Monday, 29 April 2013

The Baptism of the Lord - Year A

Isaiah 42:1-4.6-7; Acts 10: 34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

Atheists and believers are not always dissimilar, especially the non-practising ones. Atheists claim life is ultimately without meaning but most live as though it were not so. They are like the believers who claim faith in an afterlife but live as though their true home was here, on planet earth.

It’s difficult to fully live what we believe and few people actually do so. The great saints are exceptions, as are the great sinners. Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul II, Mary MacKillop are at one end of the spectrum while Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot are at the other.


Between these two extremes we find – ourselves - drifting on the fringes of the huge whirlpool of life, slowly rotating in the little eddies of our private lives, at a more or less safe distance from that violent centre which so preoccupies the true believer as well as the true atheist. Too many of us have somehow convinced ourselves that coasting along is really how it’s meant to be. We conveniently forget, though we deny that we do so, that we, too, will one day be claimed and drawn into the vortex of that great mystery at the heart of things. But that’s only one day and, in the meantime, we have such a lot of living to do.


At heart, the true problem of our religious lives is not faith as much as faithfulness to faith, or to put it in the words of today’s Opening Prayer faithfulness to our Baptism. Let me pursue this thought.


Baptism is many things but in the first place it is a rebirth. We have actually been born again. We have been regenerated. We are new, really and truly, new, and therefore we are different.


The philosophers speak of the foundation of our being as our ontological being. Ontologically we are men or women, ontologically we are human. No scalpel, however sharp, can change a man into a woman or a human into an animal. Our ontological foundation is inviolable – unreachable - except to the Sacraments.


We who have been baptised have been born again into a new life, the divine life of God, in Christ. This life was lost through Original Sin and with it the possibility of friendship with God. Baptism does not restore us, like a house is restored with a coat of paint, but we are made altogether new – ontologically. Now the very Spirit of God lives within us, in the core of our being; now we are ontologically sons and daughters of God and, therefore, members of his people on earth; now we are pointed towards, orientated to, destined for heaven.


The Opening Prayer puts it all in neat summary and adds a further thought: Keep us, your children born of water and the Spirit, faithful to our calling.


Baptism is also a calling. We have been born again into a new life which we, in our turn, are called to live. It is not a no-strings-attached gift from God but calls us to a whole new way of life.


The call is not an invitation; it is a command. The call to Baptism is an invitation; the call to live the Baptism we have received is a command, and unfortunately therein lies the crisis of the times we live in.


It is my firm belief that we do not, generally speaking, live our Baptism because we do not understand what it is we have received and what it has caused us to become.


The remedy for this sad state of affairs is, of course, clearer catechesis from the pulpit and a courageous repetition of the teaching even when some cry ‘Enough!’.


On the other hand, there is the matter of your, yes your, personal responsibility. I was speaking to someone, a Catholic in good standing, who expressed some surprise on learning that the Church does, in fact, still teach that to miss Sunday Mass without adequate reason is a mortal sin. He rightly criticised the priests for not telling him this was still the case, when others were saying it had all changed. He said: It would be better to get rid of the teaching than to keep it quiet like this because it confuses people and brings the teaching into disrepute. I agreed.


However, there is the matter of the responsibility of every lay person to educate himself in the faith and to make himself a catechetically mature Christian. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Catechism, are freely available in Catholic bookshops and on the Internet. Everyone should have a copy of the Catechism and everyone who is able should read it. The Internet abounds with good audio talks for those who find reading difficult. CDs and tapes are also freely available.


God has a plan for each one of us. We do well to understand this plan. It is a wonderful plan; a plan for peace. It begins with Baptism and leads, through a life of faithfulness to faith, to an eternal happiness in heaven with God. It is not impossible that your Christian life may touch the jaded heart of an atheist somewhere and lead him to reconsider whether he might not finally subscribe to God's plans for him.

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