Feast of the Lord’s Baptism. January 10, 2016.
Is 42:1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Lk 3:15-16,21-22
Being consecrated souls
I was awakened from sleep by the beeping of my phone at about 2:30 am some months ago and I rushed to retrieve the message thinking that it was an emergency. The text message went something like this, “Father, please what time is Mass tomorrow morning? I would like to speak to you after the Mass.” I could not help but wonder that early morning, “Why send me such a text message at such an hour? Why contact me of all people? Why this hope that I can offer meaningful assistance?”
Maybe this was God’s way of reminding me of what it means to be a consecrated soul, that I do not only belong to Him but that I have been gifted by Him for others. I have been consecrated to God in Baptism, I belong to Him as His servant in and through Confirmation, I have been further consecrated for worship and service in and through Priestly ordination, and I have been consecrated to Him through my religious vows. Being thus consecrated to God, I do not belong to myself but I belong to Him, and belonging to Him, I have been gifted not for myself but for others, to be a constant sign to all of God’s presence, action and love. Consecrated to God and gifted by Him, God’s people will surely come to me because I have been gifted for them.
In today’s Gospel, we are told that the people “were filled with expectation” as they came to receive the baptism of John. Think of this: John the Baptist was out in the wilderness and he was not exactly an example of good fashion, “He wore clothing made of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.” He was not into delicacies, “His food was locusts and wild honey.” His homilies were pretty direct and hard hitting, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” (Mt 3:4, 7) Then why did they go out to meet this strange character, to listen to his stern message, and to receive his baptism? Even Jesus asked the Jews the same question about going out to meet John the Baptist in the wilderness, “What did you go out to the desert to see?”(Lk 7:24)
They went out to see John, to listen to his words and to receive his baptism “with much expectation” because they were looking for a consecrated soul. John was a truly consecrated soul as the Angel had prophesied to Zachariah about John, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.” (Lk 1:15) This prophecy was fulfilled when the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greetings, the infant in her womb leapt and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Lk 1:41) The more we belong to God and are consecrated to Him, the more we become visible signs to the others and they will come to us searching for God’s presence, action and love in us.
The Prophet Isaiah prophesizes about a servant of God who will be completely consecrated to God, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased, upon whom I have placed my spirit… I have grasped you by the hand, I formed you.” This servant is also gifted for the sake of others, “He shall bring forth justice to the nations…the coastlands will wait for His teaching…I set you as a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” This prophecy, as all other prophecies, is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the perfectly consecrated One, who makes our own consecration possible.
John the Baptist reminds us in today’s Gospel that it is Jesus Christ who “baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Spirit that Jesus possesses and which descends on Him in the visible form of the dove is not for Himself but for us all. Jesus Himself will testify that the anointing of the Spirit that he has is not for Him alone but for us, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”(Lk 4:18)
St. Peter teaches the pagan Cornelius that “God shows no partiality” but offers this Spirit of consecration to all people because of Jesus Christ. By being anointed by the Spirit and power, “He (Jesus) went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil for God was with Him.” We are the beneficiaries of the good that Jesus accomplished. Jesus Christ is the consecrated one per excellence and that is why we are irresistibly drawn to Him and He alone is gifted to satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we too are consecrated to God in Jesus Christ and we too share in this same Spirit of consecration from the moment that we received the gift of faith in Holy Baptism. No matter the intensity of our pains and sufferings in this life or the gravity and number of our sins, nothing can take away from us this reality of being consecrated to God by the gift of the Spirit that is given to us in Holy Baptism. We must let nothing take away from us the faith in this consecration, this sense of knowing that we and all that we are and have belong to God.
In addition to belonging completely to God in Christ, we must also remember that we are gifted for others and they will come to us. If we are weighed down by the sense of our own sinfulness and shortcoming, or our lack of faith, or the grave cost of discipleship, we must take courage in the fact that the imprisoned John the Baptist gave faithful witness to all people even as his faith seemed to waiver when he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” (Lk 7:19) The incarcerated John, with his seemingly dwindling faith, still bore witness to God’s truth about marriage to a murderous and adulterous Herod. Our moral failures and our trials and pains does not diminish the power that we have to be visible signs to the world of God’s words, presence, action and love.
Yes, we belong to God and we are immensely gifted by Him for the good of others. In this age of moral confusion, where basic moral truths are ignored, they will come to us for words of truth about hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality, marriage, etc. They will come to us searching for good examples of Christian living, love, joy, hope and faith, etc. They will come to us hoping for words of encouragement, hope, and forgiveness. God will surely send them our way and we cannot send them away with a casual, “I respect your views,” or “Just follow your conscience.”
As we prepare to encounter our Lord in this Eucharistic celebration on this Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, with hearts open to receive His Spirit that makes us consecrated souls in the Son Jesus Christ, let us remind ourselves of what it means to be consecrated souls. We belong to God as His beloved children no matter what we experience in this life and we have been immensely gifted for the good of others. We cannot hide from them or pretend that there is nothing unique about our new life of belonging to God in Christ Jesus. They will come to us filled with great expectations to see and hear God speaking and acting in us.
Please God, may we never leave them disappointed. Amen.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!