Homily for January 10, 2016

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Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

If you’ve been listening carefully to the scriptures over the past month
you may have noticed a few gaps in the story of Jesus.

We moved from:
hearing an angel announce to Mary
that she would conceive and bear God’s Son;
to the Christmas story of his birth in Bethlehem;
to recounting the visit of the magi bringing gifts;
and then a jump of about 10 years
to the time Jesus skipped out on Mary and Joseph
and stayed behind in the temple in Jerusalem;
and now a jump of another 20 years to this scene in the River Jordan.

Scholars estimate that Jesus was about 33 years old
when we suffered, died and rose from the dead
and we know almost nothing of his life for nearly 30 of those 33 years.
The story we just heard of Jesus being baptized is rightly referred to
as the beginning of his public ministry.

That’s not to say that he wasn’t teaching and preaching
before this event– we just don’t know about that.
What we do know is that something significant happened here
in the waters of the Jordan River
and what happened was the manifestation of Jesus’ relationship
to God the Father, whose voice was heard from heaven
and to the Holy Spirit who descended upon him like a dove.

In other words, the mission of Jesus is set in motion, is defined
by his relationship to God.
And what is that relationship?   
It’s so clearly and beautiflly articulated here:
 “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”

Let’s keep in mind that Jesus had no need to be baptized,
 (he had no sin -original or personal
which needed to be forgiven or washed away).
it’s this revelation of who he is in relationship to God
that makes this the inaugural moment it is.

And in a real way, the same is true for you and me.
My deepest life (and yours) doesn’t begin
until we come to understand who we are – in relationship to God.
- It’s my relationship to God that defines who I am as a human being.
- It’s my relationship with God that gives my life its fullest meaning.
- It’s my relationship with God that reveals my life’s greatest purpose.
- My relationship with God
is the most important relationship I’ll have in my life:  bar none.

And to each of us, you and me, the Father says what he said to Jesus:
 “You are my beloved child: my beloved daughter, my beloved son.”
No other fundamental teaching of Christianity
is as misunderstood as this one: that God loves each one of us
No matter how perfectly or imperfectly we have pleased God –
we are loved by him, in spite of our sins,
we are loved by God in our sins,
because each of us is God’s own beloved creation.

We’re very good, we are, at recognizing God’s love for others
but no so much at recognizing God’s love for us…
So we find ourselves saying:
- Oh, God must love her very much: 
look how generous she is.
- God must love him very much:
look how much he has, how gifted he is.
- God must love those folks very much:
look at how often they pray.
And of course, God does love a generous heart
and God loves our using our talents and gifts
and God loves to hear our prayer.

But God’s love for me and God’s love for you isn’t based on,
and doesn’t hinge on, what we do or fail to do.
God’s love for you and me is the love of a mother and father
who love their child not because of what the child does or produces
but because of who their child is:
their own creation, their beloved.
And if anything, does a parent’s love not increase and deepen
when a child fails, when a child is imperfect –
even when a child abandons them?
When this happens a loving parent desires only the child’s peace,
the child’s healing, the child’s well-being, the child’s return.

And it’s a natural parental mercy in a mother’s, in a father’s heart
to reach out in love to a child who has rejected that love.
If so it is with human parents,
must it not be even more generously and graciously so 
with God, our Father?
Whether we have pleased God or not,
whether we have well-pleased God – or not so much,
each of us is God’s beloved son, God’s beloved daughter,
whom the Father loves with mercy and without end.

And I know what some are thinking right now, 
so let me offer a verse from the Psalms:
Even if a mother forget her child,
I will not forget you, says the Lord... 

Perhaps there are gaps, even big gaps, even gaps decades long
in my relationship with God or yours.
Perhaps you and I can look back and see
all the holes, the false starts, the unfulfilled promises, the failings
that have marked our relationship with God.
If that’s so, then we need, like Jesus, to look up
and to hear God’s voice declaring his love for us
and to see God’s love descending on each of us like a dove of peace.

Jesus had no sins to be washed away in the Jordan
but each of us stands very much in need 
of the saving waters of God’s love
to bathe us in his mercy and pardon
that we might know and understand afresh that
- It’s our relationship to God that defines who we are as human beings.
- It’s our relationship with God that gives our lives its deepest meaning.
- It’s our relationship with God that reveals our lives’ greatest purpose.
- My relationship with God
is the most important relationship I’ll have in my life:  bar none.

A sign of God’s love for us is this:
although we have not been faithful sons and daughters, you and I,
still the Lord invites each of us to a seat today at the Lord’s table
where, in his heart, each of us is seated right beside him.

May God’s mercy and love, poured out for us on the Cross,
be shared with us at this altar
where we, the beloved, share in our Father’s love.


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  1. Thanks for sharing this homily, Father. A few years back, the Spanish-speaking priest at our Spanish Mass here in California was transferred to the English Mass by our bishop with no warning, just one week's notice. The only problem: his English was not up to the task. I taught him English rapidly, nearly overnight. How? Using homilies from online -- they had the perfect content for him. I bet there are others out there doing the same thing, and thank God that some priests are sharing theirs in this manner, probably with no idea how useful they are in ways they might never have considered. Have a good 2016!

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Elizabeth - and for the wonderful use you put my homilies to - praise God!


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