Sunday, March 05, 2006

One Baptism is an awesome Gift (Sunday homily)

Our first reading is very familiar story,
Noah, the ark, and the flood.

We know that God told Noah
he would send a flood.
We know that, at God’s word,
Noah built a huge boat;
and he filled that boat full of animals.

But, there is an interesting detail
I bet you never noticed.

We all remember that Noah
a pair of each animal,
right? We remember that.

But if you look at Chapter 7 of Genesis,
you’ll find something interesting.

After Noah has done this, God says again,
Go get more animals:
“seven pairs, male and female.”
Did you know that?

Isn’t that curious?

Think about it: the whole thing
had been carefully planned by God.
Recall he gave Noah exact measurements.

So how did it happen
that there was unexpected room
for a lot more animals?
May I suggest that all that extra room
wasn’t originally intended for animals!
It was meant for human beings.

And that changes the story, doesn’t it?
That great flood?
It was about washing away sin and evil;
not about destroying human life:
that, God wanted to rescue.

Sadly, just a handful
of human beings took advantage.
Notice the animals responded better!
That’s a warning for us—a wake-up call.

The other point of the story is:
a fresh start.
After the flood,
after they all come out of the ark, God says:
“I am establishing my covenant with you…
for all ages to come.”

There are a lot of connections there,
for us, this Lent.
In our second reading,
St. Peter makes one connection:

Just as that flood of old
washed the world clean
of every trace of sin and evil,
so baptism does for us.

Baptism makes us a Christian;
In baptism, what happened on the Cross—
the shed blood of Jesus washing away all sin—
is applied to our lives, washing us clean, too.

So Lent is a time to prepare for baptism,
but for all of us who are baptized,
it’s a time to recall that awesome gift,
and to renew it.

That’s why the holy water
is still at the doors,
and there is water in the baptismal font:
we need to remember
our baptism all the more!

And when we make frequent use
of the sacrament of confession—
we are, in a sense, being “rebaptized”:
with our daily acts of penance,
our daily prayers asking forgiveness,
and especially in the sacrament of confession,
you and I reclaim
that awesome gift of baptism.

Just as a flood came over the entire earth,
a flood of God’s grace
poured into our lives in baptism.
Just as Christ died but once—
that was enough;
so one baptism is more than enough
for each of us.
And so powerful is that sacrament,
we never do it again!

By the way,
this is a chance to explain something.
We believe as Catholics
that whether a Protestant,
Orthodox or Catholic does the baptism,
if it’s done right,
it’s real—it counts.

And in an emergency,
anyone can baptize.

A few weeks back,
I came to the emergency room.
A baby was in danger of death.
Did they want me to baptize?
“No,” the grandmother said:
we had a previous emergency situation,
and when that happened,
“My husband baptized him.”
Exactly right!

What if, in an emergency,
someone says to you:
“Please, I want to be a Christian:
baptize me?”
What will you say?

I’m going to tell you right now how to do it.

You need natural, clean water.
Ocean water would work,
but fresh water is better.
Even bottled water,
as long as it’s nothing but water.
You pour water on the person’s head,
three times.
As much as you can,
but even a small amount, if need be.

You say: “I baptize you
in the name of the Father”—pour water;
“And of the Son”—pour a second time;
“And of the Holy Spirit”—pour a third time.

Now, this is serious business!
Don’t go baptizing someone
without his permission,
And never do it secretly.
This is only for an emergency.
Afterward, let the priest know.

Now, for us who are already baptized,
Our 40 days of Lent, our acts of penance,
Our frequent use of confession,
Help us become what our baptism promises.
It isn’t easy to obey Christ’s call to repent.

So we get 40 days of Lent, not just one.
That’s why we gather at Mass every Sunday.
We get a lifetime of opportunities.
God renews his offer of mercy again and again.

God’s everlasting covenant,
made on the Cross,
And shared with us through the sacraments,
are designed for people
who need lots of help.

In Noah’s time, that was…everybody.
And it’s still true today.


Deacon Jim said...

Fantastic. Very clear lines of thought. Baptism and Penance. It ties it all together with a great catechetical tangent on the subject.

My reading mind wandered after “Help us become what our baptism promises.”

I don’t know why, because it is a very good closing. Perhaps my from my type of style I would have gone back to the last few lines of the Gospel – Jesus came to Galilee etc.

Jackie said...


I consider this a "Mary Poppins" homily - 'practically perfect in everyway'

It is connected to the readings (though, I know, it's not required); it is clearly Catholic (I wouldn't need to see your picture to know that this was a Catholic sermon); it evangelizes - reminds people that we are in the covenant - HE died for us; it has concrete facts, learnings, suggestions. (How to Baptize, what Holy Water should remind us of, etc.) and reminds them to go to confession.

The only tiny thing I would have added (and it is a nit noid thing, a pet peeve for me - maybe because I need to hear it rather than everyone else!) is that where you say Baptism makes us a Christian possibly you could have added the phrase it makes us a son or daughter of God. Because - now that we are in the family, we are a part of the family business - salvation. It's our job too.

God Bless and thanks for being a priest.

Father Martin Fox said...


Thanks, I liked that line too; I confess I'm not sure I actually uttered it!

I wandered from the text somewhat, especially around that point; and I only delivered this homily once, at our very early Mass (sans caffiene!)

At 10, we had a rite of sending our catechumen and candidate for the rite of election with the bishop -- and I cut some of this, so that I could talk about the two people in our midst "paying us Catholics the supreme compliment of wanting what they see that we have" and then about the treasures of the Catholic faith, etc. -- and so I took a different direction.


Yes, your suggestion is a good one. That's the kind of area I would explore were I to pursue the theme of theosis, which I do from time to time: "God became man so that men might become God." Also, I like to point out from time to time, not merely that God wants to become saints, but that becoming a saint is our only hope--i.e., either we'll be a saint in heaven, or we'll be in hell. (Purgatory is a finishing school for saints.)

Everyone in heaven is a saint.

Anna said...

Interesting view on the story of Noah, I have never heard that idea before. I will have to think and mediate about it.

Thank you

Father Martin Fox said...


Well, take a close look at chapters 6 and 7, and you'll see what many Biblical commentators call a "discrepancy."

Their explanation is that someone did a sloppy job of editing two variant accounts together. The Scripture instructor at the seminary offered this alternate explanation, which has two virtues, in my mind:

First, it is a more credible explanation of the text than that someone did a sloppy editing job (because had it not been sloppy, we wouldn't have noticed it).

Second, it changes the portrait of God being more concerned for the lives of animals than for humans, to God wanting to save humanity, but humanity rejects his salvation.

MrsDarwin said...

I'd never thought of that aspect of the Noah's Ark story before, but now I want to go back and read it again. Thanks for pointing out a new facet of a familiar account.

jenny said...

Father this is a totally rockin' homily. You gave something for everyone, a new scriptural insight, the reason we have holy water at the entrances, why we have only 1 baptism, a reminder of the importance of confession, a reminder that anyone can baptize and detailed instructions for it. I'm blown away. (and going to reread the Noah story tonight).