Pastoral Sharings: " Baptism of the Lord "

WeeklyMessage Father Alex McAllister SDS
Baptism of the Lord
January 12, 2014

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
Matthew 3:13-17
Gospel Summary

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.

The Baptism of the Lord and the Sacrament of Confirmation
At first glance, the scene makes little sense.  John’s strident call to repentance provokes an overwhelming response.  People of all shapes and sizes flock to him in the wilderness.  They are baptized in the Jordan as a sign of repentance and cleansing. 

Suddenly, out of the crowd steps John’s cousin Jesus.  Wait a minute.  What’s Jesus, the sinless one, doing in a crowd of repenting sinners?  What’s he doing coming forward to be baptized by John, who is by his own admission, is inferior to his cousin?

Pope announces papal visit to Holy Land
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis will make a papal visit to the Holy Land in May of this year. The Holy Father made the announcement after the recitation of the Sunday Angelus overlooking a rainy St Peter’s Square. Speaking to pilgrims who braved the elements to hear his words, the Pope said, “in the climate of joy, typical of this Christmas season , I wish to announce that from 24 to 26 May next, God willing, I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Remember Your Baptism
The Liturgical celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ should prompt us and motivate us to review our own Baptism, its meaning as well as its obligation for us.

We would like to offer five short but very practical suggestions on how we can renew our own Baptismal commitment as we contemplate Jesus being baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  In His Baptism the sublime mystery of the Blessed Trinity is revealed— “A Trinitarian theophany”.  The Father’s voice is heard; the Son (Jesus) descends into the waters of the Jordan; the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove.” (Mt. 3:13-17)

A Reader is Interested in Apologetics and Defending the Faith
He writes:

I am currently reading your book By What Authority: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition. I’m only about four chapters in, but what I’ve read so far about “modernist” Christians (which today I believe we refer to as progressive Christians) and the Jesus Seminar has really stuck with me.

Guard faith with ‘spiritual cunning,’ says pope
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christians should go out into the world to follow God but use “holy cunning” to guard against the snares of temptation, Pope Francis said.

The pope made the remarks at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 6 on the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the manifestation of Jesus as savior to the world.

God’s Search for You
We often hear of our search for God, but seldom, if ever hear of God’s search for us – or at least we do not think we do. But, the truth is that God first seeks us out, so that we might seek Him. He thirsts for us, so that we might thirst for Him (cf. CCC nos. 2560-2567).

How do we miss this, one of the most amazing of truths, particularly when we have just recently spent all of Advent and now this Christmastide hearing about Christ’s coming to us? St. John of the Cross tells us that when we think of God, that is not our doing at all — God has placed that thought in our minds and hearts as He passes nearby to us. Is that not exciting? It surely is!

Christ: Our Shield Against Evil
About a month ago, up at 2am with a sick baby, I found myself watching a documentary about the modern-day descendants of prominent officials of the Third Reich. Entitled Hitler’s Children, it examined the lives of modern-day descendants of high-ranking Nazi officials such as Hermann Goring, Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Höss. None of them Nazi sympathizers, the featured interviewees had all in different ways endeavored to come to terms with the fact of being closely descended from moral monsters.

Ruminating on the Natural Revelation Argument
So back in November, I thought I would try my hand at giving a sort of quick and dirty overview of natural revelation: what we can tell about God by looking around at stuff. It wasn’t meant to be a full treatment, of course, but it sketched out a bit of what we are talking about when we say, with Paul in Romans 1:20, that creation points to the Creator.

Facing Relativism. Standing for Morality
“Religion must affirm, in the clearest terms, that morality and ethical values are not mere decorative frills of personal opinion, not subjective superstructure, but intrinsic laws of the cosmos built into the heart of reality.” — Bhikku Bodhi

Though Bhikku Bodhi is a Buddhist, this is one of my favorite quotes, because in one simple sentence it accurately describes the intrinsic nature of morality while firmly declaring our mission in a world where relativism continues to gain influence.

Why I Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin
I recently read an article on Huffington Post entitled “Why I Can’t Say ‘Love the Sinner/Hate the Sin’ Anymore.” The author, Micah Murray, is obviously a very caring individual, and I understand where he is coming from. He hates the idea that we would see gays – or anyone – as someone substandard, someone who is “other” to us, or less than us because of their sin. He points to a fundamental Christian reality – that people are people and he rightly resents the idea that people would be defined by a sin, rather than by who they are as individuals.

The Best Preacher I Ever Had
I have been thinking about the best preacher I ever heard.  Not about the single best homily or sermon, but about the best and most consistent preaching I have encountered.

When it comes to preaching, we all have our horror stories and I have done my fair share of grumbling.

But rather than focus on the bad preaching, I have been thinking about what makes the good preaching good.  As Catholics seeking holiness, we have the saints to model ourselves after.  We find a saint that seems like us and we try to do some of the things that helped them become more holy.  The same goes for preaching, do what the good preachers do.

What’s Wrong with Shame?
The internet is abuzz with the image of a girl. Shock, right? But not that kind of picture. It’s a picture of a girl who appears to be in her early teens, holding a sign which reads:

“My name is Hailey. I am a kind, caring, smart girl, but I make poor choices with social media. As a punishment, I am selling my iPod and will be donating the money to the charity Beat Bullying, in hopes of changing my behavior as well as bringing awareness to Bullying. Because bullying is wrong.”

This is creating a lot of back and forth, with some accusing the mom of going too far and saying the Mom is the real bully.

Krispy Kreme Evangelization
Today on the way home from Mass I stopped at Krispy Kreme for a dozen donuts. I’m wearing my cassock and Benedictine scapular. Here’s what happened.

First guy I see is about thirty. Hospital scrubs. He says, “What church are you?”

“Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church.”

“I’m the son of two Lutheran pastors.”

“I can help you with that if you like…”

Laughs. ” I really like the new pope.”

What’s It All Mean? – Patron Saints and Patron Saints for the Year
What does taking someone as your patron for the year mean?

A patron saint in general is someone who you choose to guide or support or protect you. Catholics choose a patron saint when they are confirmed into the Church. It is often because one relates to the saint’s life in some way or they are examples of something one likes. I chose my patron, St. Martha, because she’s the patron saint of homemakers and cooks. I like both of those things. Turned out that when I was learning more about her life that we are a lot alike in personality, both in strengths and weaknesses. It’s kind of like having a best friend who’s ahead of you in school and who helps you through some of the hard or confusing bits. (This may all be really obvious info but better to have too much background than too little…)

Catholic Parenting: What I’ve Done Right
As parenting goes, the Lord knows I’ve done a lot of things wrong. But there are a few things I’ve done right.

After mulling over my 22 years of rearing eight children (and asking the older kids for their thoughts), I have come up with my three indispensable keys to effective Catholic parenting:
      Moral formation is the top priority.
      What I teach must make sense.
      Nothing is off limits for discussion.

Let’s take them one at a time:

A Whale of an Argument
Have you heard the argument against the existence of God based on the size of the universe? You might find it strange that an argument against God would be constructed based on the enormity of space — something that elicits awe and wonder.

On Losing the Faith
It has happened to not a few laymen, religious, priests, and bishops over the centuries, and it remains as harsh and threatening a reality today as ever. The specter of losing the Catholic faith that we were gratuitously given at baptism looms large in a world that has intentionally marginalized the supernatural – and in a Church that has for decades ineffectively instructed her young children. Current surveys and polls tell a consistent story: a large number of Catholics who attended Mass in their youth have ceased in adulthood.

When was Judas replaced?
I’ve been doing some work on biblical chronology–the study of precisely when in history various events recorded in the Bible took place–and I thought of something that I haven’t seen pointed out before.

In Acts 1, Peter prompts the Eleven to replace Judas Iscariot, and they do, with Matthias being selected to take his place.

When would this have occurred?

The Faithful Traveler … in the Holy Land!
Longtime readers may recall that I’m a big fan of Diana von Glahn’s The Faithful Traveler Catholic travel show to shrines around the U.S.

Her new series is in the Holy Land. They visit the holy sites and explain their history, talk about the art, architecture, and so forth. Each episode is 30-minutes, so they aren’t meant to be in-depth theological looks, but instead, fun and breezy introductions. The goal is to give people the knowledge they need to either go there themselves and know what they’re looking at or enable them to be entertained and educated armchair travelers.

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