Sunday, January 11, 2015

Homily for Today's Mass

My Christian brothers and sisters in the Lord, as you might have noted during the three readings from the Holy Scriptures, all of them were associated with the Baptism of Jesus, either prophetic in nature or descriptive of the event itself.

During the First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, [Is. 42:1-4, 6-7] we heard the prophecy that the promised Messiah would be God's chosen Servant in Whom the Divine Soul would delight. [Is. 42:1] The Messiah would have the Spirit of God upon Him, bringing forth justice to all the nations, not just God's chosen people.

As the Servant of God, the Messiah would not cry or lift up His voice or make it heard in the street. His mission would be modest and gentle in nature. The promised Messiah would not force the people to conform to His teaching. The transformation that would take place within those who heard the Word of God would be an inner one, a change of heart.

The Messiah would come to save the sinners, not those who are already saved. A dimly burning wick He would not quench. For there is always hope for the souls when the grace of God is at work. In the end, the promised Messiah would faithfully bring forth justice, not a worldly justice but a spiritual one.

As Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, whose who are persecuted for righteousness's sake and those when people revile them, persecute them and utter all kinds of evil against them false, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. [Mt. 5:3-11] In the end, spiritual justice shall be served.

The Lord God stated that He has called us to righteousness. He has taken us by the hand and kept us. He has given us as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. [Is. 42:6-7]

As God's loved people, we are "the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 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. In the same way, (we are called to) let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven." [Mt. 5:14-6]

We baptized Catholics are called to let our lights shine on the prisoners of darkness, those who are slaves to sin, that they may escape the darkness that chains their souls. "But how are (we) to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim? And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' [Rom. 10:14-5] Truly, unless those who are in darkness have heard the Word of God through the light of God that shines through us, they in turn cannot proclaim it to others.

Keeping in mind that all have a free will, those who live in darkness, unless they recognize their blindness and imprisonment, they cannot be cured and freed. Unless they desperately admit their need of God by experiencing an inner transformation of the heart, they cannot be saved. Knowing the power of prayer, we faithful servants of the Lord raise our voices heavenward in prayer of intercession, asking the grace of God to shine abundantly upon those souls, that their hearts be softened so they may hear the Word of God and believe wholeheartedly.

In today's Second Reading from The Acts of the Apostles, [Acts 10:34-8] we heard Saint Paul tell us that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; (and) Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." [Acts 10:38] My brothers and sisters in Christ, "God shows no partiality. In every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him." [Acts 10:34-5]

Today's reading from the Gospel of Matthew [Mt. 3:13-17] recreated the event surrounding the Baptism of the Lord Jesus. When Jesus came to be baptized, John the Baptist insisted that it was he who should be baptized by Jesus. For the Baptism of John was a rite of repentance and confession of sin. How could Jesus submit Himself to such a Baptism when "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth?" [1 Pet. 2:22] Jesus' submission to the Baptism of John was to demonstrate that He was a faithful Jew who obeyed the Law and the practices associated with good Jewish life.

"And when Jesus had been baptized, just as He came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to Him and (John) saw the Spirit of God descending like a Dove and alighting on Him." [Mt. 3:16] "And a voice from heaven said, 'This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'" [Mt. 3:17] Here the Dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, the image of a dove is a symbol of love. The Dove, the Holy Spirit, echoes the love of the Father for His only begotten Son Jesus.

The Words of the Heavenly Father, "This is My Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased" [Mt. 3:17] echo the Word of the Lord through the great prophet Isaiah, "Here is My Servant, Whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My Soul delights." [Is. 42:1] This identifies Jesus as the Servant of the Lord. His Messiahship is not one of a royal conquering Messiah, but one of a Servant Who proclaims the good news and suffers.

Summarizing the Baptism of Jesus as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we learn that the Baptism of Jesus was a major turning point in His life. Prior to it, we know very little of His life between age twelve and thirty. "Jesus' public life began with His Baptism by Saint John the Baptist in the Jordan. [Lk. 3:23; Acts 1:22] John preached 'a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins'. [Lk. 3:3] A crowd of sinners, [Lk. 3:10-14; Mt. 3:7; 21:32] tax collectors and soldiers, Pharisees and Sadducees, and prostitutes, came to be baptized by him. 'Then Jesus appears.' The Baptist hesitates, but Jesus insists and receives Baptism. Then the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes upon Jesus and a voice from heaven proclaims, 'This is my beloved Son.' [Mt 3:13-17] This is the manifestation ('Epiphany') of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God." (C.C.C. # 535)

"The Baptism of Jesus is on His part the acceptance and inauguration of His mission as God's suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered among sinners; He is already "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". [Jn. 1:29; Is. 53:12] Already He is anticipating the "Baptism" of His bloody death. [Mk. 10:38; Lk. 12:50] Already He is coming to "fulfil all righteousness", that is, He is submitting Himself entirely to His Father's will: out of love He consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins. [Mt 3:15; 26:39] The Father's voice responds to the Son's acceptance, proclaiming His entire delight in His Son. [Lk. 3:22; Is. 42:1] The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from His conception comes to "rest on Him". [Jn. 1:32-33; Is. 11:2] Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism "the heavens were opened," [Mt 3:16] the heavens that Adam's sin had closed, and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation." (C.C.C. # 536)

"Through Baptism the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus, who in His own baptism anticipates His death and resurrection. The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with Him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father's beloved son in the Son and "walk in newness of life": [Rom 6:4] Let us be buried with Christ by Baptism to rise with Him; let us go down with Him to be raised with Him; and let us rise with Him to be glorified with Him. [St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 40, 9: PG 36, 369] Everything that happened to Christ lets us know that, after the bath of water, the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father's voice, we become sons of God. [St. Hilary of Poitiers, In Matth. 2, 5: PL 9, 927]" (C.C.C. # 537)

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