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1/13/19 Baptism of the Lord - Fr. Reggie

We love new things. New houses, new cars, new clothes. But if we think about it, most of those are simply variations of something else. The next version of the iPhone won’t be that much different than its predecessor. Cars don’t change that much from one year to the next. Clothing styles don’t bring a radical newness to your wardrobe from one year to the next. After all, clothes are always clothes.

But what if there were a change that rocked our world? What if something happened that brought a newness we had never imagined, a newness that changed our lives? Wouldn’t we want that?

The second reading today reminds us that something has happened. St Paul says to Titus :“[God] saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, which he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior.”

He’s talking about baptism here. And baptism basically does 3 things. It frees us from Original Sin. Original Sin means that we are born in a state of non-friendship with God. Baptism restores us to that friendship. If we’ve committed any personal sins, God forgives those through baptism. We become members of the Catholic Church and are able to receive the other sacraments.  

This means we are a new creation. We are in a new relationship with God. What kind of relationship? The gospel we just read tells us. After Jesus is baptized, the heavens open and God the Father says to him: “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”  Those words are addressed to all those who have been baptized. “You are my beloved son… You are my beloved daughter.” God’s name for us is “Beloved Son” or “Beloved Daughter.” He is really present within our hearts in a new way. We have a new power to live in love. We have a new power to be the presence of Christ in the world.

Baptism makes us a new creation. We are given a new life, and that changes everything. We are given a new relationship with God that gives new meaning to every moment of our lives. 

Our baptism opens up new vistas for us. God believes in us.

In Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, the newly-released convict Jean Valjean (pronounced Val-Zhahn) finds shelter from the cold in the house of a Catholic bishop.  The bishop welcomes him and provides a warm meal. However during the meal ValJean notices the expensive silverware, and resolves to steal it. As soon as the bishop is asleep, he absconds with the silver. The police collar Valjean, and, although he claims the bishop gave him the silverware, the police see through that fabrication and drag him back to the bishop. Valjean is trembling, since he knows that this means he’ll be sent to the galleys for the rest of his life.

However something amazing happens. The police tell the bishop that Valjean claims he gave him the silverware. Valjean’s fate hangs by a thread, as he breathlessly awaits the bishop’s reply. And imagine his surprise when he hears the reply: “Yes, and I’m glad he’s returned, since I also gave him the silver candlesticks but he forgot to take them with him.”

Valjean’s life can never be the same after that. The bishop forgave him, believed in him and acknowledged him. So Valjean dedicates the rest of his life to doing good to others. In our baptism, God forgives, he believes in us, he acknowledges us. And God gives us the strength to be his presence for others.

In his Myth of the Cave, the Greek philosopher Plato speaks about people living in a cave: their only contact with the world above is through shadows on the wall. They believe that the shadows are the reality. Sometimes we can all be like that. We’re busy, we’re tired, we’re anxious and worried about many things. Do we want to live like that, or do we want real newness? All we have to do is allow God to open our eyes. All we have to do is recognize what’s already been given to us and live that out. 

We are baptized Christians. We are beloved sons and daughters of God. How can we recall that in our everyday life?

One excellent way is to make the Sign of the Cross. Remember the words of baptism. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The priest says those words as he’s pouring water over the person’s head. In fact the word “baptize” comes from the Greek word for “immerse” or “submerge.” In some places it’s still customary to baptize by submerging someone in a pool of water while repeating those words I just mentioned. So by the words and the water we are “submerged:” we die with Christ, and we rise with him. 

This means that every time we make the Sign of the Cross and say the words “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, we’re recalling our baptism. The Sign of the Cross is like a song that reminds us of a special event in our lives. Every time we hear that song we relive the moment in our hearts.

So let’s begin in the Mass today. At the end of the Mass I will bless you, and you make the Sign of the Cross. Let’s do it intentionally. Let’s remember our baptism, the gift of a living relationship with God, who is near us. And then find moments during the day to make the Sign of the Cross. It will help keep our baptism fresh in our hearts. 



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