Today we commemorate the Baptism of the Lord. You
might not think that this feast is connected to Christmas
but in the Liturgical Year the Baptism of the Lord
effectively marks the end of the Christmas season. In
actual fact there is a deep connection with the feast of Christmas because both Christmas and the Baptism of the Lord mark a beginning.
Christmas celebrates Our Lord’s entry into this world and his Baptism marks the launching of his public ministry.
Next Sunday we commence what are termed the Ordinary Sundays of the Year. By the way, they are termed Ordinary not because they are pedestrian or everyday or conventional but because they are numbered. An ordinal is a number in a sequence and this is the reason we call them Ordinary Sundays.
During these so-called Ordinary Sundays we learn from the Gospel readings all about Christ’s ministry; what his teaching was and all about the miracles he performed.
Christ came to John the Baptist to be Baptised not because he needed Baptism. After all he was completely without sin and therefore required no cleansing. He came for Baptism so that the Father could manifest his approval of the ministry he was about to embark upon. This is what those words from heaven mean: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.’
You may or may not have heard about some changes to the Baptism Service being piloted by the Anglican Church. They propose to remove any reference to sin or to the Devil from the Baptismal liturgy and are trialling an amended wording.
It is not for me to interfere in the internal affairs of another Christian Church but I think that this proposition is rather misguided. Baptism is precisely about cleansing from sin and, while eliminating any reference to sin does not render the Baptism ineffective, it surely is inappropriate to delete any mention of this essential fact.
Christianity has its own anthropology, its own basic understanding of our human nature, and we know that we are deeply affected by sin. Sin is in our DNA if you like; we are all aware that we have a propensity towards evil, an inclination to disobey God’s laws. Even a tiny baby who has never actually committed a sin has this tendency which comes from our fallen state. It is this original sin that needs cleansing.
Not only this, but the only person who is going to rejoice at the removal of any reference to the Devil from the Baptismal service is the Devil himself. It is not fashionable to talk about the Devil in the modern world; many people regard him as some sort of bogeyman invented by the Church to keep Christians following the rules.
However, this is a grave error. The Devil and the powers of evil certainly do exist and he is alive and active; most especially so in a large and teeming city like this one. We know, of course, that the battle with evil has been definitively won by Christ on the Cross of Calvary. But the effects of evil are still all around us and if we are not careful we are easily led astray from the path of righteousness.
Baptism remains the most fundamental of all the sacraments; it admits us to the Church and opens up for us the life of grace. It is through our Baptism that we are enabled to come close to God and to follow the way he set before us; it sets us on the Royal Road that ultimately leads us away from sin and death and takes us towards holiness and eternal life. It is essential therefore that it is not devalued and certainly not by changing the words of the service.
Today at all the masses we are taking up our annual second collection for the work of SPUC, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child. I know that this parish has a long tradition of supporting SPUC and I am confident that you will be generous again this year.
The principal role of SPUC is to keep an eye on upcoming legislation to see that it does not endanger the life of the unborn child. It also pursues cases through the courts like the one mentioned in the Bulletin defending two midwives who are being compelled by their Health Authority to supervise abortions on the labour ward where they work.
It also campaigns against abortion and highlights the damage abortion causes to potential mothers and to society as a whole. We ought to be aware of the extremely high number of abortions taking place in this country. A quick look on Google will tell you that in 2012 185,122 abortions took place which was a 5.2% increase on the numbers ten years previously.
Since the Abortion Act came into force in 1967 over seven million abortions have taken place in this country alone, which is more than the six million people killed in the Holocaust. The vast increase in the availability of artificial contraception has not reduced the numbers of abortions but instead, as Catholics long ago predicted, it has actually contributed to their increase.
It is only organisations like SPUC which keep this issue before the media and who fight to defend the sanctity of life. SPUC campaigns particularly against what might be termed lifestyle abortions. This is the attitude that the child in the womb is coming at the wrong time or that it might inconvenience the mother in some way or other.
We must never forget that all life comes from God; the parents are his co-operators in bringing life into being. It can therefore never be permissible to take the life of a child in the womb whatever the difficulties that birth may cause. There are plenty of couples who would willingly adopt a child if circumstances prevented the mother from raising that child herself.
Let us be clear about it, in this country it is principally the Catholic Church which stands up for the rights of the unborn child. Some others are also totally opposed to abortion such as the Orthodox and some Evangelical Protestants. There are also many Moslems and Hindus who are opposed to abortion.
However we must recognise that the secular majority and some more lukewarm Christians are definitely in favour of the current Abortion laws and will fight hard to keep them in place. It is these groups that remain to be convinced of the truth that life begins at conception and that the life of the unborn child is sacred.
In conclusion, I ask you to support the work of SPUC and help them not only financially but by stressing to all those that you come into contact with that the life of the unborn child is sacred and constantly needs to be defended.
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
January 12, 2014
The Baptism of the Lord
When Jesus presents himself for baptism, John the Baptist protests that he is not worthy to perform this ritual for one greater than himself. But Jesus insists and John relents. This insistence of Jesus seems to be based upon his desire to join all those in Israel, who are not just renouncing their sinfulness (which Jesus would not need to do), but are also declaring their readiness to receive the Lord in whatever manner he may wish to come. After all, the baptism of Jesus is not just an episode in his private life; it is the invitation of a whole people to accept God’s initiative for salvation.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord: Joining the Fight Against Sin
A few years ago, Fr. John Henry passed away. Fr. Henry was a retired priest form the Diocese of Rockville Center, NY, who used to help out our parish on weekends, and eventually was in residence with us. He was wonderful. Now our Director of Music Ministry, Anne Harman, will often ask the priests before Mass what they are preaching on to see if there is some music piece she could play that would develop the theme of the homily. But her conversation with Fr. Henry was always the same. She would ask, “So, Father, what are you preaching on?” “Sin,” he would answer, and in an Irish accent add, “And I’m agin’ it.” At which time, Anne would smile, I would crack up and Anne would say, “I just don’t see how that is so funny.” I guess I was wondering if he thought we might be in favor of it.