Feast of the Lord’s Baptism. January 11, 2015
Is 42:1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mk 1:7-11
Time to merit heaven
What would be the greatest tragedy that could ever befall a Christian in this life? Financial loss? Sickness? Broken relationships? Rejection by others? Abuse? Untimely and unprepared death?
It has been a week of tragedies for me. I received the news that a close associate and mother in her mid-thirties gave birth to a baby boy in the last week of December only to develop complications and die a few days later leaving the new born infant and two other little children. I heard that the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, is reported to have killed close to 2,000 civilians in the northern part of my native country of Nigeria. I also heard the news about how close to a dozen workers in the Paris satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were gunned down by Islamic terrorists for publishing a cartoon of Mohammed.
In the midst of all these tragedies, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. How does this feast relate to the tragedies of our lives and our world today? We hear St. Peter speak of Jesus as being the one anointed by God with the “Holy Spirit and power.” In response to this anointing, “Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” This is good news for us to know that Jesus lived in a world of tragedies too like ours but He overcame evil in the world and in the hearts of mankind by the power of the Spirit of goodness that He bore in its fullness from the moment of His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Lk 13:1-5 shows us that Jesus lived in a world that was not a stranger to both natural and man-made tragedies. He heard the tragic slaughter of His fellow Galileans by Pilate who “mingled their blood with their sacrifices.” He heard of the tragic death of eighteen people killed by the sudden collapse of the tower in Siloam. He felt pity for the widow of Nain who had lost her only son. None of these tragedies could hinder Him from showing His goodness to all people. He forgave sinners, healed the sick, fed the hungry, cleansed lepers, raised the dead, etc. The tragedy of His Passion and death on the Cross was a necessary prelude to His meriting for us the grace of eternal life through His glorious Resurrection.
In St. Mark’s account of the Baptism of Jesus, three things happened as Jesus came out of the water – the heavens were torn open, the Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and the Father exclaimed about the Son, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus remained ever conscious of these three realities throughout His life. He knew that the heavens were always opened to Him: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Jn 1:51) He was always aware of the Father’s presence through the Holy Spirit: “But I am never alone because the Father is with me.” (Jn 16:32) He was always aware of the Father’s deep love for Him: “The Father and I are one.” (Jn 10:30) This triple consciousness impelled Jesus to do good despite the tragedies of earthly life and merit eternal life for us.
The reality is that what happened to Christ at His baptism also happened to us. At that moment of baptism, the heavens were opened to us too, we received the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our souls and became adopted children of God in Jesus Christ too such that the Father saw us in Christ Jesus and also saw us Christ in us such and exclaimed, “You are my beloved son/daughter; with you am I well pleased.” As St. John the Baptist attests, Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit. With this same Spirit of Christ in us, we are constantly turned and directed towards actions that lead us to God. By virtue of the merits of Christ alone, heaven is opened to us, the Spirit abides in us, and we are pleasing to God, making it possible for us merit heaven by recognizing and doing good with love even in the midst of the tragedies of this life.
The life of Jesus teaches us that the greatest tragedies in life are not the sufferings of this life or even death, no matter how painful or unprepared it may be. For a Christian, one who has been baptized, the greatest tragedy is to be overcome by evil here on earth and to lose out on gaining heaven. The goodness of the Spirit that we have looks for every opportunity to diffuse itself and to spread out to others. The mark of Christ that the Spirit has marked us with at the moment baptism yearns to be perfected in heaven. What a tragedy to take this divine mark and guarantee of goodness to hell?
Let us ask ourselves today what hinders us from doing good in our world. How are we permitting the tragedies of life to quench divine goodness in our souls? Is it the malice and bad examples of others? The power of the Spirit of goodness to spread is greater than the power of the bad examples of others. Is it the injustice in our world? The death of Jesus on the Cross and His resurrection is divine goodness prevailing definitively over the darkness of injustice in the world. Is it the pains of life? That too cannot quench divine goodness’ diffusion and we can, by the Spirit of goodness, discern and do the good even in our pains. Is it death? By this same Spirit of goodness, Jesus Christ rose from the dead and we hope to share in His victory over the grave. In and through the grace of baptism, we alone can hinder the spreading of divine goodness from within us to others.
As we encounter Christ Jesus in this Eucharist, we share deeply in the gift of His Spirit. We are further enabled to recognize and do the good in our world today. This mark of the Spirit of goodness is our guarantee that the heavens remain open to us, that the Spirit of goodness will always be with us to guide us in our choices and that we are pleasing to God. This mark tells us that this is the time to gain heaven and avoid hell. Above all, this mark tells us that the greatest tragedy is not the tragedies of this life. Indeed, the greatest tragedy for a Christian is to have the Spirit in this life and still miss heaven.
My dear brothers and sisters, let us begin again and persevere in our journey to heaven because this is the time to merit heaven!!!
Glory to Jesus!!! Honour to Mary!!!