Saturday, January 12, 2008

Will you bless God's People with Peace (Homily for Baptism of the Lord & Vocations)

Now, today, we recall Jesus came to be baptized.
Picture the scene:
Here is John, baptizing;
on the shore, a line of people, waiting;
and here comes the Son of God:
He gets into line with all the sinners!

This is the next chapter of the Christmas Story:
God becomes man; he is revealed to the nations;
and now, the God-man comes to stand with us.

When God—human like us—comes where we are,
It means we humans are invited to be where God is!

As we prayed in the psalm:
“The Lord will bless his people with peace.”

Today, also, we call attention to vocations,
As deacons and priests, as sisters and brothers.
And you might wonder, what’s the connection?

When Jesus came to be baptized,
he accepted the challenge
of what the Father sent him to do.

He had already chosen it before time began;
Now, he chooses it again;
and he will choose it once more, the night before he dies.

We all go through that.
If we were baptized as a child,
we later choose to make the Faith our own.
Some of us drift—but then comes a moment
when our Faith matters more to us.

Maybe in high school or college we have tough questions.
When we think about marriage, or our first child arrives,
and you realize you want your children to have faith;
and you ask yourself, “what do I really believe?”

It’s a funny thing; some people believe
that being a priest, a brother or sister,
is somehow harder than being a husband or a wife.

In many ways, they mirror each other.

A priest can’t be much of a priest
unless he comes and offers himself to the Father,
and to God’s people, just as Jesus did in today’s Gospel.
But a husband is no husband, a wife is no wife,
unless they do just the same.
This dying to self blesses a marriage with peace.

Now, some people can’t get past the celibacy thing.

Our society is messed up on this subject;
we know how it damages the priesthood;
but it also damages marriages.
Any man who enters marriage
thinking he isn’t going to die to self,
particularly in this area of sexuality,
is in for a rude awakening.

When a spouse goes on a business trip;
or is far away in the military,
and there you are—you have to remain faithful,
despite opportunities, and the desire to be with someone.

What do you say, wives and husbands?
“No thank you—I have someone I’m waiting for.”

When you meet a brother, or a priest, and you say,
“why don’t you get a partner, a spouse?”
We answer the same:
“No thank you—I have Someone I’m waiting for.”

Celibacy reminds the world that Heaven is real,
it is where our true hope lies.
And most people get this on an intuitive level.

That’s why something lifts us up simply by meeting
a priest, a sister or a brother.
A little bit of heaven enters our ordinary life,
and we experience hope.
So, during Vocations Week,
I simply want to give the invitation:
Do you want to be that person—
that deacon, that sister,
who lifts this world up to the Father?
Will you bless God’s People with peace?

Parents, grandparents:
do you want your children to be that sister or priest?
I say this because it is family life
where the seeds are planted and nourished…or not.

At the end of Mass, the ushers—
helped by the Knights of St. John,
and Knights of Columbus—
are going to pass our these prayer cards for vocations.
I ask everyone to pray faithfully for vocations.

The back of the card says,
“there are rarely trumpets or midnight visions.”

But if, when the priest offers Mass—
or when see how our sisters share faith and life—
and something in you responds…that’s the call!

A moment ago, I said that marriage, and priesthood,
are mirrors of each other.
We see this particularly at Mass.
Mass is when all that Christ did for us,
all that he is for us, is summed up;
it is summed up in the Cross:
everything for you; I give my life for you.

That is what a sister says in her vows;
It is what a priest becomes when he is ordained;
and it is what a couple declares on their wedding day.

Then…you live it, day-by-day!
We all live the Cross…or we’re sterile and empty.

But realize, we can only have the Eucharist,
because he died—he gave everything for us.
And we can only have the Eucharist,
Because we have priests who do the same.

And to make a difference, you must do the same!

When we come to share the Eucharist,
This is what we choose:
not just to receive, but to become:
Life-givers; Christ-bearers;
Thus does the Lord bless his people with peace.


pdt said...

Fr. Fox -

Can you provide any background on the idea of 'baptism' in ancient Jewish culture? A friend of mine who is converting to Judaism (from Mormonism) has mentioned a bathing ceremony that will be part of that transition. Is this what John was doing?

As to your excellent comments on priestly vocations, we learned tonite that the assistant pastor is being reassigned in 3 weeks time which will leave us only the solo pastor for a parish of 11,000 families. Thank God for retired priests willing to say Mass!

While making the announcement, the pastor mentioned that he himself is 51 years old ... and the 4th youngest priest in the diocese. I think his idea is that we need to pray for vocations ... FAST vocations!

Father Martin Fox said...


Well, without going into depth...yes, there was -- and is to this day -- a ritual washing as part of Judaism; you will find it mentioned in the Old Testament; and so John the Forerunner took this ritual, and gave it a somewhat new meaning: a washing (baptism) of repentance.

Again, this is broad-brush, but I think it would be fair to say the idea of repentance was implied in the ritual, but not always: the washing was to deal with ritual uncleanness, which may, or may not, relate to actual sin.

So, for example, when a woman having completed her period, comes for washing, there is no question of sinfulness.

But in the larger context, the ritual washing, along with all the rituals of the Law, were intended to teach God's People about being holy, and to help them see themselves as a "people set apart."

At any rate, John took an existing ritual and gave it a new twist; in turn, Our Lord would take John's baptism and make it a sacrament (John's baptism was not sacramental, since the sacraments derive their power and meaning from the Paschal Mystery).

pdt said...

Thanks for the lesson, Father. It is interesting to learn how the meaning of rituals was also changed in the new covenant.

Anonymous said...

Please pray for my eldest daughter as she discerns her vocation..

DigiHairshirt said...

Father, excellent homily, as usual. My 7-year-old sometimes says he wants to be a priest and I treat such things seriously, telling him if he did, it is a wonderful vocation. I say the same when he says he wants to be a fireman, but I know too many people who, when they hear a young boy say something like that, answer with, "But don't you want to get married and have a family?" I would rather my child know that it is an option open to him and one that his parents will support.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martin,

Thank you for another beautiful homily. I didn't realize it was vocations week. Yes, I did go to Mass yesterday! It wasn't mentioned. I've got three boys. The middle one talks about being a priest frequently. My oldest told me that he could never be a priest and give a homily. I laughed and told him God has a strange sense of humor and to watch out! He didn't find it so funny :)

You are right that families plant the seeds but when families have their one girl and one boy it's normally dad who objects because "who's going to pass on the family name." The priest 'shortage' lies squarely at the feet of families. We caused the problem and only we can solve it. Having great men like yourself around doesn't hurt either.

Roseanne Sullivan said...

Fr. Fox, I have been browsing your blog. This posting is lovely as are the rest.

I too am a relapsed Catholic who became converted as an evangelical. I came back because the Church has the Eucharist and the Tradition. With sola scriptura, the churches keep splintering off every day. But the evangelicals I met have a wonderful zeal that I had never seen in Catholics growing up. I pray that we all may be one.

I recognize you from the June 2007 CMAA colloquium.

You write very poetically. I loved the sermon from Flannery O'Connor's book.

Hope to see you at next years colloquium.