again and again over the course of the year. Just because you failed, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. I want to encourage you stick with it. By February most people you know will have given up on their resolutions, if they ever started at all–let’s not give up on ours. As my mom was fond of saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Mary gave birth to God and God became one of us. God carried his cross for us. We need to carry our cross for Him. So that we can be like Him. As St. Athanasius said, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” May 2021 be an incredible growth year for you, your marriage, and your family. With God, all things are possible.